Tomorrow, the Golden State Warriors will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the regular season for the last time in the regular season in what most people will consider a preview of the 2017 NBA Finals.
With Warriors fans still talking about what happened in the first matchup on Christmas Day, we reached out to our frienemies at Fear the Sword for some insight on the Cavs, their recent addition of Kyle Korver, and whether they’ll make any moves to shore up their weaknesses.
Without further ado, here are answers to our questions from Ryan Mourton and David Zavac.
1) So first things first, LeBron James recently suggested that he wants the officials to be more observant of how opponents guard him. Wouldn't it be easier if he just called up Kiki Vandeweghe and settled this situation himself?
Ryan Mourton: To my knowledge, LeBron has never called Kiki about anything, but I cannot be 100% certain on that. I think it would be really unwise to infer that he did, but I also understand that if I was watching the Finals from where the Athletics lose baseball games, I would be scrambling to blame LeBron as well.
David Zavac: I think this would all be better if Tyronn Lue would step up and defend his players a bit more. He just got a huge extension, swallowing a nice fine to help out his stars could make an impact.
2) What are your thoughts on the Cavs acquiring Kyle Korver? Where does he fit into the rotation and how does he make this team better or worse?
Ryan Mourton: I think it’s very clearly a great deal, for them. A 2019 pick is worth next to nothing compared to what they’re trying to do now, and the idea is to stack the deck for yourself as much as possible. Both the Cavs and Warriors are very familiar with what injuries can do to you in a Finals series.
I don’t really see a scenario where he makes the Cavs worse. He’s a heady team defender. Is he gonna lock anybody up? Nah. But any off ball assignment is fine. Have him chase Klay around screens or hide him Andre Iguodala. It’s manageable. Offensively, he’s someone you have to guard. You HAVE to. The Cavs for the first time in Sacramento were able to practice, and set up some plays for him that he would be used to. Running through multiple screens to a spot on the other side, etc. He was 4-6 from 3.
The Cavs have demonstrated pretty handily that the Warriors don’t appear to have the guys to guard LeBron James or Kyrie Irving one on one. I don’t know that anyone in the league does. Adding a guy that shoots 50+% on open 3’s certainly doesn’t help their cause.
I think he fits anywhere, but Ty Lue’s first use of him after practice was with the “LeBron + Bench” lineup last night. LeBron James, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, Korver, and Iman Shumpert. LeBron on the floor with shooters like Frye and Korver at the same time is fun to watch. Now, the question is, does Frye play in a Finals matchup? The Dubs’ rotations made him useless last time. Still though, Kyle is a smart team player and a top NBA shooter. He fits the Cavs’ favorite plays against the Warriors: That PG/SG, SF/SG screen they run with JR to get Steph on LeBron or Kyrie. You have to switch when the screener can pull immediately. I think a Kyrie, J.R. Smith, Korver, LeBron and whoever lineup sounds pretty fun and hard to defend in the playoffs, but that’s just me.
David Zavac: Beyond what Ryan said, I think it’s just another functional player the Cavs can use. Particularly in the regular season, the hope is that Lue finds more guys he trusts to help take minutes away from the starters and older veterans. The Cavs need them as fresh as possible for May and potentially June.
3) Currently, what is the Cavs’ greatest weakness and how do you see them fixing it come by playoff time? Do you see the Cavs making any more moves before the February trade deadline to address that weakness ?
Ryan Mourton: Depth of playmakers. The Cavs still run through LeBron and Kyrie, and only LeBron and Kyrie. Kevin sets up some things, but unless it’s a big with dribble skills like LeBron, KD, etc. you just can’t have a big man run your entire offense. GM David Griffin just spoke about this yesterday, and there are local and national rumblings that something else is coming. I would expect more talent on the team soon, be it a point guard, or a wing who can handle and run an offense. This is where the injury to J.R. Smith is big, because he is that guy who is just enough of a handler and initiator that it takes some pressure off of LBJ and Kyrie.
A playable 5 wouldn’t hurt either, but it’s down the list. It’s something they have acknowledged though, so it’s probably coming once they can get Birdman’s contract moved for a second open spot (they opened a roster spot in the Korver deal).
Plus, how many minutes does that guy actually play in a Finals series? Tristan Thompson will be playing his 42 minutes a night, and I’m not sure the Dubs have found anything that counters him in a series.
David Zavac: I think the hits to their depth have led to lineup imbalances and exposed Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson. You can ask Jefferson to defend for stretches, and you can ask Channing Frye to hit a few threes, but eventually they are going to hurt you with their lack of athleticism. Frye will get a random block here and there, but he just doesn’t move very well. A year ago, Tristan Thompson was anchoring bench units. I think it’s been a blow.
4) Do you see any weakness in the Cavs that the Warriors could exploit in a seven game series?
Ryan Mourton: Oh most definitely. You’re still relying on Kevin Love, and it may or may not work. He’s in great shape and moving better than I’ve ever seen him this year, but they need to go at him and test that. He was great in game 7, and on Christmas, but who knows. Channing Frye is their backup center, if he’s in the game, they can go at him all day.
Some of it is based on this: What the Warriors play, and HOW do they play? If you’re playing JaVale McGee, David West, or Zaza Pachulia, Frye and Love can play, play well, and be a real problem. If they’re not willing to isolate, and play a more basic brand of basketball, I think it will be a problem.
I know they hate it, and it sounds silly, but listen: the Cavs coaching staff is really good. LeBron’s memory is unmatched. All the fake screens, stunts, and other movements the Warriors do is sniffed out immediately. That’s not unique to these two teams either really — everyone knows everyone’s plays — but the Cavs become masterful at snuffing them in advance in a series.
That was the Cavs’ advantage last year. They weren’t doing anything special. They didn’t have fantastic actions and all kinds of genius off ball movements. It’s three basic screens, now your bad defender is on LeBron or Kyrie and they’re going to the hole — try to stop us.
Most of the Cavs’ defensive weaknesses show up in isolation. They’re all lengthy defenders and love to hawk the passing lanes. Selfishness is required against them, in my opinion.
I would also say depth, but I think the Dubs are the only team with potentially more depth issues than the Cavs right now, which makes sense — they signed the second best player in the NBA. I’d trade depth for that all day.
5) How important do you think the MLK Day showdown is for both the Cavs and the Warriors? Basically, which team is this game more important to and why?
Ryan Mourton: I don’t think it’s important, not very. We’re five months away from the Finals still, and so much can happen. If I had to pick a team though, how could it not be the Warriors? They got historically humiliated in the Finals. They got humiliated on Christmas. They’re always (well, mostly Klay Thompson) complaining about how the Cavs act. If anybody needs a win here, it’s them.
I don’t think the Cavs are really concerned. They’re missing guys, working on getting Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving back into shape after absences, experimenting with how Korver fits on the team (this will be his fourth game) and how he fits in this matchup, and at the tail end of a long road trip. Plus, you just don’t get the sense that the Cavs are worried about how they stack up. Christmas would be a good example. They’re confident they can get what they want, and that they can get under the Warriors’ skin and cause them issues. Can they do those things? They HAVE, but going forward is TBD.
If you’re looking for a prediction though, I’ll take Warriors 115, Cavs 103. The Cavs aren’t really sound right now, and are working through some things.
David Zavac: I don’t think it’s particularly important to either team. I’d expect Steph Curry to play really well and the narrative to develop that he’s “figured it out”. In reality, he’s just really good. The Cavs have played really poor transition defense this year, and it’s largely been effort. They were successful enough on the offensive boards on Christmas that the Warriors couldn’t burn them. We’ll see if that happens again.
Thanks to both David and Ryan for offering up their thoughts before the big game. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments or write up a FanPost if you have longer thoughts.
For more on the Cavs, check out Fear the Sword.