The Cleveland Cavaliers will get their first shot at some form of revenge against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. The Warriors opened as a seven point favorite on the gambling lines, which isn't surprising given how good they've been this season, the Cavaliers being on the road and having a very rusty Kyrie Irving on a minute restriction. While the gambling odds don't appear too optimistic on the Cavs chances, that doesn't mean an upset isn't possible.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (19-7) at Golden State Warriors (27-1)
When: 5 p.m.
Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland California
Where on my eyeballs: ABC
Enemy blog: Golden State Of Mind
The Cavaliers will have a full roster this time around against the Warriors, even if there are some limitations to Kyrie Irving. For the Warriors part they will be without Harrison Barnes, which does leave them a little thin in the bench in terms of power forwards. While Barnes starts at small forward, he does play a considerable amount of time at power forward in their small ball lineups. In his absence the Warriors have elected to go with Mo Speights at the four, which has not been working out well for them. Speights has been having a rough year and is much better suited to play at center when on the court.
Brandon Rush will likely fill Barnes' starting role, which leads me to my first theory on how to upset the Warriors on Christmas. Post up LeBron James early. While rush would likely struggle on James on the perimeter, by putting the emphasis on early post ups it causes the Warriors to decide on whether or not they will switch and have Draymond Green guard James in the post. This of course could put Green at risk of getting into foul trouble, which would of course be devastating given the aforementioned lack of depth at power forward.
The next thing would be resisting the urge to go too small. The Cavs have the versatility to throw many different looks at teams. But you don't beat the Warriors by playing their game. I would predict that we see a lot of Tristan Thompson at center, given that he has the ability to guard perimeter players off of switches and stick with Green while still maintaining about a four inch height advantage. Creating extra possessions has been key for teams that have hung with the Warriors this season as well as a key for keeping the series close in last years Finals. Thompson allows them the defensive versatility to deal with the Warriors small looks while still maintaining that crucial size advantage.
My final point would be that the Cavs need to play at their signature slow pace. The Warriors really like to push the tempo and get a ton of great looks in transition. The Cavs need to take those easy buckets away and turn the game into more of a grind. This has worked for lesser teams this season in hanging around with the Warriors, such as the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks. Where better teams like the Indiana Pacers tried playing their style and were promptly put through the buzzsaw. Golden State can be turnover prone, so by limiting the number of possessions in the game it causes those turnovers to be more costly and not giving them the opportunity to make up for those mistakes over time with their elite offense and three point shooting. Control the pace, execute in the halfcourt and only go for quick scores off of turnovers.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction:
My brain tells me the Warriors will come away with the win, but I think there's a good chance LeBron just comes out on a mission like he did in his lone regular season game against the Warriors last year. I think if he tries taking it to the rim and doesn't settle the Cavs come away with the win. Seeing as it's Christmas, I'll say the Cavs win 107-102.