The Cleveland Cavaliers are aiming to carve out a dynasty in the NBA by winning their second championship on the bounce.
The Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors in the Finals last term, staging a comeback to run out 4-3 victors.
Cleveland’s win quelled the Warriors’ own hopes of beginning their own dynasty, but the Bay Area outfit will now have the chance for revenge against Tyronn Lue’s men.
The Cavs have been in dominant form in the post-season, recovering from their underwhelming end to the regular campaign when they allowed the Boston Celtics to snatch away the one seed.
Lue’s side were pitted against the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. Paul George and company had no answer for the offensive firepower of the Cavaliers.
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love dominated the court, allowing their side to advance into the Conference Semi-Finals with a clean sweep.
The Toronto Raptors were next on the agenda, with the talent of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to match the scoring threat of their opponents.
However, James was imperious from the off and scored 30 points or over in all four matches of the series to book their showdown with the Celtics in the Conference Finals.
Cleveland proved their dominance at the top of the Eastern Conference by blowing away Boston with their firepower, although Brad Stevens’ men hinted that their challenge could come in the future by stopping the sweep with a victory at Quicken Loans Arena.
We are now poised for an exhilarating clash between the two superpowers in the NBA. The two teams have met in the Finals for the past two seasons, splitting one championship apiece.
We’ll now look and see whether the defending champions can retain their crown.
James has been a thorn in the side of the Warriors over the past two years in the Finals. The 32-year-old is always the man of the big occasion and the championship game brings out the best in his play.
The forward has won the Finals MVP award three times in his career – in each of the respective years his side have triumphed in the series. During his tenure with the Miami Heat – he best Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to guide his side past the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In 2013 he elevated the level of his game once more to see off Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and cocach Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs.
Ironically his best performance in the Finals came against the Warriors in the Cavaliers loss in 2015. He alone battled the star-studded line-up of the Bay Area outfit without a great deal of talent around him and made the series close, although Golden State secured the title in a 4-2 victory.
Should James operate at his peak level once again – it may be enough to turn what is expected to be a very even contest in the favour of Lue’s men.
The form of Irving and Love will be crucial to ease the pressure on their captain. Both players fired against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the point guard notching a 42-point display to turn game four after Boston had started the contest extremely well.
On the defensive side of the court Tristan Thompson will play an integral role in limited the offensive play of the Warriors. Kevin Durant’s presence looms large over the series and he could be the decisive player, limiting him will be a key point for Thompson and the rest of the Cavaliers’ defense.
The Cavaliers were flat towards the end of the regular season and it almost cost them after losing the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.
However, they came out firing from the off in the playoffs and did not rest up until they powered through the first two rounds, defeating the Pacers and the Raptors.
If anything the Cavs raised the level of their displays in the Conference Finals, hammering the Celtics in their four victories.
Their only defeat to Stevens’ men may have been as a result of complacency after the Celtics lost All-Star Isaiah Thomas for the series, but Al Horford and Marcus Smart sprung a surprise.
The break could knock the Cavaliers out of their rhythm that was in full flow in their win over the Celtics and time away could be detrimental. The experience in the side should atone for any perceived rust, but they cannot afford to fall behind to this Warriors side.
Banking on LeBron’s greatness has propelled the team into the Finals for three seasons on the bounce. He has shown no signs of slowing down, but at the age of 32 he could be begin to tire, especially if the series were to go all the way to seven matches.
The games will be extremely close contests and anything other than LeBron’s maximum effort may see the Warriors snatch the crown due to the youthful nature of their side in comparison.
The Cavaliers may have wanted a stronger test in the playoffs to test their character. Lue’s men have not been put under strain since the regular campaign, although the same could be said of the Warriors.
The two sides are evenly matched with the series likely to come down to who can perform under the intense pressure, striking at the key moments.
Momentum was a decisive factor in the 2016 Finals with the Warriors surging ahead in the early stages, but once the Cavaliers turned the tide – LeBron and company were able to canter to victory.
The two matches the teams played in the regular season have hinted at the intensity of the rivalry. Cleveland edged out the Warriors at Oracle Arena on Christmas Day before Steve Kerr’s men smashed the Cavs on the road in January.
Lue’s side are considered underdogs in the Finals against the offensive power of Golden State, but Cleveland’s own point-scoring strength should be considered in the betting odds. As a result, backing the Cavs at +220 with PaddyPower is a solid bet to take.
It should be a fiercely-fought series all the way and could well be a repeat of last year’s Finals. Therefore a 4-3 win for the Cavaliers should be taken at odds of +800 .
For the Cavs to triumph LeBron will need to have a strong outing in the series, with odds of +220 at Bovada sportsbook for him to shine once again and claim his fourth MVP award.
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