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NBA Finals 2018: What the Cavaliers Need to Do to Beat the Warriors

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Heading into the fourth-straight Warriors-Cavaliers Finals, Golden State is heavily favored over Cleveland, and it comes as no surprise. All season long, the Cavs have struggled to be a dominant force in the East, yet here they are going to a fourth consecutive Finals. Then again, Cleveland has LeBron James, the most reliable force in the NBA this past decade, and it’s difficult to doubt him and his uncanny ability to maintain and further his greatness with time.

That said, while the Warriors are expected to win this year’s championship, the simple fact that James is on the opposing side is enough to believe the Cavaliers can still win it. He has made it a habit to put up insane numbers in the playoffs and carry his team. But, as history has proved, James cannot win it all on his own — and even he has his flaws. The Cavaliers can win a championship, but the team as a whole needs to step up.

LeBron Can’t Settle

James is such a unique, versatile player: powerful and strong but also quick and athletic. He can score in whatever way he wants and has tremendous court vision. But he isn’t always the smartest decision maker on offense.

Countless times, James has settled for jump shots instead of going to the paint when he has the clear advantage on his man. But he can’t settle against the Warriors. He has to make them work.

Andre Iguodala has been praised for his ability to defend James well, but he’s out for, at least, game one. As such, it’s likely Kevin Durant will be matched with James. Unlike Iguodala, though, Durant is known for his offense, and his offense is heavily relied upon by Golden State. If James settles for too many jumpers, Durant isn’t going to be too challenged defensively or become tired. That’ll leave him with more energy to score for the Warriors.

But, if James tries to post up and put Durant to work defensively, James can tire Durant out and prevent him from being as effective on the offensive end. It won’t completely prevent Durant from being an offensive force, but it can lessen the effect he has on that end.

Shooters Have To Make An Impact

With Golden State having Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and their sharpshooting abilities, Cleveland really needs Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith to step up and compete. Three-point shooting has become so important in today’s NBA, but it’s even more important when facing the Warriors.

Smith, especially, needs to make an impact if he’ll be staying in the starting lineup.

It’s no coincidence that during the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavaliers lost when Smith played poorly: four points on 2-of-9 shooting in game one, zero points on 0-for-7 shooting in game three, and two points on 1-of-6 shooting in game five. In Cleveland’s Eastern Conference Finals wins, he scored 11, nine, five and 12 points, respectively. Such numbers aren’t spectacular, but they still make an impact — they make him more of a threat, and the Warriors need to see him as such if the Cavaliers want to win.

Korver was more consistent in the Eastern Conference Finals and, early in the series, was even regarded by some as Cleveland’s third best player behind James and Kevin Love. Part of that had to do with the fact Korver was not only shooting the ball well, but he was doing well in general: making hustle plays and defending well. But he faded as the series went on, making no more than a third of his shots in the last three games of the series.

Korver is one of the league’s premier 3-point shooters, so regardless of whether his shot is falling consistently, teams will see him as a threat. Opposing coaches get worked up if their team leaves Korver open. But he didn’t help the Cavaliers get this far by simply being viewed as a threat.

One of the criticisms Korver has received during his time in Cleveland is his inability to make shots when it matters most. In last year’s Finals, he didn’t have as big of an impact as hoped, averaging 4.4 points across five games. That can’t happen again. This year, to win, he needs to actually be a threat, and that means he needs to score.

Take Care of the Ball

One of Cleveland’s biggest flaws in the Eastern Conference Finals was the amount of turnovers it committed. For the series, the Cavaliers averaged 14.0 turnovers per game with the Celtics scoring 14.9 points off said turnovers per game, and James often committed most of his team’s turnovers. Given the amount of time he’s on the court and the amount of plays he makes, James committing the most turnovers on his team is understandable. But it’ll be costly if he can’t limit these mistakes. Live ball turnovers so often turn into easy points for the Warriors on the other end.

It was one thing to give a young Celtics team more chances to score by turning the ball over; even if Boston scored off turnovers, James alone could do enough damage to counter that and whatever mistakes Boston made due to its lack of experience.

But, in the Finals, the Cavaliers are facing their toughest competition yet.

For years, the East has been regarded as the weaker conference. But even though the East has strengthened as of late, its elite teams simply aren’t as competitive as the elite teams in the West. So going from facing a young, surprising Celtics team to competing against the reigning champions in a talented, experienced Warriors team is a huge jump.

The Warriors already have no problem scoring the ball, and that will be difficult enough for the Cavaliers to stop and counter. So Cleveland really needs to make smart decisions on offense and turn the ball over as little as possible.

Play Disciplined Defense

While outscoring the Warriors is what will win games for the Cavaliers, simply making shots won’t do that. It won’t matter if Cleveland suddenly becomes an offensive juggernaut if it can’t prevent Golden State from being one, too.

The Cavaliers need to contest shots intelligently and pay attention on defense. They can’t get careless and sloppy, hoping they can simply make up for it on offense, and this starts with James.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, James didn’t always stick with his man, offering the Celtics an open man and an easier shot at scoring. And it’s no secret that James doesn’t always give it his all on defense despite his ability to defend at an extremely high level. He has been careless about it before, but the Finals is not the time for such play — especially as the Cavaliers’ leader. When James doesn’t play disciplined defense, it only shows his teammates that they’re free to do the same. His supporting cast is already seen as one of his weakest ones, so it doesn’t need an excuse to live up to that.

Cleveland won’t suddenly become elite defenders come tip-off of the Finals, but the effort has to be there. We saw in Game 7 against Boston what they can be capable of.

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