Charlotte Hornets

10 thoughts on the NBA Finals: LeBron vs. Steph

Former Davidson star Stephen Curry, the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, has the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals for ther first time in 40 years.
Former Davidson star Stephen Curry, the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, has the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals for ther first time in 40 years. Getty Images

This eight-day break between the conclusion of the NBA’s conference finals and the championship round feels like forever.

Golden State-Cleveland is the NBA Finals matchup fans clamored for, and now you sit around with nothing to watch until Thursday’s Game 1 (9 p.m., ABC). This amounts to the week before Christmas with all the presents still hidden in the attic.

It’s also a wealth of time to speculate on just what we’ll see when longtime friends LeBron James and Stephen Curry face off in a best-of-7 series for the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. This series obviously has star power. It also has depth on both rosters and the distinction that both head coaches are in their first NBA seasons in that role.

With several more days until the action starts, here are 10 conversation-starters on Warriors-Cavs:

Who guards LeBron James?

1 At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds James is too strong for the quick guys and too quick for the strong guys. But James’ impact on a basketball game is so much more than the physical.

The man’s skill set is so wide he can simultaneously be a team’s best ball-handler at the offensive end and best power forward at the defensive end. I don’t think we’ve seen anything quite like him since Magic Johnson as far as a point guard’s head inside a power forward’s body.

So who on Golden State’s roster is equipped to do something about containing James? The candidates seem to be Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Iguodala was once an elite defender, but he has 11 seasons of NBA mileage. Harrison has the height at 6-8 to match up with James, but is 30 pounds lighter. Thompson is a terrific perimeter defender, but size-wise Green matches up better at 6-7 and 230 pounds.

Who guards Stephen Curry?

2 I assume Cleveland will start with Kyrie Irving guarding Curry, but if Irving’s knee injury limits his lateral quickness, the Cavaliers have alternatives to guard Curry in Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova.

Shumpert is one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA. Dellavedova is scrappy enough to chase Curry through the myriad screens the Warriors will set.

Certainly it’s possible the Cavaliers could have James guard Curry, but I doubt you’ll see a steady diet of that.

Is Dellavedova a dirty player?

3 “Dirty” is an awfully strong word. I thought former Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer was a dirty player in that he seemed to take pleasure in hurting opponents. I don’t see Dellavedova, the Cavaliers’ undrafted backup point guard, as approaching the game the way Laimbeer did.

Dellavedova is neither skilled nor athletic enough to slog along and keep a roster spot. So he picks up plenty of floor burns chasing after loose balls.

He has angered Taj Gibson of the Chicago Bulls and Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks. Horford thought Dellavedova endangered his knees in the way Dellavedova fell into his body last round of playoffs.

Dirty? No. But there are times when I could understand why an opponent might view him as reckless.

Between these two rookie coaches, who does the better job?

4 David Blatt coached in Europe before the Cavaliers hired him. Steve Kerr hasn’t coached prior to this season, but he was general manager of the Phoenix Suns and a television analyst.

While anyone would want to coach a talent like James, that job has other challenges. James has the juice to essentially veto decisions, as when he told Blatt he wouldn’t inbound the ball on a game-ending possession in the playoff series against the Chicago Bulls. James demanded the ball and hit a game-winning jump shot from the corner.

One of the things I respect about Kerr is he hired one of the league’s top assistants, Shelby’s Alvin Gentry, to compensate for his lack of head-coaching experience. Gentry was just named coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, effective after the playoffs.

Blatt can be a little prickly in personality. Kerr has great people skills and has gotten the best out of Curry and Klay Thompson. So I give Kerr the nod.

Which players from these two rosters have made money with their playoff performances?

5 For the Warriors the obvious answer is Green, a former second-round draft pick who has established himself as one of the league’s better defenders and a 34 percent shooter from 3-point range.

For the Cavaliers, the big winner would be power forward Tristan Thompson, filling in for the injured Kevin Love. James keeps praising Thompson in a fashion that says, “Pay the man.”

Who benefits from the long layoff?

6 Obviously Irving for the Cavaliers, who had to miss two games of the Eastern Conference finals with a sore knee. For the Warriors it would be Thompson, who suffered a head injury in the close-out game with the Houston Rockets. Kerr said he believes Thompson will be cleared to play in Game 1.

Who is the wild-card player off each of these rosters?

7 For Cleveland, it would be reserve shooting guard J.R. Smith, who’s capable of hitting 6-of-9 from 3-point range one game and 0-of-9 the next game. Smith has performed well as a Cav, averaging 12.7 points and shooting 39 percent from 3-point range.

For Golden State it’s Barnes, the former North Carolina star. He’s floated along, scoring about 10 points per game each of his first three NBA seasons. He had a breakout game against the Rockets Wednesday with 24 points on 10-of-20 shooting.

The recent Bobcats/Hornets connection to the Finals is Cavs center Brendan Haywood. What’s his deal?

8 Haywood seldom plays, but he still has value in Cleveland.

Under the contract the Cavs acquired from Charlotte, Haywood counts only about $2 million this season on Cleveland’s cap. But Haywood has an unguaranteed $10.5 million salary for next season, which could make him great trade bait in the offseason should another team want to dump a big salary the Cavs are willing to absorb.

Any other ex-Bobcats in the Finals?

9 Warriors backup point guard Shaun Livingston played 73 games in Charlotte before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in the summer of 2011.

Livingston had a horrific knee injury with the Clippers (in a game against the Bobcats) in February of 2007. His left knee buckled, causing so much damage doctors feared they’d have to amputate part of Livingston’s lower leg if they couldn’t restore proper blood flow.

Seven seasons and eight NBA teams later, Livingston is a big piece of the Warriors’ run, playing both guard spots. His story of perseverance would feel complete if he ends up with a championship ring in June.

And the winner is?

10 It’s tough to pick against LeBron James after he led teams to the last five NBA Finals. But at the start of these playoffs, I picked the Warriors in seven over Cleveland.

I’ll live with that one.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rickbonnell

NBA Finals schedule (all times Eastern)

Game 1: Thursday, Cavs at Warriors, 9 p.m., ABC

Game 2: June 7, Cavs and Warriors, 8 p.m., ABC

Game 3: June 9, Warriors at Cavs, 9 p.m., ABC

Game 4: June 11, Warriors at Cavs, 9 p.m., ABC

Game 5*: June 14, Cavs at Warriors, 8 p.m., ABC

Game 6*: June 16, Warriors at Cavs, 9 p.m., ABC

Game 7*, June 19, Cavs at Warriors, 9 p.m., ABC

* If necessary

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