Charlotte Hornets

Biggest of 7 burning NBA Finals questions? What, if anything, is LeBron James' limit.

If Cavaliers forward LeBron James can carry Cleveland to an NBA title against Golden State, he'll deserve more than a secret handshake.
If Cavaliers forward LeBron James can carry Cleveland to an NBA title against Golden State, he'll deserve more than a secret handshake. Akron Beacon Journal/TNS

Are people really tired of Warriors-Cavs?

I don’t want the same dinner every night, but to me this is different: Golden State, with the best collection of talent on one NBA roster in recent history, versus Cleveland and the single greatest basketball player of his generation, or perhaps any generation.

I would have been fine with the matchup resulting from either the Houston Rockets or Boston Celtics winning their respective Game 7s. But you give me LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant on the same court with everything at stake, and I don’t know how the 2017-18 season could end in a more entertaining way.

That doesn’t mean I believe the NBA Finals will last seven games. I’ll be surprised if it does. But I don’t know that any other team from the Eastern Conference could put on a better show when you account for the current injuries among contenders.

0530 Stephen Curry wide
Golden State guard Stephen Curry is the Warriors' most important player because of the position he plays (point guard) and the efficiency with which he plays. Ben Margot AP Photo

Drama is the natural result of burning questions. Here are mine going into the Cavs-Warriors IV:

Can LeBron carry this crew?

Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker says James’ level of devotion to his conditioning has changed other top players’ thinking on longevity: That’s how serious James is, investing time and money (seven figures!) maintaining his body. However, what are the limits for a 33-year-old who has played more than 44,000 minutes over 1,100-some NBA games, plus multiple off-season Olympics?

James is more important to the Cavs’ chances than any other player to any NBA Finals participant in a long time, particularly if Kevin Love isn’t cleared from the concussion protocol soon. Two of the three series the Cavs won were extended to the full seven games (yes, the Cavs swept the Toronto Raptors 4-0).

James has played 743 of a possible 864 minutes so far in the Cavs’ postseason. Next to none of those minutes were standing in a corner catching his breath while some teammate ran the offense or guarded a key opponent.

Will we see Andre Iguodala?

0530 Andre Iguodala
Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) has a leg injury, which could be a bigger blow on defense than offense for a team facing LeBron James. David J. Phillip AP Photo

There are so many stars on this Warriors roster that Iguodala no longer qualifies as one. That doesn’t mean his presence for Golden State wouldn’t be missed.

Iguodala couldn’t play the last few games of the Western Conference final because of a leg injury. Warriors coach Steve Kerr told ESPN’s Marc Spears, “We would have won in five had Iggy played.” Whether or not that’s so, Iguodala’s availability against the Cavs could be big.

Iguodala has demonstrated in the past he’s well-suited for guarding James, and it’s always key to have multiple defenders available to match up with him. Also, while Iguodala is no longer a primary scorer-level player, his savvy and experience count for more in a Finals atmosphere, much as it does with another Warrior, guard Shaun Livingston.

Can Jeff Green keep doing this?

0530 Jeff Green
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Jeff Green (32) was valuable as a fill-in for Kevin Love in the Eastern Conference finals. If Love remains out ... Charles Krupa AP Photo

What Green did in the Cavs’ Game 7 closeout of the Boston Celtics is so cool: A fill-in starter in place of Love, and he goes for 19 points and eight rebounds. Plus, there is the back story of his recovery from a heart condition that cost him an entire season.

Was that a one-off appearance, or an indication Green can have greater impact, particularly with Love’s status in doubt? Playing mostly off the bench in the regular season, Green averaged 10.8 points and 3.2 rebounds. He’s different from Love; more a post-up player, lacking Love’s 3-point range.

Whether or not Love is available, the Cavs need Green, a former top-5 pick with nine NBA seasons, to keep raising his game from the regular season.

Who’s 'The Guy' for the Warriors?

0528 Kevin Durant
If every player in the NBA were re-drafted today, Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, left, might be chosen before Stephen Curry, despite Curry's importance to his team. Marcio Jose Sanchez AP Photo

I would argue Curry is still Golden State’s most important player, even if Durant is arguably the Warriors’ greatest talent.

Durant launched a couple of shots off the dribble in the second half of Game 7 Sunday with so little separation and with such a quick release that I was mystified they went in. If every player in the league was redrafted onto teams, it wouldn’t surprise me if Durant was chosen before Curry.

However, I still think Curry is more important to the Warriors’ fortunes in the Finals, partially because he plays point guard and partially because he does so many little things with efficiency (like setting screens at great angles to spring himself and others for open shots).

Who must step up for the Cavs?

0530 JR Smith
Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (5) played extended minutes against Boston, but his numbers didn't show it. He'll have to do better against Golden State. Michael Dwyer AP Photo

J.R. Smith, for sure. His 36 percent shooting from the field in the playoffs isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, in that the majority of his shots this postseason come from outside the 3-point line. However, averaging 8.5 points, when he’s playing 32.5 minutes and started 17 of the Cavs’ 18 playoff games, isn’t enough.

It’s understandable if young guys on the Cavs’ roster, such as Larry Nance, Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood, are a bit overwhelmed by this stage of the playoffs. But Smith is a 13-season veteran. Time to perform.

Any lesson in the Warriors’ awful first half Sunday?

Yes, that while Durant is undeniably a great player, he doesn’t always apply himself in all areas of the game the way James does.

TNT analyst Reggie Miller called Durant to task for not being sufficiently engaged when the ball wasn’t in his hands. As in, move more without the ball on offense and be more conscious of rebounding on defense.

Can the Warriors lose this?

0530 Stephen Curry tight
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) is the most important, if not the most talented, member of his team. Marcio Jose Sanchez AP Photo

Someone would have to give me 10-to-1 or better to bet on the Cavaliers’ chances. The Warriors might not have as much depth as they once did, but if Love is out, there is a big gap between Golden State’s starters and everyone in the Cavs’ rotation other than James.

I'm picking the Warriors in five games. If James extends the series to six, it’s a huge tribute to his singular greatness..

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell
  Comments