One NBA scout estimated he watched the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors no less than 30 times each this season, including both regular-season games against each other.
He offered AmicoHoops some opinions on the good, bad and perhaps better of the NBA Finals, giving his final prediction of the winner at the end.
Scout on Warriors
HOW THEY CAN WIN
“Just keep being themselves — move, pass, make shots. There is no uncovered mystery in what they do. They play basketball. But so few teams can stop it, and the reason is they are stacked with shooters in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, (Kevin) Durant. Others like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala aren’t necessarily knock-down 3-point specialists, but they start to seem like it because they’re handed so many wide-open opportunities. Nearly anyone in this league can make shots when they’re wide open. They are smart, unselfish and they make shots. That’s always been the formula.
“Defensively, they get away with a lot of illegal stuff, doubling off the ball, that they dare the refs to call. They’ll keep doing it, because they disguise it well, and the refs don’t want to keep stopping the game. The Cavs will complain about it a lot, but I’m not sure it will matter. They’re more than that, though. Thompson is right up there with the best wing defenders in the league and his length will bug Kyrie Irving and any of the Cavs’ other guards. Green is strong, physical and cocky. And I bet Durant’s long arms and determination will occasionally get to LeBron (James). Durant always gets extra fired up for LeBron.”
HOW THEY CAN LOSE
“Not having Steve Kerr around didn’t impact them in the West because everyone else was so overmatched. I guess Kerr is still sort of around, with Skype and the Internet, but it’s not the same. Mike Brown is now managing the games, and Brown is just doing what the Warriors’ have always done. But game management against LeBron James is different than game management vs. the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard. In fact, the Spurs were up by about 100 until Kawhi got hurt. Brown and the staff can’t afford to blow Game 1 vs. LeBron if Kerr isn’t there.
“Also, the Cavs have a tendency to remove the other team’s best player early in a series. They did it with DeMar DeRozan (Toronto) and then with Isaiah Thomas (Boston). They will really go after Curry in this series, particularly in Game 1, because I bet they think Durant can’t beat them. He hasn’t proven himself on this stage yet. Curry has. An underrated aspect of last year was how the Cavs got under Curry’s skin. They will try to irritate him and Draymond — and getting Draymond rattled isn’t all that difficult. If either happens, the Warriors could possibly self-destruct. But that’s a bit of reach.”
Scout on the Cavs
HOW THEY CAN WIN
“LeBron James is the ultimate X-Factor. I still can’t believe he plays on a team that’s not favored to win a series. Especially a team with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and highly underrated coaching staff led by Ty Lue. That’s the simple version, but a version that can’t be discounted. Having LeBron overcomes a lot of other shortcomings. As someone who watches these games to the point where I see basketballs in my sleep, I can honestly say no one in this league can swing the momentum in a series with a single play or two (like James).
“Still, the Cavs are going to need the performance of a lifetime from both Kyrie and Love. Kyrie can do it, but I have my doubts about Love. He still shrinks in big moments. Tristan Thompson is another huge key. He cannot disappear. He has to average double figures in rebounds. It’s up to him and Love to switch out on the shooters and run them off the perimeter. They can do it — but will they do it consistently?
“Look, the Cavs have to play near flawless basketball here. They have to defend much better than they did in the season’s second half. And I think they need to win one of the first two. But I’ve read it here before and it’s true: With LeBron, all is possible. I sure would make sure to keep that in mind if I’m Golden State.”
HOW THEY CAN LOSE
“Oh man. This is a team that can get lost on defense. Let me start with that. Against Boston they were caught turning their heads, scrambling, getting confused on screens … of course, they still won two of the games by a combined 77 points. How did they do it? Offense. They can just outscore you. But that’s a trick that’s probably not going to work here. The Warriors have too much firepower. The Cavs will need to keep games in the low 100s or high 90s. I don’t know that they have the ability do it this year.
“As much as anything, they look tired to me sometimes. Maybe they let their guard down after finally winning one for Cleveland, I don’t know. J.R. Smith has not been a help. I know he’s had some personal things going on, but if I’m Lue, I pull J.R. at the first sign of trouble. Their bench also concerns me. I have no idea why they’re so in love with Richard Jefferson. He’s probably the best example of a player looking worn down. This would be good series to play Channing Frye again, maybe give Derrick Williams another shot. I’m with you and can’t for the life of me figure out why Williams is riding the bench. He really gave them a jolt. He could at least match up athletically and maybe frustrate Durant, Green and Iguodala.
“Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, again, all those guys will need to be at their best.
“Overall, anything less than their best and smartest basketball will bring a quick end to things. They can’t blow leads and they can’t get complacent like they did so often in the regular season and earlier rounds. I’m just worried they have too many bad habits.”
“No one is giving the Cavs a chance, but I won’t go that far. I think they have a shot, and I feel really uncomfortable picking against LeBron when he has two younger studs playing next to him (in Irving and Love).
“But man, this Warriors team is rolling and just too lethal for a team that often has looked lost and unmotivated defensively. I think James will give his team a fighting chance, but that defense just isn’t good enough. Curry, Durant, Thompson — there are just too many weapons for a Cavs team that has looked satisfied with one title for most of the season.
“I am going to go with the Warriors in six.”