We have a full plate of goodies from the NBA on Christmas Day, but let’s be real. The only game that really matters is the afternoon delight in Cleveland between the Warriors and the Cavaliers.
It’s a rematch of the 2015 and 2016 NBA Finals. It’s the first meeting between two basketball titans expected to roll through their respective conferences and meet again in June for a third consecutive Finals date.
LeBron James and the Cavs may be the defending champions when the teams tip it off at high noon but it’s the Warriors who are the top dog. They come into Christmas Day with the league’s best record and armed with four of the top 15 players in the world.
When Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City joined Steph Curry and Co. in the summer, the balance of power shifted back to the Bay Area. It was a stunning move that sent shockwaves around the world. It was like Justin Bieber joining forces with One Direction. Or Cristiano Ronaldo teaming up with Lionel Messi.
The Warriors are must-see TV. They’re the Lannisters. They’re the envy of everyone. Women want to meet them. Men want to be them.
And so far, they have lived up to the hype.
The Warriors are not just winning game, they are destroying the competition. They are averaging a league-best 118 points per game. That’s five points better than second-best Houston (113) and six points better than third-best Toronto (112).
The Warriors are also the most efficient team in the league, as they’re the only team shooting over 49 percent from the field. They’re also sharing the ball at a record rate, posting an average of 31.5 assists. That’s almost seven more assists than the next-best team. The Dubs have three players averaging more than 22 points per game. Kevin Durant owns a team-best 26 points per game, followed by Steph Curry (25) and Klay Thompson (22). Thompson posted the highest-scoring game this season when he lit up the Indiana Pacers for 60 points in 29 minutes. Now that’s efficiency at it’s finest.
Some basketball pundits thought it would take at least half the season for Durant to acclimate himself to the Golden State culture. Through the quarter mark of the season, it’s safe to say KD has fully embraced the Warrior Way.
If there’s a crack in the Golden State armor it’s at the center position. Zaza Pachulia hasn’t made people forget Andrew Bogut, forcing coach Steve Kerr to call on JaVale McGree and Kevon Looney. But because the Warriors are so devastating offensively their “weakness” hasn’t been exploited.
LeBron and Kyrie Irving will try to test the Warriors’ defense the same way they attacked them in last year’s Finals. LeBron and Kyrie will take turns playing the point while Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye will camp out at the 3-point line. Tristan Thompson will be the one guy down in the low block when he’s not setting screens. The Warriors prefer to stay home on the Cavs shooters, so LeBron and Kyrie should be able to operate one-on-one. Klay will get the assignment on Kyrie, while Andre Iguodala will be matched up against LeBron when the Warriors go to their Death Lineup. Durant should also get some time against LeBron, but it’s not a matchup the Warriors forward has won in the past. Durant is 4-17 for his career in head-to-head matchups against LeBron.
When the Warriors have the ball, expect the Cavs to play a straight-up man defense. Coach Ty Lue most likely won’t show his hand until the Finals. Kyrie will likely start on defense against Curry and J.R. will draw the assignment on Klay. Smith did a number on Klay during the playoffs, so it’ll be important for Klay to play well. Love and Tristan Thompson will go chest-to-chest with Draymond Green and whoever Kerr decides to start at center. Green believes he has the clear edge against Love, so the Cavs may stick Tristan Thompson on Draymond.
That leaves LeBron on KD. The two best wing forwards in the world will go head-to-head for much of the game, unless one of them gets into foul trouble. This matchup alone is worth the price of admission.