The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet in the NBA Finals for the second straight year, and this time both teams are at full health. Some additions to the rivalry make this matchup even more intriguing.
Here are the most pressing questions entering the 2016 NBA Finals.
Will a healthy Big Three make the difference for the Cavaliers?
Kevin Love missed the entire 2015 NBA Finals, and Kyrie Irving played only Game 1. With Love and Irving out for virtually the entire series, LeBron James had to do just about everything for the Cavaliers. James scored or assisted on 62 percent of the Cavaliers’ points in the series, averaging 98 offensive touches per game.
This postseason, the Cavaliers are plus-131 in 366 minutes with the trio on the court together (they played 89 minutes together last postseason). The trio was minus-4 in 36 minutes against the Warriors in the regular season, but Irving and Love each bring elements to the table the Cavaliers didn’t have in last year's Finals.
Love has made 31 uncontested 3-pointers this postseason, tied with Klay Thompson for most in the NBA. Love has made 60 percent of his uncontested 3-pointers this postseason (31-of-52). In the 2015 NBA Finals, the Cavaliers shot 33 percent on uncontested 3-pointers.
Love (along with Channing Frye) gives the Cavaliers a big man who can stretch the floor. The three Cavaliers big men to play in the 2015 NBA Finals (Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov and Kendrick Perkins) attempted no 3-pointers in the series.
Irving gives the Cavaliers another player who can drive. In the 2015 NBA Finals, James drove to the basket 127 times, 107 more drives than the next closest Cavaliers player in the series (Matthew Dellavedova).
This postseason, Irving has driven to the basket almost as often as James, with the Cavaliers producing more on those plays. They’re shooting 49 percent on drives by Irving, 44 percent on drives by James.
How will the Cavaliers defend Curry?
The Thunder switched often against Stephen Curry in the conference finals, and Curry took advantage of mismatches. He was a combined 17-of-25 on 3-point shooting against Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka in the series, and has been torching big men all postseason, hitting 57 percent of his shots, including 63 percent of his 3-pointers.
In last year's NBA Finals, the Cavaliers switched against Curry on 15 percent of the Warriors' half-court plays, but in those instances the switching helped limit Curry and the Warriors' efficiency. Curry shot 38 percent when the Cavaliers switched, 46 percent when they didn’t.
Curry was successful when matched up against the Cavaliers’ big men, though, shooting 9-of-17 overall, including 6-of-12 from 3-point range, against Thompson and Mozgov. But when the switch put a smaller defender on Curry, he shot 4-of-16 overall (4-of-10 on 3-pointers).
Another wrinkle will be a healthy Irving. Dellavedova had success against Curry in Games 2 and 3 last year, but he has since struggled keeping him at bay (Curry is 22-of-39 against him since Game 4 of the Finals).
Curry went 1-of-5 against Irving in Game 1 of the 2015 Finals, and 2-of-6 against him in the regular season.
What will Iguodala’s impact be?
Andre Iguodala was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Harrison Barnes for Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. Iguodala was slotted into the starting lineup in place of Andrew Bogut for Games 4, 5 and 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals. The Warriors benefited greatly from the move:
Iguodala was the 2015 NBA Finals MVP in large part because of his defense on James. Keeping Iguodala in the starting lineup would get him on James more frequently.
Iguodala held James to 35 percent shooting overall, 31 percent on 2-pointers.
Sixty-six of James’ 77 field goal attempts against Iguodala were contested, with James shooting 30 percent on those attempts. James shot 41 percent when his shot was contested when he was guarded by anyone else.
James committed 13 of his 21 turnovers in the NBA Finals when guarded by Iguodala.
But Iguodala’s defense on James went beyond the basics. Against Iguodala, James touched the ball less, shot less, drove less and passed more.
James hasn’t needed to score or shoot as much as he has in previous postseasons in 2016. He has averaged 24.6 points, his second-lowest in a postseason.
What James is doing, though, is attacking the paint. Almost 60 percent of his shots this postseason have been in the paint, leading to an average shot of 9.8 feet from the basket, his lowest in any postseason.
James is also finishing when he gets in the paint. He’s made 68 percent of his in-the-paint field goal attempts this postseason, his second-highest percentage in a postseason (74 percent in 2013-14). James shot 51 percent in the paint in the 2015 NBA Finals, but averaged 18.0 paint points per game, his most in any postseason series.
Which small-ball lineup will reign supreme?
After falling behind 2-1 to the Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors benched Bogut in favor of Iguodala and increased their usage of small lineups.
The Warriors went small on 93 percent of all plays in Games 4-6 of the series after doing so 41 percent of the time in Games 1-3. Overall the Warriors were plus-60 in the series when going small.
The best unit was a grouping that features Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes and Green. That group was plus-28 in 70 minutes against the Cavaliers in last year's NBA Finals, best of any Warriors five-man unit.
The Cavaliers are healthy now, though, and have added players to the roster who could throw a wrench into that strategy for Golden State. Love and Frye both are 6-foot-10 or taller and can make 3-pointers.
The most efficient lineup for the Cavaliers this postseason has featured Frye as the lone big man, flanked by James, Dellavedova, Richard Jefferson and Iman Shumpert. That unit is plus-59 in 70 minutes this postseason, and it’s a group the Warriors have never seen. Frye was acquired after both Cavaliers-Warriors games in the regular season.
Another possibility for the Cavaliers? How about a small-ball lineup featuring James at center. The Cavaliers have not used these lineups often this season, doing so for five minutes in the regular season and two minutes in the postseason.