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2016 NBA Finals Preview

The NBA Finals rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors starts Thursday night at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

Last year, the Warriors defeated the Cavs in six games to win their first NBA Title since 1975. But the Cavs weren’t healthy, they had lost Kevin Love earlier in the Playoffs and then lost Kyrie Irving to a left kneecap fracture that he suffered in Game 1 against the Warriors.

This year is completely different for the Cavs. The team won 57 games and locked up the one-seed in the Eastern Conference.

In the first two rounds of the Playoffs, Cleveland swept both the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks. The team looked like it might do the same to the Raptors before dropping two in a row to Toronto before closing them out in six games.

Golden State’s season has been about setting records and re-writing history. Well, Cleveland made some history of their own during the Playoffs. The Cavs knocked down a Playoff record 25 three-pointers in Game 2 against the Hawks.

Last year in the Finals, LeBron willed his depleted team to two victories while averaging almost 46 minutes and 36 points per game. He was doing everything by himself.

The Cavs were a top 10 offense in most of the major categories but only shot 36 percent from three in the regular season but have upped that to 43 percent in the Playoffs.

For the Cavs to win this series, Kevin Love and JR Smith are going to have to step up. Both have been streaky during the regular season and in the Playoffs. Most fans know that LeBron is going to get his, Kyrie too.

But Love and Smith have got to knock down open shots, play solid defense and bring the intensity.

Love had 20 and 25 points in the final two games against Toronto, but he will have to continue scoring at least 20 points a game for the Cavs to have a real chance.

JR Smith has done most of his damage in the Playoffs from behind the arc. But, it’s been streaky. He was 5 of 8 for three in the final game against the Raptors but 3 of 11 in a Game 4 loss. He must pick up his offensive game.

Defensively, Love will probably be matched up against Draymond Green a lot, which is a tough match for any defender. Smith will probably be matched up against Steph and Klay for most of the series. The only advice anyone can give him is contest their shots. They’re going to make tough shots but don’t give them open looks.

The 73-9 Warriors came back from being down 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals to OKC to win the series, becoming just the 10th team to do so (previous teams down 3-1 in a series were 9-223).

Golden State endured a two-plus week streak without two-time MVP Steph Curry during the Playoffs. They only dropped two games during that span, one to both Houston and Portland.

But since Curry’s return, he hasn’t been the same threat. Yes, he’s knocked down threes with regularity, but you can depend on that from a guy who hit over 400 on the season. He’s even been more aggressive on drives to the basket like when he knocked down a layup to put Game 6 out of reach against the Thunder.

Steph still managed to average almost 28 points a game against the Thunder even though he wasn’t 100 percent (he won’t admit that though).

In the Playoffs though, the Warriors have been led by the other Splash Brother, Klay Thompson. Thompson knocked down a Playoff record 11 three’s in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals to force a Game 7.

Thompson has had some slow starts in the past few games though. He started 0 of 7 from the field in Game 7 and 1 for 7 from three in Game 6. However, he did finish Game 6 with 41 points and Game 7 with 21. He’s the reason a Game 7 was forced.

For Golden State to continue this historic season and cap it off with another championship, the Splash Brothers have to stay hot and hit open and contested three’s.

The key player for the Warriors has to be Draymond Green. Steph and Klay will get there points regardless of who is guarding them.

But, Draymond didn’t really play a major role in the series against OKC. He had one 20-point game and two double-doubles. This a guy who averaged 14 points, almost 10 rebounds and seven assists a game.

His numbers did not reflect that in the Western Conference Finals. Instead, he is most known for kneeing and kicking Thunder center Steven Adams in the groin.

Not winning the championship will make winning 73 games mean almost nothing.

However, if that happens, it would mean the Warriors lost as many games in the Playoffs as they did in the entire regular season.

Twenty-one out of 29 ESPN NBA experts picked the Warriors to win the series in the six or seven games, while one picked them to win it in five. The other seven chose the Cavs in six or seven.

If I were betting on the series, how could you bet against the Warriors? They won 73 games. They came back from down 3-1 in a series that they looked so overmatched. And, they have the back-to-back MVP, plus his sidekick.

But, I think a healthy Cavaliers team pushes them and comes out on top in a six game series.

Images via Cleveland.com, CSNNE.com, ESPN.com, HuffingtonPost.com and SportingNews.com.