LeBron James and Stephen Curry exchange words during Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

The NBA Finals are now underway and for the fourth straight season the Cleveland Cavaliers will be facing off against the Golden State Warriors. The Highlander’s sports section decided to break down whether sports fans should be excited for the fourth chapter in this seemingly never ending saga, what kind of impact the series could have on free agency and overall series predictions.

Should people be excited to watch this Cavs-Warriors matchup the fourth time around? Is it good for basketball?

Jonathan Fernandez: People should be excited for this series because when you think about it, this is what all great rivalries are made of. They have played against each other in the Finals multiple times, which is how animosity forms between two teams and cities. When you think back to those Celtics-Lakers matchups in the 80s, that rivalry basically saved the NBA in a time where there weren’t enough stars to keep people tuning in on a regular basis. Building this kind of rivalry, especially in this era, is extremely difficult and rivalries are always good for basketball.

Jaryd Bongcaras: Without a doubt, people should be appreciating the greatness of these two teams. The storyline of LeBron as one of the most polarizing athletes in professional sports history is something we can’t take for granted. Fans hated him when he took his talents to Miami, but once he returned to Cleveland and Kyrie Irving went down with a fractured knee cap in the 2015 Finals, fans started to appreciate him more. We’re witnessing an all-time great player in LeBron battle an all-time great team in Golden State. And the only reason why the Warriors are even more stacked, is because of him. Also, NBA fans shouldn’t be acting as if they haven’t seen dominant teams before. Were Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers teams bad for basketball? Or Jordan’s Bulls? Or the Celtics and Lakers teams from the 80s? This matchup is fantastic for basketball, because it forces other teams to build enough talent to take down Golden State or Cleveland. It pushes everyone else to become more competitive.

Getting more into the analysis side of these NBA Finals, who do you think will be a potential X factor in this series?

JF: To me it’s not just one person, it’s every player on the Cavs team who is part of the rotation and is not named LeBron James. We all know LeBron is going to be spectacular night in and night out, but he needs his teammates to step up. If he’s going to have any chance at winning this series, guys like JR Smith, Kyle Korver, and Kevin Love need to produce consistently. If they somehow manage to do that, Cleveland might be able to surprise a lot of people this series.

JB: The X factor is whoever can play a competent second fiddle to LeBron. If he can get at least two 20-point games from either JR, Jeff Green, Korver, Love, as well as a couple of monstrous rebounding games from Tristan Thompson, the series can potentially be closer than what we anticipated it to be. There’s no way the Cavs defense can shut down Golden State, so the next best thing to put up is consistent numbers.

What do you think each team’s primary game plan should be?

JF: For the Warriors, just about the only way they can lose is by beating themselves. They usually do that by lacking effort or turning the ball over too often. Being that they’re in the NBA Finals, I don’t believe that they’ll lack any effort, but they definitely need to focus on executing at a high level without turning the ball over. Being careless with the basketball has been this team’s only fatal flaw, so that’s something to be aware of.

The Cavaliers on the other hand should be focusing on shutting down the engine of the Warriors’ offense, which is Stephen Curry. The Cavs should look to take Steph out of the game by making him work on defense and forcing him to be a facilitator. Cleveland should look to run pick and roll action that forces Curry to be switched onto LeBron. This will make Curry exhaust a lot of energy trying to guard a bigger, more physical player who is going to attack him. The Cavaliers should also look to trap him off of pick and roll situations to force him to make tough and risky passes.

JB: I think if you’re the Warriors, you focus on containing LeBron’s teammates. Game 1 is a microcosm for the whole series, in the sense that no matter how phenomenal LeBron does, it’s not going to pull out a victory if he doesn’t get sufficient help. All Golden State really has to do is shut down LeBron’s teammates. And other than making sure LeBron gets that consistent second scorer, the Cavs need to focus on taking advantage of mismatches, particularly in the second half. The Warriors’ best quarter on average is the third, so the Cavs are going to need to make sure they don’t get swamped by the Warriors offense in that period.

Who will take home the Finals MVP award this year?

JF: I believe it’ll be Stephen Curry. The narrative entering this series was all about how despite all the individual awards Curry has won, the Finals MVP has eluded him. Although he has said publicly that it doesn’t matter to him whether he ever wins it or not, make no mistake about it, he wants to win that award and so far it looks like he’s going for it. The two-time NBA MVP award winner has shown time and time again that he’s the most important player on this roster and I believe he’ll prove it on the biggest stage.

JB: LeBron. It seems like this series is already much more competitive than last year’s final, even though only two games have been played so far. I hope I’m not overreacting to LeBron’s performance in Game 1, and that he can very much well pull out four wins against this star-studded Warriors team, but I probably am.

What kind of impact will this series have on this summer and free agency?

JF: I think in all reality it won’t have much of an impact unless by some miracle LeBron ends up winning this series. At this point I think LeBron knows what he’s going to do in free agency and winning would be the only thing that might make him want to either stay in Cleveland longer or persuade him to stay if he’s thinking about jumping ship.

JB: I’m putting faith into the Cavs’ front office to surround LeBron with a better supporting cast. Regardless of what happens, I think LeBron is going to stay in Cleveland even though a very small part of me sees him going to Houston.

What is your series prediction?

JF: Warriors in 6.

JB: Cavs in 7 (hopefully).

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