Can Stephen Curry cap his MVP season with a title? Will LeBron James bring a championship back to Cleveland?'s NBA experts dish their Finals predictions.

By The SI Staff
June 01, 2015
<span style="letter-spacing: 0.03125rem;"> </span>
Lee Jenkins: Warriors in 6
<span style="letter-spacing: 0.03125rem;"> </span>
Chris Ballard: Warriors in 6

As a Bay Area native, I never thought I'd write that. But the Warriors' defense is too strong, their bench too deep and Kyrie's ankle (for now) appears to be too gimpy. J.R. Smith might go nuts once, and LeBron will have plenty of LeBron moments, but in the end Golden State is the better team, with the better coaches. 

<span style="letter-spacing: 0.03125rem;"> </span>
Ben Golliver: Warriors in 6

The word I kept coming back to when writing my Finals preview was "prepared." Golden State's run through the postseason has served as excellent preparation for Cleveland. In Anthony Davis and the Pelicans, the Warriors were able to work through the process of rotating defenders on an opposing superstar in hopes of slowing him down. In Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies, the Warriors got some reps against a slow team with a strong defense and big bodies that can crash the offensive glass. In James Harden, Dwight Howard and the Rockets, the Warriors overcame a potent offense with multiple superstars and a propensity for launching threes. Together, those three rounds make for a nice, gradual ramp-up to the Finals, where the Warriors will have to throw a host of defenders at LeBron James, limit the damage done by Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov on the glass, and contain an elite attack that is led by James and Kyrie Irving.
By contrast, the Cavaliers have faced a sub-.500 Celtics team, a Bulls team that self-combusted before firing coach Tom Thibodeau this week, and a Hawks team with half its roster injured or limited. Going from that pack of weaker East foes to the Warriors will make for a sharp 0-to-60 acceleration in the Finals.
Golden State holds the edge when it comes to continuity (its starters have logged far more minutes together than Cleveland's make-shift lineup) and depth (the Warriors have a true second unit while the Cavaliers are scraping together whatever is left after the injuries are accounted for), and the Warriors would seem to have more options to use against James than the Cavaliers have options to try on Stephen Curry. Add up those factors, plus Golden State's homecourt advantage, and I see the Warriors finishing off their dream season and dropping James' career record in the Finals to 2-4.  
<span style="letter-spacing: 0.03125rem;"> </span>
Michael rosenberg: Warriors in 6

There is really only one reason to pick Cleveland, and I think we all know who he is. LeBron James has put up more efficient numbers in other postseasons, but considering the talent around him, he is controlling games as well as he ever has. Worth noting, though, that while the Cavs made the Finals, they did not have to beat any of the best teams in the league to get there. (Golden State, the L.A. Clippers, Houston and San Antonio are all better than Atlanta, and one could argue for Memphis.) James helps push this to six, but that's as far as he can take it.

<span style="letter-spacing: 0.03125rem;"> </span>
Rob Mahoney: Warriors in 6

As great as the Cavs have been in these playoffs, they don’t yet know the discomfort of trying to get the better of a team like the Warriors. Stephen Curry alone demands constant attention in a way that will distort Cleveland’s base defensive system, forcing the Cavs into the kinds of defensive exchanges that expose flaws in communication and execution. All the cross-matching in the world won’t be able to cover the gaps. There’s nowhere to hide when Golden State’s best lineups have the ball. Thompson will work his defenders over by crashing them through screen after screen. Draymond Green balances shooting and driving with a sharp playmaking sensibility. Even Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala can be opportunistic in their scoring, particularly when Curry, Thompson, or Green manages to draw two to the ball.
To make matters worse, Cleveland—which to this point has relied on a rudimentary, LeBron-dominant offense—will have to grind out points against the best defensive team in the league. James will get his. Where the Warriors excel is in making everything else a challenge, from the basics of initiating offense to the pressure of overcoming strong position-by-position defense as the shot clock dwindles. I suspect this series is where the Cavs will finally start to feel the shrink of the court that comes with Kevin Love’s absence; Cleveland’s bigger lineups will allow for easier help and near-constant crowding in the lane. Running smaller (with Tristan Thompson playing center) could clear things up a bit, but at the sacrifice of rim protection and a valuable offensive rebounder. Every adjustment the Cavs will need to make in this series comes at a cost. In total, I imagine they’ll be too much to bear.
<span style="letter-spacing: 0.03125rem;"> </span>
Phil Taylor: Warriors in 7

Making a prediction is risky without consulting both teams’ medical staffs for a second opinion. The series could turn on the questionable health of Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving, but let’s assume that both guards will at least be close to their normal selves by Game 1. The Cavs didn’t see a team nearly as complete as Golden State during their jaunt through the East, but that doesn’t mean they’re ill-equipped to hang with the Warriors. One issue they pose for Golden State is that Draymond Green seems to be the Warrior best suited to both defend against LeBron James and keep Tristan Thompson off the offensive glass. Green may be have a reputation as a do-everything forward, but he can’t literally do everything. If the Warriors have to match him up against James for long stretches, it could land Green in foul trouble, give Thompson the chance to get second shots for the Cavs, or both. The Warriors are an elite defensive team, but James presents problems that no other player in the league can cause. But defending against Steph Curry and that free-flowing Golden State offense will be just as tough for Cleveland. James’ praise for Iman Shumpert’s defense notwithstanding, Curry will likely be too much for the Cavs’ perimeter defenders. The Warriors’ attack, which features tons of passing and movement without the ball, is reminiscent enough of the Spurs’ offense that King James faced in last year’s Finals to give him nightmares. This will be one of those series that everyone tries to call too early, because there will be points when one team seems in control, and then the other will reverse everything. The Cavs and Warriors aren't much alike, but their differences make them near equals. Look for a series that goes the distance, with Golden State finally prevailing in a tight Game 7.​

<span style="letter-spacing: 0.03125rem;"> </span>
Matt Dollinger: Cavaliers in 6

There are a million good reasons to pick the Warriors in this series, but I only need one to pick the Cavaliers. Cleveland's injury-riddled roster is far from perfect, just like its superstar leader—LeBron James has gone 2-of-5 in past Finals appearances—but my gut tells me both will overcome their deficiencies in this series. No team is better equipped to slow down James than the Warriors, but even when you know what's coming, there's no stopping LeBron when he's in the zone. Like Ronda Rousey's armbar or Mariano Rivera's cutter, you can prepare for LeBron James all you want, but facing the music is a different story. Forget the days of appeasing star teammates in Miami, LeBron is 100% focused on doing whatever it takes to win. He was the one who decided to return to Cleveland, to face even more pressure, to answer even more critics. Now he gets a chance to write his own ending much like he penned his beginning. While it might appear the Cavs are a depleted squad without one prong of their Big Three, they've actually played better without Kevin Love and matchup better against the small-ball Warriors. Since Love went down in the first round, the Cavaliers own a defensive rating of 99.1, a mark leaps and bounds better than regular-season mark of 104.1. Golden State owns the overall talent advantage, but Cleveland boasts the best player and the greater will to win. LeBron wants to prove everyone wrong, while Golden State is trying to prove everyone right. I'll take the four-time MVP with the chip on his massive shoulders.

<span style="letter-spacing: 0.03125rem;"> </span>
DeAntae prince: Warriors in 5


• GALLERY: Riley Curry and other podium kids over the years

You May Like