By Robyn Browning, N The Zone NBA Contributor
The NBA Eastern and Western conference final series are set with the two #1 seeds, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, only dropping one game between them in the semifinals to get here and their opponents, the Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma City Thunder finishing off their semifinal series with authoritative victories to show fans why they deserve to be in the finals. Can Cleveland continue their hot shooting and breeze to the NBA finals? Has Stephen Curry had the needed rest to play 40 minutes a game? Here are my predictions for the Eastern and Western conference finals.
Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Toronto Raptors (2)
Cleveland wins if they stay aggressive offensively with outstanding three-point shooting in the 1-4 set with LeBron James at the point. James must overpower DeMarre Carroll and possible double teams and make timely three-point shots in addition to his mid-range game. The Cavaliers have to and keep the Toronto frontcourt out of the paint and reduce their ability to out-rebound them because they have to respect Kevin Love’s three-point shooting ability. JR Smith was a factor in the semifinals, but he is a streaky shooter. He has to average 15 points off the bench in order for him to contribute to the team’s defensive effort.
Toronto wins if they play like did in Game 7 of the semifinal series. Their frontcourt has to bump and bully Cleveland in the paint, win the rebounding battle and score on second-chance points, and they must play with confidence against the Cavaliers, especially in Game 1, since this is their first trip to the conference finals as a team. Bismack Biyombo must convert on pick-and-roll plays and Kyle Lowry has to be efficient with his shooting since he will expend a lot of energy guarding Kyrie Irving.
Players to Watch: Cleveland bench (offensive output) and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry backcourt (must shoot 40-45%).
My Pick: Cleveland in 5
Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (3)
Golden State wins if Stephen Curry doesn’t aggravate his ankle injury. They must have stellar ball movement to make the Thunder frontcourt vulnerable to foul trouble because they will have to chase Draymond Green around the perimeter. The trio of Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Leandro Barbosa is superior to Randy Foye and Cameron Payne of the Thunder so coach Steve Kerr must exploit the mismatch in talent to continue to score points while Curry and Klay Thompson are each on the bench. Although Thompson is known for his offensive fire power, he has to slow down Russell Westbrook on defense while his teammates limit second chance shots from the Thunder.
Oklahoma City wins if they use their length in the frontcourt to win the rebounding and scoring battle against an undersized Warriors frontcourt. Kevin Durant has to pour in points in spurts to compensate for times they having scoring droughts and Russell Westbrook has to use his speed to create points for himself and the frontcourt. The Thunder must use pick-and-pop plays with Serge Ibaka that leave him in the short corner to make three-pointers, reduce turnovers to under 12 per game, play with nothing to lose, and close out games for wins.
Players to Watch: Iguodala, Livingston, and Barbosa, and Thompson (continued leadership and 48% three-point shooting) for the Warriors and the big men of the Thunder, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (rebounding and second-chance points)
My Pick: Warriors in 7
You can follow Robyn on Twitter. Her handle is @robynbirdfly.