The last time these two teams met, the Warriors were celebrating an NBA Championship on Cleveland’s court. Though the Cavs were depleted by injuries, they were still able to take a 2-1 lead in the series before eventually succumbing to Golden State’s firepower. It was a tough pill to swallow for LeBron James and his teammates, and they’ve undoubtedly had tomorrow’s game circled on their calendars for a while now.
It’ll certainly be an interesting contest, especially considering the fact the Cavs are at full strength for the first time since April. The Warriors only saw Kyrie Irving for one game of the Finals, and never played against Kevin Love. Both will be suiting up tomorrow.
That said, even though the Cavs will be playing with both a complete roster and revenge on their minds, it’s tough to believe they’re currently on the same level as Golden State. Cleveland may eventually be ready to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors, but it’s just not there yet.
This is hardly an insult to the Cavs. Currently riding a six-game winning streak and sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings, Cleveland is having itself a solid year.
With this in mind, the Cavs’ season is still not even close to being on par with Golden State’s.
In most professional sports, the team which wins the title typically opens the following season on a bit of a lull. However, the Warriors aren’t experiencing any sort of championship hangover. At 27-1, they’re instead running roughshod across any and all competition. Steph Curry is somehow even better this year than he was during last season’s MVP campaign.
While Golden State has been the class of the NBA, Cleveland has had a little difficulty finding its rhythm.
The Cavs have put together an impressive 19-7 record, sure, but you can tell they aren’t yet reaching their ceiling. Some nights they look unstoppable, other nights they appear to struggle against teams they should be dismantling.
Part of this is due to the fact that, up until this past Sunday, Cleveland hadn’t been playing at full strength. Irving and guard Iman Shumpert had been out for most of the year, and the team has been getting used to having both back in the fold. Coach David Blatt has had to adjust his rotations often, and is still working to find a way to make the most of his now-complete roster.
As a result of all of this, much of the season to this point has been a bit of a work in progress for the Cavs. Obviously this isn’t any sort of negative, as you’d hardly expect a team working without two of its starters to play top-level basketball.
That said, because Cleveland is still getting used to playing as a complete team, I would expect some struggles when it comes to keeping up with the Warriors tomorrow. Golden State’s run-and-gun style is tough for anyone to beat, and it’ll likely be even more difficult for a Cavs team trying to figure out how to play with Irving and Shumpert again.
Of course, this isn’t to say you should expect a Cleveland loss. It’s a game the Cavs won’t have any trouble gearing up for, as last summer’s Finals loss should be more than enough motivation for them to play to the best of their abilities.
At the same time, if it looks as though the Warriors are in a completely different class on Christmas Day, it shouldn’t be a surprise. They’ve been playing with essentially the same roster from last playoffs, and haven’t looked even slightly out of rhythm all season long. Since Cleveland still has to determine just how to work with a complete lineup, there will likely be some struggles keeping up with Golden State.
However, I wouldn’t anticipate this matchup being lopsided for much longer. Once the Cavs hit their stride, they’ll be difficult for anyone to take on, including the Warriors.