NBA Finals bold predictions, MVP favorites and what’s next

Will the Cleveland Cavaliers start an NBA Finals comeback at home? Who is the MVP favorite now?

Our NBA experts answer the big questions and make bold predictions after Game 2.


1. Which is more true?

A. The Cavs can get back into the series.
B. The Warriors are in complete control.

Jackie MacMullan, ESPN.com: I think both statements are true. The Golden State Warriors re-established their mojo in Game 2 by sharing the ball, which led to easy baskets, and being far more engaged on the defensive end of the floor. When they play like that — and Steph shoots 3s from the Oracle parking lot — Golden State simply does not lose. But don’t forget the Cavs nearly stole Game 1. Their role players will perform better at home. And there is still no evidence that Golden State has any idea how to stop LeBron. There is also one thing we know about the Warriors: They get careless. Happens every four games or so. They just can’t seem to help it.

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: A. Contrary to popular opinion, a series does actually start before a team wins on the road, but two games in Cleveland where the Cavs have won eight straight gives them plenty of opportunity to scratch back. If nothing else, the first two games in Oakland exposed some vulnerabilities. The Warriors are simply not as deep or as disciplined as they’ve been in past years.

Jeremias Engelmann, ESPN Insider: A, though Las Vegas gives bettors 15-1 odds for Cleveland to win the series, and the Cavs are 5-point underdogs for Game 3 at home. I do believe they can pick themselves up one more time to win at least one of the two upcoming games. But even if they tie up the series, the Warriors will be clear favorites to win it all

Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com: A. The Cavs are a whopping 19-for-64 from 3 so far in the series (29.7 percent). Is some of that because of the Warriors’ closeouts? Sure. But that’s the type of stat that will ascend toward the mean back in Cleveland. And can we really say Golden State is in complete control when LeBron is averaging 40 points on 55.8 percent shooting, 10.5 assists and 8.5 rebounds so far?

Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: B, if forced to choose. We’ve seen (in Game 1) how Cleveland can be competitive, and the Cavaliers should derive some boost from returning home. I’m also cognizant of how we wondered in 2016 whether we’d be back in Oakland for a Game 5 (yes, and a Game 7) and the Warriors’ tendency to coast. But overall, through two games this looks more like a mismatch than a series likely to turn.


2. If the Cavs lose, should LeBron be MVP if he’s clearly the best player in the series?

Arnovitz: Provided there isn’t a Warriors performer who’s within an arm’s reach of LeBron, then sure. Apart from the appealing pageantry of Bill Russell presenting the trophy on a confetti-covered riser to a beaming star from the winning team wearing an NBA champs ballcap and T-shirt, there’s really no good reason why the most productive player in the series shouldn’t be rewarded accordingly.

McMenamin: Yes, if only to see how the trophy presentation goes down. Maybe Jerry West can be invited to fill in for Bill Russell to hand over the hardware and give James a knowing pat on the back. But in all seriousness, we’ve seen two competitive basketball games (for the most part) because of one person showing his capabilities in all aspects of the sport to give his team a fighting chance.

Pelton: Absolutely. I made this case in 2015, and I still believe it just as strongly. The idea that the MVP of a Finals/World Series/Super Bowl has to come from the winning team is a relatively recent convention and one we could stand to change.

Engelmann: If he clearly is the best player and Cleveland manages to win at least one game, then yes. As of right now, though, I don’t think the gap between LeBron (averaging 40/10/8.5 with five turnovers per game) and Curry (31/8.5/6.5 with only 2.5 turnovers) is large enough.

MacMullan: Yes — if LeBron is clearly the best player in the series. With a minimum of two more games to play, that remains to be seen. He is carrying a heavy load, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, but there were spurts in Game 2 in which he failed to hustle back defensively when Golden State was in transition. Was he saving energy or exhibiting a hint of the frustration of futility? Fair or not, when LeBron is passive, or tired, or perturbed, that vibe permeates his huddle. Likewise, when he’s fully engaged and driving to the hole full throttle, he electrifies his guys. LeBron really should holler at Jerry West, the only Finals MVP of a losing team. Misery loves company.

3. If LeBron’s not the Finals MVP, who is?

Pelton: Stephen Curry made a persuasive case in the second half of Game 2. I don’t think he’s got a decisive edge over Kevin Durant yet, and a wild-card candidate could yet emerge, but for now Curry is — in a cliché the golf nut would surely appreciate — the leader in the clubhouse.

MacMullan: At this exact moment, I’m leaning toward the wispy, baby-faced (even with the beard!) kid who looks like he’s having so much more fun than everyone else. Remember when people were actually concerned about Steph Curry’s long-range shooting? Ha! Curry has hit big shots in big moments of these Finals, and his in-game swagger is a reminder to all that he may look like a high school AAU baller, but he’s really a two-time MVP with an edge.

Arnovitz: Stephen Curry. Assuming he can turn in another couple of performances like the two he has already exhibited, it’s his turn.

McMenamin: Steph Curry. He led the Warriors in fourth-quarter scoring with eight points in Game 1 and doubled that with 16 in the fourth quarter in Game 2 (including 5-for-5 from 3). And his 31 points, 8.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game is certainly gaudy enough to stand up against most Finals MVPs in league history.

Engelmann: In a world where defense is valued equally to offense, Draymond Green would have a shot. The number of plays he disrupts and the number of shots he contests is mind-boggling. His per-game averages of 9.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks with only one turnover also look great — if only he didn’t average fewer than 10 PPG. Unfortunately for Draymond, points per game tends to be the most important stat when it comes to Finals MVP voting, so it’s more likely that Curry or Durant will get the award


4. Fact or fiction: This is LeBron’s worst Finals team.

Engelmann: As sad as it sounds, this team isn’t even close to as bad as the team LeBron dragged to the Finals in 2007. That group averaged 80 points per game in a 4-0 rout at the hands of the Spurs. It featured a total of two career All-Star appearances among LeBron’s teammates. Two of the team’s top four players in playoff minutes played, Larry Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic, played for a total of 12 teams over the following six seasons.

MacMullan: Fiction. Go back and take a gander at the 2007 Cavs. Only three players averaged double figures en route to being swept by the San Antonio Spurs: James, Drew Gooden and Daniel “Boobie” Gibson. But the most compelling reason the ’07 team is the worst is because of the King himself. He was 22 then, new to the throne, and shot only 20 percent from the 3-point line and coughed up the ball 5.7 times a game in the Finals. He simply wasn’t the fully formed omnipresent force that we are witnessing in 2018.

Pelton: Fact. I don’t think it’s his least talented Finals team — Kevin Love is far more talented than any James teammate in 2007 — but that team was more cohesive, particularly at the defensive end. The 2007 team performed better than this year’s version both in the regular season (posting a far better point differential with an identical 50 wins) and in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

McMenamin: Fiction. The team of Sasha Pavlovic, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Daniel Gibson et al was far worse. It’s just that James, 11 years ago, was far worse, too. He shot 32-for-90 in that four-game sweep. Through the first two games this go-round, he’s 29-for-52. He makes the 2018 Cavs comparable to the ’07 Cavs because he is just that much better as a player compared to his teammates than he was then.

Arnovitz: Fiction. In 2007, James had six teammates who played more than 20 minutes per night. Their names are (in descending order of minutes played): Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Eric Snow and Sasha Pavlovic. Kevin Love’s presence alone makes this season’s Cavs a superior roster.


5. What is your bold prediction for the rest of this series?

McMenamin: The Cavs win Game 3. That’s as bold as I’m going to get here. There was still belief inside that Cavs locker room at Oracle Arena late Sunday night. One win could work wonders to validate that belief and give us a longer series than many people expected.

Engelmann: I believe the Warriors will take their foot off the gas a little — leading to a chance of celebrating a title at home rather than in Cleveland — and that will open the door for one or two Cavaliers wins at home. If the Warriors win one out of the next two, I think the series will be over in five. If we go back to Oakland all tied up, I believe we’ll see a Game 7.

Arnovitz: Curry will break his single-game record of nine 3-pointers that he set Sunday night.

MacMullan: JR Smith will have “one of those games.” No, not one in which he runs around cluelessly and then fabricates all sorts of excuses for why he was doing that. Something a little more useful. Smith is a ridiculously streaky shooter. He’s been horrible for weeks now, but — once in a while — he gets hot, and when he does, he’s extremely lethal (to the Warriors, not the Cavs). Feels like if that’s going to happen, it will be in next two games.

Pelton: Game 2 will mark JaVale McGee‘s only start of the series. Yes, McGee was super efficient Sunday (12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, five of them dunks), but the Warriors and Cavaliers played even during his 18 minutes of action. The Warriors were more effective with Kevon Looney (plus-6) and Jordan Bell (plus-4) in the middle. I’d start Bell for his combination of ability to set up Stephen Curry and finish above the rim, but I think it’s more likely that Steve Kerr will go back to Looney.

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