Do the Cleveland Cavaliers have enough left in the tank to salvage even one game in the NBA Finals against the powerful Golden State Warriors?
The Cavs are in an 0-3 hole as they approach Friday night's Game 4, and a good case can be made that they could have won Games 1 and 3 if they could have executed just a little bit better down the stretch.
The JR Smith debacle in Game 1 will live in basketball infamy for years, and the Cavs had another great opportunity when they returned to Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena for Game 3. Both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson struggled with their shooting, and Cleveland was able to build a double-digit lead.
However, the Warriors had a response every time Cleveland had a surge. They were led by Kevin Durant, who poured in 43 points to go with his 13 rebounds. There isn't much panic from the Warriors, who seem to find a way to stay close when they are not playing their best. The Warriors come through in crunch time with excellent defense, excellent passing and big buckets.
LeBron James knows his team is battling a superior opponent, and if the Cavs are going to salvage a game as they hope to garner some respectability, they are going to have to play a great game physically and a smart game mentally.
The latter factor has been the team's undoing to this point, and Golden State forward Draymond Green explained that basketball intelligence is not the Cavaliers' strength, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:
"I think you really learn where a guy's IQ is and then you kind of adjust to that. IQ isn't going to be everyone's strength. You look at LeBron, he's probably one of the smartest players to ever play the game. You can't say that about the rest of the Cavs team. He's special in that aspect. But it's on him to make sure that what he does rubs off on them, and he puts them in the right spots. And he does do that."
Green pointed out that the players on the Warriors understand their team concept and know how to execute their roles.
James has been his usual spectacular self during the series, averaging 27.5 points, 9.1 assists and 8.5 rebounds per game in the championship series. Durant is leading the way for the Warriors with 26.4 points per game, but the Warriors got winning performances from Thompson in Game 1 and Curry in Game 2.
James has to do it every night for the Cavs, and his supporting cast must be excellent for them to win. That has not happened in the series. There have been flashes from Smith, Kevin Love and George Hill, but the consistency has not been there.
The Warriors are 4.5-point road favorites to win the game, according to OddsShark. The game tips off at 9 p.m. ET and will be televised by ABC.
Prediction and Props
The Cavaliers found a way to win a game last year when they were down 0-3 to the Warriors. It may be harder this year because no matter what is said in the locker room before the game, the team faces a near-impossible task in trying to climb out of such a deficit.
The Cavs are going to have to play much better defense if they are going to come out ahead after 48 minutes. They will need to make a run and come up with key stops when the Warriors try to counter and come up with a run of their own.
Look for the Warriors to come up with a 114-108 victory, getting the series sweep and the cover.
After the series comes to an end, the hot topic will be where James will be playing his basketball in the 2018-19 season.
James will have the ability to sign with a new team in the offseason, and OddsShark lists the Houston Rockets as the favorites to gain James' services at odds of +140. The Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers and Cavaliers are all listed at +350.
The San Antonio Spurs are long shots at +1200, and the Warriors are even further down the list at +1600.
The Boston Celtics, whom the Cavs defeated in seven games to win the Eastern Conference title, are not listed as one of James' possible destinations.