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2015 NBA Finals matchup: Cavaliers vs. Warriors frontcourts

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The NBA Finals begin Thursday, and much of the talk is about guard play. That’s understandable when you have MVP Steph Curry and splash brother . (Thompson is expected to play in Game 1 despite his concussion, according to coach Steve Kerr.) You’ve also got fighting through knee tendinitis, and ‘s particular brand of … er… enthusiasm.

But power forward and center is where much of this series will be decided. Each player holds a pivotal role in this series. Given how much small forward has evolved into a perimeter, wing-like position, today we’re talking about power forward and center. The battle between and … you know, the rest of the Warriors, will be covered later here on CBSSports.com.

Here’s a look at the key power forwards and center.

has downright emerged in these playoffs. When went down, there was panic in Cleveland. After trying in the starting unit in Chicago for some reason, David Blatt realized his mistake and inserted Thompson. Since then, the Cavs are 13.4 points better than their opponents with Thompson on the floor, a difference of 11.7 points when compared with when he sits.

Thompson has unlocked the Cavs in a way Love never did in Blatt’s system, in part because he’s asked to do so little. Bring energy. Get rebounds. Finish with the ball at the rim. The simplicity has put more burden on James, but if ysenal are prepared to listen to offers for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.Talksport says Arsenal are sensationally willing to listen to offers for star striker Aubameyang as the club look to boost their low transfer budget.s secured sponsorship deals with Inter Miami, Los Angeles FC, Minnesota United and Nashville SC ahead of the 2020 Major League Soccer (MLS) season, reports, /.The company became an official partner of North America’s top-flight soccer league during tThe Gabon international, who finou’re going to burden on someone, James is the guy, and Thompson has thrived.

Thompson’s long and extremely athletic. Check out the height he gets from standing position on this offensive putback, enabled by the help brought on LeBron:

But it wouldn’t work if Thompson were just bigger and more athletic, it’s his agility and anticipation that puts the Cavs in so many extra possessions. Watch him work his way from the outside left to the inside right here.

Part of this is the Hawks’ lack of rebounding size and the Bulls’ lack of mobility. But Thompson also brings explosive energy every time he’s on the floor. However, Thompson’s energy could be reckless and harmful if his decision making weren’t been so good. Instead of going wildly back up at the rim, he’s been smart about when to go back up and when to reset the offense.

Thompson’s rim protection also serves an important purpose. Being able to challenge Curry, Thompson and the Warriors’ roll man in pick and roll situations allows the perimeter players to extend further to prevent as many 3-pointers as they can vs. the Splash Brothers. Thompson and Mozgov provide the last line of defense which allows the Cavs’ cavalry to extend further, a crucial element vs. a team that can stretch the floor to infinity and beyond.

In small-ball lineups, Thompson’s going to be matched vs. extremely physical . His ability to swipe rebounds without going over the back and to maintain his attack on loose balls is going to be considerable.

His main battle, however, will be with , the Accelerant.

Green is a problem. There are players whose contributions seem to single-handedly validate the idea of “he just makes plays” and Green is definitely that kind of player. The Warriors are known for their offensive explosions. If Curry is the ignition switch, Green is the accelerant who pushes the Warriors into chaos.

With Green on the floor, the Warriors score 17.7 points per 48 minutes off turnovers, nearly eight points more per 48 minutes than when he’s off the court. He’s not just a super-energy guy, he’s incredibly smart with his approach. Against , he learned how to attack Davis’ lithe frame on post entry passes. Vs. , he learned the rhythm of Gasol’s post-up umph, anticipate the contact and maintain position. Vs. the Rockets he learned to anticipate lobs to Howard, and the angles of the Rockets’ perimeter drives.

When he makes those plays, they’re not only defensive stops. They let the Warriors run. When the Warriors run, they’re deaa has told Kevin De Bruyne he still do better.Ahead of the Carabao Cup final against Aston Villa, Guardiola, responding to where the Belgian sat in his list of the great players he has managed, said the question had no merit as everybody can see how dly.

Green is the trash talker, the guy who will take a bad situation and make it worse, without ever getting really hit with punishment. He landed on ‘s face in the second round, he picked up techs but was never ejected. He pushes the line without crossing it. He’s vital for what Golden State does.

That said, there is a limitation here. Green’s ability to knock down 3s punishes teams for hedging vs. the pick and roll with Curry. But in the playoffs, Green is shooting only 26 percent on 3-pointers, and an even worse percentage above the break, where Green gets most of those pick-and-pop 3-pointers.

Green can also drive on those possessions. How the contain those drives, and how often Green can hit 3s to force them to step up will be huge. That’s in part where Mozgov comes in.

came over from Denver in a trade, and his impact in part turned the Cavs’ season around. Giving them a true rim protector played to their strengths and covered their weaknesses. Mozgov has been crucial for the Cavaliers, even as Blatt tends to go away from him in the fourth.

Mozgov will battle with Bogut, and he’ll have to contain his emotions. But the Cavaliers will also put him in the 1-5 pick and roll consistently. How the Cavaliers decide to handle this philosophically, and how Mozgov performs, is another monster factor.

Let’s go back to those Green drives. Mozgov’s mobility is limited and seems like the kind of guy you’d attack. But watch what happened when the Hawks, with superior offensive weapons in and , tried to attack the Moz.

Mozgov’s tall. That matters in those switches vs. Green.

OK, so you just make Mozgov pay by shooting in those situations, right? Except Mozgov actually did a great job closing out on shooters.

Shooters are still shooting 48 percent on Mozgov in spot-up situations, but if he can contain and challenge, the process still will be sound.

Of more concern is how the Cavaliers have handled pick and roll situations with Mozgov in the 1-5 when they “drop” Mozgov.

Can’t do that vs. Curry.

How the Cavaliers counter Curry with Mozgov in the 1-5 is crucial. Having him hedge risks Mozgov picking up fouls and allows Bogut to roll to the rim, something that really hurt the Rockets and Grizzlies when Bogut went to the lob. Patience, focus and aggressiveness are going to need to be balanced.

Oh yeah, and he’s going to have to deal with the sea monster.

What’s a Frilled Shark, you ask?

This is a frilled shark.

It has 300 teeth over 25 rows. It was thought to literally be a sea monster until it’s discovery a few years ago. And of course, like most horrific animals, it lives off Australia’s coast (among other oceanic places, but was discovered in Australia; seriously, Google “terrifying Australia animals” and never sleep again.).

That’s Bogut. He’s a veteran, he’s been around. He’s tough, he’s mean, he’s not scared of anything and he’s a load. For as much credit as the Warriors’ small-ball lineup deserves for their postseason success, Bogut has still been monstrous. He snuffs out pick and rolls, disrupts passes, swipes away dribbles and blocks the bejeezus out of shot attempts.

Bogut also is an instigator without getting caught. All that contact that made that has lead to flagrant fouls and eventually a suspension for next season? Howard has a reputation for going high with elbows, but it’s not like Bogut wasn’t shoving, elbowing and pushing. He plays physical, brutal and completely within the rules, or at least within the boundaries of what officials catch.

Don’t sleep on Bogut’s offense, either. When you go to double Curry, Bogut rolls to the rim and can finish lobs, just another among the seemingly dozens of weapons the Warriors can throw at you.

There are areas of concern. The Cavaliers will force switches in the pick and roll and target going at Bogut with James and Irving in isolation off those. Bogut’s ability to contain them on the drive will be critical. If the Warriors go to smallball (which again, has been tremendously effective), they’re unlikely to enjoy the rebounding dominance they’ve had vs. other teams, not only because of the presence of Mozgov and Thompson, but because the Cavs’ wings are so athletic and long.

If Bogut can win his matchups, the Warriors will roll to their first title in 40 years. If he struggles, it opens the door for the Cavs to attack the rim with abandon.

Don’t sleep on in this series. He’s been a bigger and bigger part of the Warriors’ rotation, and if he can do damage on either end with his muscle, he can exploit the Cavaliers’ lack of depth down low. For the Cavs, James obviously will play some minutes at the four, especially to counter the Warriors’ small lineups. We’ll cover his impact later, but just know that how Golden State, specifically Green, handles those minutes with James at the four will be huge.

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