Cleveland Cavaliers: Who is their X-Factor during the 2017 NBA Finals?

Dec 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland defeats Golden State 109-108. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland defeats Golden State 109-108. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves as heavy underdogs to the Golden State Warriors once again in the NBA Finals. In order for David to take down Goliath, it will take a full-team effort.

With the addition of forward Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors this past summer, the journey for a repeat was never going to be easy for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their chances looked even smaller as the regular season progressed, as Cleveland disappointed in the latter stretch of the season.

Thus, the Cavaliers were floundering headed into the postseason. Yet here they are, back in the NBA Finals for a third consecutive time.

The odds are stacked against them, but these Cavs don’t believe they’re underdogs. Power forward Kevin Love explained to ESPN why that is.

"“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title. We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”"

Cleveland is the defending champion, so naturally they shouldn’t feel like the underdog. However, they are, and the fact of the matter is the Warriors have much more room for error in these finals than the Cavs do. Empirically, the Warriors are the superior basketball team.

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With all that being said, the Cavs still have forward LeBron James, the ultimate X-factor. He gives Cleveland a legitimate chance to beat any team they match up with. That said, James is also an ubiquitous presence on this team, so denoting him as the X-factor for this series wouldn’t be telling the whole story.

LeBron playing well is a necessity for the Cavs to win the title. Still, his awe-inspiring play alone can’t slay the dragon that is Golden State. His supporting cast has to reciprocate his intensity, effort level, and production in order to best this historically-great team.

That charge must be spearheaded by Love and guard Kyrie Irving.

Irving has consistently outplayed his counterpart Steph Curry in the NBA Finals, but that can’t be the expectation heading into this series. Curry is a 2-time MVP for a reason, and he’s proven to be not only one of the most valuable players in the league once again, but he is also the most valuable component to Golden State’s success.

Despite common belief, Curry hasn’t played badly during the past two NBA Finals. Instead, he just hasn’t been great. No matter the level Curry brings this time around, Irving has to at least match or exceed that level for the Cavs to have a chance in this series.

Something Cleveland hasn’t had for the past couple of NBA Finals has been a fully healthy Love. He missed the entire 2015 NBA Finals with a dislocated shoulder, and he was concussed in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals. As a result, Love missed Game 4 and was really never the same for the rest of that series.

Power forward/center Draymond Green is a nightmare matchup for him defensively (as he is for most). Yet, as long as Love focuses on his rebounding, defense, and hitting his open shots, he should be able to give the Cavs the boost they’ll need from him in this series.

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But the list doesn’t end there. In order to beat a team of Golden State’s caliber, there can’t be any weak links.

Power forward/center Tristan Thompson needs to do what he’s done the last two NBA Finals, and quite frankly what he’s done for his entire career: Dominate the boards and play good defense, especially on switches on the PnR.

Guard J.R. Smith needs to be J.R. Swish, and he needs to continue to play the great defense that helped the Cavs clinch the title last season.

Swingman Kyle Korver needs to make the best of his opportunities as a lethal outside shooter.

Guard Iman Shumpert needs to give the team a boost on both ends as he has since been re-inserted into the rotation after being benched early in the Indiana Pacers series.

Forward Richard Jefferson needs to do exactly what he did in the Christmas Day game against Golden State. He must help spell LeBron on the defensive end by helping to guard Durant and give the team energy on both ends.

Point guard Deron Williams needs to be an offensive creator that orchestrates the PnR and helps keep the offense rolling when Irving or LeBron need to rest. In addition, every other player on the bench needs to be ready if and when their name is called.

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Defeating the 73-win Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals last season, especially after having been down 3-1 in the series, was nothing short of a miracle. An even greater showing will be required this time to bring home a second straight Larry O’Brien Trophy to Cleveland. All hands on deck.