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Cavs-Warriors Small Forward Matchup: LeBron James Vs. Harrison Barnes

With the weight of the NBA’s most patient fans on his shoulders, LeBron James has to avoid drowning in his hometown’s half-century thirst of a championship. Thus far, the King has led his the Cavaliers to 12 impressive playoff victories in a postseason-low 14 games. Now in his fifth consecutive Finals showing, James is leading his young squad through adversity, inexperience and unimaginable pressure by challenging each teammate’s toughness, trust and maturity. He’s validated why he’s a great player – making the players around him great – and thus has earned the MVP four wins in advance. Consequently, for truly the first time in franchise history, the King finally has what it takes to bring the ring to Cleveland. There is, however, an efficiently coached team with fearsome depth and versatility in his way.

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On offense, LeBron James will likely need to display all his theatrics, demanding attention in the post against undersized bodies like Andre Iguodala Barnes and Klay Thompson as well as on the drive against the less agile Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. This the King’s creed: to dominate and open up opportunities for his teammates. The Cavs are where they are because of buying into this, and so they shouldn’t forget about their strengths of isolation basketball balanced with the three-point shooting and second-chance opportunities. James will also have the responsibility to matchup against Green, Iguodala, Thompson and Barnes on defense, but there’s one matchup that LeBron James will have to direct most of his attention to.

Tristan Thompson’s athleticism will be needed to neutralize Green’s aggression and Iman Shumpert’s hustle will go a long way in limiting the second Splash Brother, so James’ focus will be on Golden State’s young and consistent forward, Harrison Barnes. Ultimately, the ten-year gap in experience when facing LeBron James will likely prove to be futile for Barnes, much like Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler and DeMarre Carrol’s efforts in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Head to head, this advantage is clear:

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While he’s not an explosive player, Barnes is a dangerous role player who works for opportunities from beyond the arc and in the driving lane when he sees even in the smallest cracks Stephen Curry and Thompson force with the ball in their hands. Barnes will offer Cleveland a taste of LeBron’s medicine and take pressure off the Warriors’ stars. We saw this in the Western Conference Finals Game 5 elimination against Houston, where Harrison Barnes revived a stale offense with Curry locked down and Thompson on the bench struggling with concussion-like symptoms. Each play started with a Warrior finding Barnes open in isolation after a late rotation naturally caused by the looming threat of Golden State’s scorers:

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There are reasons for concern with LeBron James’ ability to focus on Harrison Barnes given that a simple lapse in attention is all it takes for the third-year Small Forward. Playing in just one of the two regular season meetings, James went off against the best team in the league, dropping a season-high 42 points and shooting 60 percent from the field and 4-9 from deep.

It’s not that James isn’t capable of performing at this level in the Finals, but consistency has been an issue from the King when comparing the circumstance of this one regular season victory to the playoffs. LeBron James has played nearly flawless, expect for his jump shot. The King is the leads the Cavs with 27.6 ppg in the playoffs (Second to Steph Curry), but his 42.8 FG% is the worst shooting performance he’s had since 2008 and 17.6% three-point FG% is the worst in his playoff career. Therefore, making any conclusions based on LeBron’s single game against Golden State this season is flaky. That said, the reason why this successful playoff run with the Cavs has contradicted these concerns is due to LeBron’s overall game, which will overpower Harrison Barnes or anyone else who matches up (Less so for Draymond Green). The King also has career-highs this postseason in assists and rebounds per game, compiling a basketball player that simply cannot be stopped. While this matchup doesn’t necessarily determine the outcome of the series, LeBron James will be Cleveland’s leader and Harrison Barnes will always threaten the Cavs if their team defense and glasswork fall apart against the complicated challenge of Golden State.

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