By Brian Mahoney
AP Basketball Writer
A look at the NBA Finals matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers (with regular-season and playoff records):
No. 1 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (73-9, 12-5) vs. No. 1 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (57-25, 12-2).
Season series: Warriors, 2-0. Golden State won 89-83 at home on Christmas, then blew away the Cavaliers in a 132-98 victory nearly a month later, leading by 43 points in one of the final games before Cleveland fired coach David Blatt and replaced him with Tyronn Lue. Stephen Curry scored 35 points with seven 3-pointers in that rout, while Draymond Green averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds. LeBron James shot only 40.5 percent, though that was far better than Kyrie Irving (27 percent) and Kevin Love (28.6 percent), who combined to miss all 11 3-point attempts in the first meeting.
Story line: A rematch of last year’s NBA Finals, which the Warriors won in six games for their first championship in 40 years. They followed that with a record 73 victories during the regular season and will try to cap off the winningest season in NBA history. With a far healthier team than last year, James tries again to end Cleveland’s 52-year title drought in pro sports, which includes losses in both of the Cavs’ appearances in the finals.
Key Matchup: Curry vs. Irving. Banged up earlier in the 2015 postseason, Irving was having a strong game and on the verge of helping the Cavs to a Game 1 victory in the finals before breaking his kneecap in the closing seconds of regulation. He didn’t return until December and after some early struggles is averaging 24.3 points in the playoffs, just behind James for the team lead. Now it’s Curry who has battled an assortment of injuries during the postseason, though the unanimous MVP looked good as ever in scoring 36 points with seven 3-pointers in the Warriors’ Game 7 victory over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals.
X-Factor: Andre Iguodala. Starting or coming off the bench, his chief role is trying to defend the opponent’s top player, as he did against James last June or Kevin Durant in the West finals. But when he provides scoring along with that, as he did in averaging 16.3 points in winning NBA Finals MVP honors, or scoring 20 on 7-of-8 shooting in the regular-season rout at Cleveland, that makes an already potent team even tougher.
Prediction: Warriors in 7.