3 things to look for in Warriors-Cavaliers rematch

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters

For the first time since they took home the Larry O'Brien Trophy last June, the Golden State Warriors will be in Cleveland to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Monday.

Their only other clash since the Finals came on Christmas Eve, when the Warriors squeaked out an ugly 89-83 affair before their fans at the Oracle.

The rematch on Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be held at Quicken Loans Arena, which should rekindle fond memories for Stephen Curry and the Warriors. "Hopefully, it still smells a little bit like champagne," the reigning MVP said Sunday.

Here's three things to expect from Monday's game:

A healthy rivalry

Warriors fans are tired of hearing refrains about the Cavaliers' spotty health in last year's playoffs. Citing injuries won't invalidate the Warriors' championship, and their blistering 37-4 record to follow has silenced all doubters.

At last, every key player will be healthy for Monday's derby, which means there are no more excuses and no more qualifiers - a win is a win.

How will the Warriors defend a fully healthy Kyrie Irving? Klay Thompson will likely draw the assignment yet again after Irving torched him for 23 points in their only meeting in the Finals. In the Christmas Day game, however, a visibly hobbled Irving made just 4-of-15 shots from the field against Thompson.

Meanwhile, the return of Harrison Barnes - who sat out their last meeting with an ankle sprain - reunites the Warriors' lethal small-ball lineup, the same unit that dismantled the Cavaliers in the Finals. Will the Cavaliers match up by downsizing, or will they try to pound the interior and play for offensive rebounds?

Whatever the outcome, there won't be any excuses.

Love lockdown

The Cavaliers recast themselves as a defensive juggernaut once Kevin Love went down with injury in last year's playoffs, but now they'll need to work a poor defender into the fold.

The trade-off is this: Love gives the Cavaliers spacing, playmaking, and is a strong defensive rebounder. However, he's a defensive nightmare when matched against small-ball units when his lack of footspeed is put to the test, and both the San Antonio Spurs and Warriors have taken advantage of his lack of quickness this season.

Here's one of Love's most egregious gaffes from the Cavaliers' loss to the Spurs. He's just not quick enough to be an effective deterrent - especially in the pick-and-roll.

On the flip side, Love's ability to shoot the three is a tremendous boon for the Cavaliers, who score 109.2 points per 100 possessions when he plays, as compared to 97.8 when he sits.

Love will have to bring more to the table offensively than what he gives back on defense to justify his minutes.

Push the tempo

The Warriors are absolutely lethal on the fast break, and so the Cavaliers have tried to impose their grind-it-out style.

Cleveland slows the tempo by operating through James. By keeping three shooters along the perimeter, and having James shoot closer to the basket, it limits the opportunities available to the Warriors to run on Cleveland's misses as defenders can recover in transition.

The problem, however, is that James isn't very efficient in the post (0.93 points per play), especially when defenders can afford to help off the bigs down low and clog the lane.

Here's an example from the Christmas game. Notice how Andrew Bogut leaves Tristan Thompson to help on James.

Purposing James as a battering ram has worked in the past (it won two Finals games), but the Cavaliers have more options now with Irving and Love healthy. Perhaps that will lead the Cavaliers to rethink their strategy and open the door for more pick-and-rolls instead of isolations for James.

Playing with a more open offense would definitely make the Cavaliers harder to guard, but it could result in more run-outs from the Warriors. But perhaps that's the difference between these two title contenders: there's always a trade-off for the Cavaliers whereas the Warriors can simply be.