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Third time’s the charm with Warriors/Cavs

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Third time’s the charm with Warriors/Cavs (Photo credit: the Associated Press)

An underinformed preview of the 2017 NBA Finals

The long, LONG NBA postseasons has finally reached its endpoint. After a seeming eternity of playoff games, we have finally arrived at the Finals. The Golden State Warriors will face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA title.

Déjà vu.

This marks the third consecutive time that these two squads have squared off for the title. And with each team carrying a win on its ledger (Golden State in 2015, Cleveland in 2016), this series marks the tiebreaker. And now, despite my casual-at-best basketball fandom, I will attempt to make some predictions regarding this series.

(My poor prognostication skills are a matter of record at this point, so as always, if you’re looking for gambling advice, I can offer only this: look elsewhere.)

One thing is certain about this matchup – it’s not a surprise. Even the casual sports fan couldn’t avoid hearing about the inevitability of this series. You didn’t have to follow basketball to know that as far back as the season’s start – earlier even – the conventional wisdom had the Warriors and Cavs meeting for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

However, not even the most strident believers in this outcome could have predicted a path that was this smooth. Between the two of them, these teams have lost a combined total of ONE playoff game; the Cavaliers dropped Game Three in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston (go Celtics!). They come in with a combined playoff record of 24-1 – easily the best shared postseason record of any Finals matchup in history.

But now that they’re playing each other, the losses are going to start coming. So who winds up with more of them?

The Warriors lost last year’s finals in historic fashion, taking a 3-1 series lead before collapsing and losing three straight to hand the Cavaliers their first-ever championship. When you’re a conference champion, finding ways to get better can be tricky. They can be, but they aren’t always: enter Kevin Durant.

It’s rare that a team sporting three top-flight talents – Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green – gets an opportunity to add a top-five player to their team, but that’s what happened here. And while the team was unable to improve upon 2016’s NBA-record 73 regular season wins, they’ve arrived here having won 12 straight playoff games and 27 of their last 28 games overall.

Golden State simply plays faster than everyone else. They can score in bunches; God help you if multiple shooters get hot simultaneously. They romped through the Western Conference and are looking to do the same against Cleveland. Frankly, it’s tough to bet against them.

But the Cavaliers have something that Golden State doesn’t – LeBron James. This is LeBron’s SEVENTH consecutive trip to the NBA Finals; he’s scored 32.5 per game while averaging eight boards and seven assists. He’s shooting over 40 percent from three and averaging nearly four combined steals and blocks.

His dominance is so metronomic as to almost render his greatness ho-hum, but here in the Finals, he’s primed to shine. He’s got one of his better supporting casts as well – Kyrie Irving is an excellent number-two, while Kevin Love still has plenty to offer – but in the end, it’s going to come down to what LeBron can make happen.

The Cavaliers have had a great postseason run this year, putting up some pretty staggering numbers. And yet … they don’t seem to quite have it. Of course, I thought that last year too, and we all know how that came out, but one has to wonder if the Cavs have it in them.

In the end, LeBron isn’t going to be enough this time. Barring multiple transcendent performances from Irving and Love, Cleveland just isn’t going to have the firepower to hang with the Warriors. Curry, Durant and company are going to light it up. The games will likely be close, but ultimately not close enough for the Cavaliers.

Prediction: Warriors in six.

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