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Golden State: Thine Kingdom Come

Death, Taxes, and a Lebron James NBA Finals appearance are the only three things you can’t avoid in this world.

Lebron James is one of the top 3 players ever, a certified GOAT contender, and when he’s unstoppable it’s magnificent. This is not one of those times. The 2017 GSW are the best team in the NBA. Lebron James is the best player in the NBA. One of these bests must give coming next week, and it’s going to be Lebron James.

Let’s look back to last year’s finals and that now infamous blown 3-1 lead against the King, specifically games 5 and 6 the most pivotal. Game 5 saw Draymond Green excuse himself from playing in the finals and Bogut go down. In game 6 we see Iggy get debilitated for the rest of the finals. Lebron started smelling blood, and just like one of the GOATs he is, he took advantage of it and made history for his city and team. However, that’s not happening this year and for a few good reasons. The main of which is an import from a small town in Oklahoma.

This isn’t 2016 Golden State. The Warriors have four defensive answers to Lebron James. Not to say Lebron will be stopped, he’s the King for a reason, but this series will be difficult for him like no other this postseason. After having a run embarrassing big men in the East, Lebron is going to have to go against a team built defensively around great rim protection. Kevin Durant has been swatting shots this season like he doesn’t pull up from 30 feet on the other end of the court. Javale McGee has turned into the new Marcus Camby from the bench, and his protection of the bench is going to be vital. James isn’t going to have the free reign of the paint that he had against Boston. The length, athleticism, and team defense of GS aren’t going to allow it. Golden State is going into this series with the best defense in these playoffs with opponents averaging 99.1 pts per 100 possessions. With it being lower at 94.1 with Draymond on the field, Golden State has to be feeling good with their defense heading into the finals.

Who’s guarding Kevin Durant on the perimeter? Kevin Love? Not really. Lebron is most likely to be tasked with guarding KD and this is going to weigh heavily on the series. I think KD is mentally prepared for the finals this time, unlike in 2012 (being on arguably the best team ever eases a lot of qualms). With Golden State abusing screens, Cleveland is going to need to be sharp on all their rotations. Tristan Thomspon is going to be key in this aspect. Thompson has been able to hold GS to .86 points per screen when he picks up the defender afterward. If Thompson is kept out of foul trouble, a vital role this series for him, he’ll probably be tasked with hedging defenders the whole series. Iman Shumpert is also going to be needed in this series to try to keep Klay’s quiet playoffs in check.

Something that people overlook is Cleveland’s three-point shooting ability. Last year Lebron was able to collapse the defense around him so well that Love, Frye, and Smith were able to keep burying their opponents on the perimeter. That’s not likely to happen this year. Cleveland is somewhat normal behind the line these playoffs. Love is going to need to help force that issue in the finals. With Golden State being so good defensively, Love is going to have to spread the floor more reliably. Love is going to have to be more aggressive in general in the finals. Kyrie just had his best game of the playoffs being aggressive and just like last year, it’s going to take him being able to take over for Lebron if they want to repeat as champions. Because on the other end of the floor if KD is slipping, which for him would probably be two missed shots in a row, who’s next in line to pick up from there? Just Steph Curry.

2016 saw a stacked 73-9 Golden State team collapse to Lebron James who was on a mission. This year’s Warriors team is even better than that team. Lebron is going to have to play at a level that we’ve all seen, but this time he’s going to need to never drop from that grace. There’s just too much on Golden State this time. Last year was one of the most magical, storybook NBA finals the league has ever seen. We saw a King put on the ropes and then conquer the champions. This isn’t last year.

Prediction: Golden State in 4.

Markus Murden
Baseline Times NBA Contributor
@MXMurden

2017 NBA Finals: A First Time Trilogy

“Best 2 out of 3.”

It’s a concept we’re all familiar with. As kids, we all played rock, paper, scissors, and if you lost the initial round, you would always yell out “best 2 out of 3!” in hopes of getting a rematch.

In Major League Baseball, the regular season is made up of short series between teams rather than one game match ups. Most series are 3 games long, so the team that manages to win 2 out of those 3 games is the clear victor. Even professional wrestling has a history of the “2 out of 3″ concept. A ” Best 2 out of 3 Falls” match isn’t as common anymore, but in the old territory days, it was used as a blow off to end long feuds and determine one ultimate winner.

With the exception of the NFL, all the major American sports have a best of 7 series to crown a champion, and that’s the way it should be. A 7 Game series minimizes the chances of a fluke upset, ensures that the better team comes out victorious, and leaves us with an undisputed top team for that particular year. How do we determine the top team of an era though? This last three-year span of NBA history has been an interesting one, to say the least. We saw LeBron James return to Cleveland, the rise of Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant’s unexpected departure from Oklahoma City.

So how will it ultimately be remembered? Will these last three years be seen as just an extension of the “LeBron Era?” Will Golden State finish one of the most dominating three-year runs of all time with another NBA Championship, making it the “era of the Dubs?”

Regardless, we’re going to get the most perfectly unique way to answer that question. For the first time in NBA history, the same two teams will square off in three consecutive Finals. Each team has already claimed victory and hung up a banner at the other’s expense, so the revenge factor is there on both sides. Add in that these two teams aren’t particularly fond of each other, sprinkle some of Draymond Green’s unpredictability on top, and you’ve got the recipe for yet another classic and entertaining Finals match-up.

Reaching the NBA Finals is not an easy task to accomplish. Going back the next year requires a grueling and exhausting effort. Making it three straight times is extremely uncommon. As a matter of fact, only six NBA franchises have ever reached the Finals three or more consecutive times. The Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls both did it twice. The New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, and Miami Heat each accomplished the feat once. While the Minnesota/Los Angeles Lakers have reached three or more consecutive Finals a whopping five times.

That list will add two new entries on June 1st. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors have accomplished the rare feat It will be the 7th straight NBA Finals appearance for LeBron James (and James Jones), putting him behind only Bill Russel, and a handful of his Celtics teammates, for most all time.

That in it of itself is an amazing accomplishment. Just like Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume most of us (hey millennials) actually witnessed Bill Russell reach 10 straight NBA Finals. So just like Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game, LeBron’s seven consecutive Finals will be the defacto record going forward. Another feather in the King’s cap.

On paper, these are the two teams that should be playing for the NBA crown. They were the two best teams all season long, and most experts have been predicting this matchup since Kevin Durant decided to make the switch to Golden State. However, from a historical standpoint, neither franchise has any business taking part in the NBA Final’s first Trilogy. Would you think all the Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird talk would have produced three straight Lakers-Celtics Finals right?

With all due respect, The Cleveland Cavaliers were nothing before June 26th, 2003, when they drafted LeBron James. As for the Warriors, before winning the whole thing in 2015, the Bay Area didn’t know about being NBA Champions since the 1974-75 season. Not exactly models of consistent success.

Logic would indicate that if any two teams were going to face off in three straight Finals, it should’ve been the Lakers and Celtics. They’re the NBA’s winningest and most recognizable franchises, and the Magic/Bird rivalry of the 80’s would have been the perfect backdrop for such a historic occurrence. However, logic doesn’t always apply in basketball, and now, two teams that were once entrenched in the lower echelon of the NBA’s hierarchy will play in what’s likely to be the most anticipated NBA Finals of all time.

Both teams combine for a total of seven All-Stars and seven MVP awards. The star power is off the charts for this match up, and the plot reads almost like a Hollywood script. Last year, Golden State became the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 lead in the Finals, pouring their record-breaking 73-win season right down the drain. Kevin Durant was signed away from Golden State’s biggest competitor over the summer in attempts to right that wrong. His former partner in crime, Russell Westbrook, was fueled to an MVP-worthy season by what he saw as the betrayal on the part of Durant. If he and the Warriors are hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season though, then all the scrutiny and criticism was worth it.

While over in Cleveland, you have a King and his court, chomping at the bit to defend their crown against a Warriors team that many say they “can’t beat.” An aging LeBron has shown us all that he’s still got plenty left in the tank. The NBA’s young stars might be ready to take the league into their hands and run with it, but that doesn’t mean that LeBron is ready to hand it over just yet. That’s what makes this particular Finals so important, especially for LeBron. If he wins, that’s 2 out of the last 3, and 4 out of the last 7. That’s huge for a man that constantly has to defend his standing in the sport. However, if he loses, then you can already hear the rumblings. “Is LeBron’s time over?” “Can the Cavs still win with LeBron?”

With so much riding on this series for each team, we might be in store for the hardest fought NBA Finals ever. We should truly appreciate what we’re about to see. In hindsight, so many stars had to align perfectly for us to even get here, but we’re literally on the doorstep of it. We’ve had 67 NBA Finals, 19 different NBA Champions, 13 NBA Finals rematches, but as of this year, only one trilogy.

The 2017 NBA Finals tip-off Thursday, June 1st on ABC.

Wesly Avendano
Baseline Times NBA Contributor