The NBA playoffs might've been predictable. But those predictable outcomes were quite a bit more interesting than the long layoff before the Finals showdown between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors gets underway.
Normally this sort of layoff would be a good thing. But this is a historic third consecutive meeting between the best two teams in the Association, so this extended break isn't going to add another layer of intrigue to what is one of the most anticipated chess matches in modern history.
Even with the Warriors adding Kevin Durant, LeBron James and the Cavaliers know the game plan and strategies necessary to repeat quite well. This series doesn't need as much pre-series planning as it does simple in-series adaptions by the best players in the world.
Good news—Thursday night ends the long wait and the two sides tip off in Oracle Arena at 9 p.m. ET, sending the series into what should be a lengthy affair straight through the middle of June.
2017 NBA Finals Schedule
- Game 1: Cleveland at Golden State, Thursday, June 1, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
- Game 2: Cleveland at Golden State, Sunday, June 4, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
- Game 3: Golden State at Cleveland, Wednesday, June 7, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
- Game 4: Golden State at Cleveland, Friday, June 9, at 9 p.m. on ET ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
- Game 5 (if necessary): Cleveland at Golden State, Monday, June 12, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
- Game 6 (if necessary): Golden State at Cleveland, Thursday, June 15, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
- Game 7 (if necessary): Cleveland at Golden State, Sunday, June 18, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
Notes from Las Vegas and the Players
This will come as a surprise to few, but the Warriors enter Game 1 as seven-point favorites to defend their house and take a series advantage, according to OddsShark.
Stephen Curry and the Warriors opened the series as favorites, and the line has moved a little more in their favor. For many reasons this isn't a shocker, but keep in mind the Warriors won both games at home to open the series last year and added the former MVP Durant to the mix in an effort to fix what went wrong last year during Cleveland's 3-1 comeback.
Durant's arrival has had the intended result so far considering the Warriors blew through the deep Western Conference, swatting away the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs.
Things have gone so smoothly reporters have floated questions about finishing this postseason 16-0, as captured by ESPN.com's Chris Haynes:
At this point it's clearly not too silly to have this conversation, though it isn't meant to discredit the Cavaliers, either.
Cleveland, despite changing little on the path to the postseason, has looked every bit as dominant as usual, if not more so. LeBron bullied his way through the Eastern Conference while playing more than 40 minutes per game, Kyrie Irving continued to provide nightmares for opposing backcourts and even Kevin Love stepped up and posted his best playoff performance in a long time against the Boston Celtics.
Perhaps most impressive about the Cavaliers this postseason has been the defense. Opponents have eclipsed the 100-point mark 10 times over 13 games, but Cleveland only lost once and most contests were of the blowout variety.
Gritty defense is a must against Durant, whose addition has LeBron reminiscing about other star-studded casts he's had to spar with over the years, according to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin:
"So it's going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me. They're going to challenge our ball club. This is a high-powered team, and I've played against some other [stiff competition]. I've played against Ray [Allen], KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers]. So it's going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ball club and on our franchise."
There are few better ways to hype a series in need of little, given it is the third meeting between the two sides.
Predicting it, though, is an entirely different conversation.
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So here's the dilemma when it comes to choosing this series—does the person in charge of the prediction bank on LeBron going all LeBron again or the improved Warriors taking care of business in a series they're favored?
There's no easy answer. On paper, Durant is the X-factor the Warriors sorely missed last year. Cleveland's defense bullied the pick-and-roll, and while Curry is great, he's not an isolation player. The Warriors didn't have anyone who could go one-on-one and produce.
Durant? He's a specialist in that area.
But look at the Cavaliers. They have the best overall player. Love might be playing the best basketball of his time in Cleveland after dropping 22.6 points and 12.4 rebounds per game on the Celtics.
What we'll call the Durant dilemma is too difficult to ignore, though. Look at a note by ESPN.com's Zach Lowe, which dived into matchups while also pointing out what Durant can do to LeBron.
"Golden State is never easy to defend, but the Cavs know how to do it when both teams play bigger groups: Love guards Pachulia, Thompson takes Green and LeBron chases (gulp) Kevin Durant. These Warriors can make LeBron expend energy on every defensive possession," Lowe wrote.
Durant has casually laughed his way through the playoffs, averaging 25.2 points and 7.8 rebounds on a ridiculous 55.6 percent shooting from the floor and 41.7 percent from deep. LeBron will hinder some of these numbers, but the energy expended to do so will have a clear effect on his offensive production, especially if the series goes six or seven games.
Last year was a miracle of the historic variety. This year feels more by the books, as Durant's arrival pushes the needle far enough that even LeBron can't muscle his way into another upset, in Game 1 or overall.
Prediction: Warriors in six