The odds are longer than a Stephen Curry three-pointer, Kevin Durant’s wingspan, or Draymond Green’s catalogue of technical fouls.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers are being given little — or no — chance of winning their fourth straight NBA Finals matchup against the Golden State Warriors, who have been installed by Las Vegas bookmakers as the heaviest favourites in the past 16 years.
Wanna bet? The Warriors are 12-point favourites to win tonight’s Game 1, the largest spread in a Finals game since 1991, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue isn’t blinking.
“We’re all focused on winning a championship,” Lue said.
“We played our best basketball going into the playoffs. We’ve gotten better and better throughout the course of the playoffs. Our main focus and our main objective is to win a championship, so we can’t worry about what the outside guys are saying and who’s being picked. We know what we have here and what we’re trying to do.”
Lue said All-Star forward Kevin Love remains in concussion protocol and his status for the series opener is in question. Love sat out Cleveland’s Game 7 win at Boston on Sunday after suffering a head injury when he and Celtics rookie forward Jayson Tatum accidentally banged heads during the opening minutes of Game 6.
Love was replaced in the starting lineup by veteran Jeff Green, who stepped up and scored 19 points as the Cavs completed their comeback after trailing 2-0 and 3-2 in the series.
Love is expected back for the Finals, and Lue needs his experience against the Warriors, who like the Cavs rallied to win the Western Conference finals by taking Game 7 on the road.
There was a moment when it looked as if both Cleveland and Golden State could miss the Finals.
It disappeared quickly.
“They’ve been tested. We’ve been tested,” Lue said. “They’ve been to Game 7s. We’ve been to Game 7s. We’ve won championships and they’ve won championships, so they understand what it takes and knew what it took.”
Since the playoffs opened, Cleveland has embraced the “Whatever It Takes” mantra that began as a catchy organisational slogan and morphed into a way of survival.
The Cavs have twice been pushed to seven games, overcome injuries and got much-needed contributions to ease the burden on James from role players Green, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
However, in this series when every possession will be magnified, Lue will count on four players who have been around since the Cavs first met the Warriors in the 2015 Finals.
And because they won a championship in 2016 together, the core four of James, Love, JR Smith, and Tristan Thompson share something special. “Just having these guys here who have been through it, through the tough times, through the great times as well, this is a bond that can’t be broken,” Lue said.
“Just reminds me a lot of guys I played with back in the day when you see Horace Grant, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, just something about winning a championship with those guys that you will never forget, and it’s a bond that can’t be broken.”
While Love has been solid, Smith and Thompson haven’t always come through this season for Cleveland.
One of the streakiest shooters in the league, Smith has had prolonged slumps. Thompson, who missed time with a severe calf injury, wasn’t a factor until Lue started him in Game 7 of the Indiana series. Lue never lost faith in either player. It’s a trust that can’t be measured.
“I’m always going to stick behind my guys,” Lue said. “Even when they’re struggling, I just have confidence and a belief that when we need those guys, and we call on those guys, they’ll be ready and they’ll produce. You’ve seen that through the course of the playoffs this year and you’ve seen it the last three years, that those guys are up for the challenge. They rise to the occasion. And just because a guy is not playing well, you can’t give up on a guy.
“You gotta give those guys a chance, especially when you’ve been there before with them and know who they are.”
Unlike the past three Finals, Lue won’t have Kyrie Irving, traded to Boston last summer. The All-Star point guard was Cleveland’s not-so-secret weapon, the one the Cavs turned to to watch James and keep the Warriors off-balance.
“He allowed us to go one on one against the mismatches and can’t nobody stop him one on one,” Lue said. “We’re gonna miss that, but we’re just going to have to play a different style of basketball without him being here.”
Now that’s a safe bet.
Golden State forward Andre Iguodala is out tonight with a bone bruise in his left knee.
Tale of the tape
For the fourth straight season, the Golden State Warriors will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA Finals. The Warriors arrive in the finals looking for their third title in four seasons, while the Cavs are hoping to even the score in these matchups at 2-2 after falling in five games last season.
The action gets underway with Game 1 tonight from Oracle Arena.
WHO’S THE MAN?
For the Cavs, no debate: LeBron James. The Warriors have four All- Stars, and two of the three best players in the world, so some debate? Not really - Steph Curry is the man. The finals look the Warriors’ to lose, but LeBron is still the best in the world, and the past six weeks back that up.
In post-season, he’s averaging 34 pts, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists, while shooting over 54% from the field. And playing more than 41 minutes a night.
AND THE BEST SUPPORTING CAST?
Let’s just go down the line. The second best player on the Warriors side is Kevin Durant, while the Cavs’ second option is Kevin Love, who is doubtful for Game 1 with concussion issues. The Warriors can then go to Klay Thompson — one of the best shooters in the league — while the Cavs turn to 37-year-old Kyle Korver.
The Warriors’ fourth-best player is another All-Star and their defensive mastermind, Draymond Green. The Cavaliers have George Hill, or maybe J.R. Smith. In terms of a supporting cast, there’s no argument.
WHO’S THE BETTER COACHING TICKET?
The Warriors’ Steve Kerr has five NBA Championships to Tyronn Lue’s two and has spent four more years (15) in the league than his rival (11). Kerr’s also played in 11 post-seasons (Lue played in four play-off series) After Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Lue claimed it took some time to put Kyle Korver – one of the Cavs’ best offensive weapons – into the game because the Celtics hadn’t put Semi Ojeleye in. Huh? On account of that alone, advantage Kerr.
IS THE CAVS-WARRIORS THE NEW LAKERS-CELTICS?
For Magic Johnson, read LeBron.
James is actually one triple-double (double digits in three of points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks)
away from tying Johnson for the most all-time in NBA Finals history (eight).
And for Larry Bird, try Steph Curry, the centrepiece of his superstar team.
He’s also the best shooter in the league. Bird would know something about that.
CAN WE EXPECT SPARKS?
Great teams aren’t expected to like their counterparts, and the Celtics and Lakers didn’t. Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis in the 1984 finals, a controversial play in a series that the Celtics went on to win.
So have the Cavs and Warriors gotten dirty? Since Draymond Green plays for one of those teams, yes. Green was suspended for Game 5 of the Finals last year for racking up too many flagrant fouls. Most notably, he hit LeBron James in the — let’s call it the groin area.
HOW THE CITIES COMPARE
Oakland (390,724) and Cleveland (396,815) have about the same population, but the entire Bay Area has way more people than Northeast Ohio. The San Jose-San Francisco- Oakland area, with nearly 7.5 million residents, is the sixth largest urban area in the United States.
The Cleveland-Akron-Elyria area, with 2.9 million, ranks 18th.
The Oakland A’s won baseball’s World Series in 1972, 1973 and 1974, a streak matched in the last half century by only the 1998-2000 New York Yankees.
The Cleveland Browns played in 10 championship games in their first 10 years from 1946 to 1955, winning four AAFC titles and two NFL titles.
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