By Michael LeCompte
Curry/LeBron II tips off on Thursday night and for the second straight year the NBA Finals are set to showcase the two best players in the league.
Last year the storylines going into the Finals were Curry, LeBron, and the Championship fates of two long-suffering franchises. The sharp-shooting “Splash Bros” of Curry and Klay Thompson prevailed and Golden State captured its first title in 40 years.
This year Curry and LeBron are again the headliners, but unlike last season Cleveland is now healthy enough to compete against the Warriors. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are healthy and ready to support LeBron and Cleveland is poised to win its first major sports Championship since the Johnson administration (the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964).
Why Cleveland will win:
LeBron is the best all-around player the NBA has seen since Michael Jordan. He can score, defend, and he is big and physical. The only thing he hasn’t done extremely well is win in the Finals. “King James” is making his 6th consecutive trip to the Finals, yet he only has rings on two fingers.
This year could be different, though. LeBron came home two years ago to win a Championship in and for Cleveland and he has shown something beyond the impressive numbers this season-hunger. The one knock on LeBron throughout his career has been his mental toughness. When the games got hard, especially in the Finals, when his shooting touch ran cold, he often shrugged or threw his hands in the air, or started complaining to the refs.
Not so this year. Perhaps incensed by falling short to the Warriors last season and then having to watch them march through the regular season, winning a record 73 games, he has played with a hungry urgency, almost refusing to let his team down. This newfound hunger after twelve years in the league should serve the Cavaliers well in the Finals during those inevitable moments when Golden State seemingly can’t miss from beyond the arc.
Why Golden State will win:
Of course, the Finals still must be played and the Warriors won’t roll over for a suddenly hungry LeBron. After their record-setting regular season the playoffs have been anything but a cakewalk for Golden State. Perhaps that is what this historically good team needed, though, and why they just might repeat as champs.
The regular season looked ridiculously easy for Curry and company and until they were finally tested in the playoffs-falling behind 3-1 to the Thunder-it was unsure if this team had the resiliency to repeat.
The criticism of the Warriors is that they don’t play a good brand of basketball, that they are nothing more than a bunch of sharpshooters, willing and able to pick opponents apart from long-range without getting physical inside. Perhaps after winning it all last season they weren’t really hungry until the Oklahoma City series, but when they fell behind big in the Conference Finals, when every game became an elimination game for them, they dug deep and found a way to pull it out. That resiliency proved that as a team Golden State does indeed have the collective heart of a champion.
Curry is healthy and the Warriors seem to have righted themselves in time for the Finals. The “Splash Bros” continue to launch from long-range and Golden State still has one of the deepest benches in the league.
LeBron has a healthy complement of sidekicks this time around and is shooting 55% from the field in the playoffs. As a team the Cavaliers have only lost twice in the playoffs and-perhaps taking a page from the Warrior’s playbook-have been relying on the three-pointer along the way.
Curry vs. LeBron II, the Rematch, is the perfect Championship matchup. It’s the showdown sports fans love, the two best players in the game-at the top of their games, in their primes-for the title.
This time, though, LeBron should have enough help to get it done and end Cleveland’s 52 year title drought.
The Pick: Cleveland in 7 games.