After a long layoff hardly seen in the congested NBA season, the NBA Finals have arrived. The Golden State Warriors will host the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday night, kicking off a best-of-seven series to determine the NBA champion.
Hard-core NBA fans have been licking their chops since the Finals matchup was decided late last month, after the Cavaliers swept the Atlanta Hawks in four games and the Warriors beat the Houston Rockets in five.
For those hard-core fans, tip off can’t come soon enough. They’ve studied the matchups, they know the analytics and they’ve picked their winner. But what about casual basketball fans or someone who is watching for the first time (I’m looking at you, Andrew Buncombe)?
Below are five of the most intriguing storylines to watch in a series full of them.
The power of LeBron James
Even the most uninitiated have heard of LeBron James, The King, the Cavaliers small forward who looks and plays like he was created by a basketball-mad scientist. All hoops fans have an opinion on LeBron – the best player since Michael Jordan, nowhere near as good as MJ, could be better than MJ – but, regardless of opinion, the league has never seen his combination of size, speed and basketball smarts. Few things in the NBA are as devastating as when LeBron turns the corner for a freight-train drive to the rim. See the video below, especially plays 9 and 6.
This Finals is the fifth-consecutive time LeBron has made the NBA Finals, something that hasn’t been done in the NBA since the 1960s. If the Cavaliers win, it will be LeBron’s third championship and one that will go a long way in boosting his legacy.
The silkiness of Steph Curry
Former ESPN writer Bill Simmons once said that nothing gets him more excited than getting a text message from a friend telling him to drop everything and go watch Steph Curry. One of the truly un-guardable players in the NBA, when the Warriors point guard is feeling it, nothing matters. Defender down his throat, doesn’t matter. Forty feet from the basket, doesn’t matter.
While LeBron is widely regarded as the best player in the NBA, Curry might be the most exciting. Curry won the NBA Most Valuable Player award this season and is looking to bring Golden State its first championship since 1975.
Every good narrative needs an antagonist and in this series look no farther than Matthew Dellavedova, reserve guard for the Cavaliers. At best, he’s been described as a pest. At worst, a dirty player. But he has given the Cavaliers a huge boost this postseason.
Given that it’s been more than a week since both teams closed out their Conference Finals series, perhaps injuries won’t be too big a factor in this series. But each team has a key player struggling with injuries.
In Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, Warriors guard Klay Thompson took a knee to the head and was concussed, while Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving has been struggling with a knee injury of late. Thompson says he will be full strength and Irving will play in Game 1, but the lasting effects of their injuries remain to be seen.
The Cavaliers also are playing without star forward Kevin Love, who has been out most of the postseason.
Games 1 and 2, and (if necessary) 5 and 7 will all be played at the Warriors home floor, Oracle Arena, known as the best home-court advantage in the NBA. The arena – dubbed Roaracle Arena – gets so loud at times former opponents have accused the arena of artificially pumping in crowd noise through the loudspeakers.
The Warriors have been the best team in the NBA all season, have the deeper bench and are less affected by injury. The Cavaliers have the best player of this generation, who says he is playing the best basketball of his life.
I expect the series to go seven games, but in the end the Warriors will prove to be too much for LeBron and Co. Warriors in seven.
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