Can LeBron do the impossible and will his Cleveland Cavaliers to victory over the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors? Or is it just a matter of how many games that it will take the defending champion to finish off King James’ Cavs at this point?
Those questions will be answered when the Cavs and Warriors face off for the fourth consecutive year in the NBA Finals, beginning Thursday night (9 p.m. EST, ABC) at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
Once the matchup was set, the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas declared the Warriors as a mammoth -1,000 favorite to win the series, making the defending champs the largest Finals favorite in 16 seasons, as reported by odds hub Sportsoddshistory.com.
It’s hard to argue against those lopsided odds, either. Yes, one can argue that Golden State was aided by the absence of Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul in the last two games of the Western Conference Finals, allowing the Warriors to come from a 3-2 deficit to win the series. On the other hand, it took a Herculean effort from King James (35.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists in 42.6 minutes per game) over seven games against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals just to will the Cavs back into the Finals.
This could very well be the least-talented squad that James has every carried into the Finals, in this, his eighth straight appearance on the NBA’s grandest stage. If it took all of James’s might against a Celtics team playing without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, then one has to think that those Finals’ odds are spot on.
That, and King James, playing alongside then-high-scoring sidekick Irving, was only able to take one game from the Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals, losing the series in five.
Off of LeBron’s sheer greatness and brilliance alone and fellow All-Star Kevin Love returning from the league’s concussion protocol, one would think that he can lead to Cavs to at least one win, or maybe two, in these Finals.
But even that could be pushing it, especially when the Warriors return to the Finals with their four All-Stars — Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson — leading the way with no other NBA team having any answer for their third-quarter surges this year.
With the Warriors trailing the Rockets by 10 points at halftime of Game 7 on Monday night, Curry scored 14 of his 27 points in the third quarter to help power Golden State to the lead for good.
What’s even scarier for the Cavs is that they fell victim to the Warriors’ third-quarter onslaught in two meetings this past regular season, having been outscored by the defending champs in those periods. According to ESPN, the Warriors shot 51 percent, including 50 percent beyond the arc, in the third quarters from those games against Cleveland — both Golden State wins.
That, and KD is already eagerly anticipating going head-to-head with James as he did in last year’s Finals, which he was named the MVP of.
“Like this series, Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, James [Harden], [Chris Paul], they brought the best out of me,” Durant told ESPN on Monday night after Game 7 about how the Rockets’ key players pushed his play to another level. “They made me dig down deep as a player to figure this s**t out. That’s what you want. It might not be against the quote on quote the best player to ever play or the best player in the league all the time. But it’s just cool that every opportunity you step on the floor in the playoffs, the farther you go, somebody is going to challenge you.”
He added: “So, the next round is going to be LeBron James, somebody I can match up with. Somebody who is going to match up with me and just bring the best out of me. Just like I’ll probably bring the best out of him, and we’ll see what happens.”