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LeBron James & the NBA Finals = Must-See TV

Banner 2USP NBA: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS-MEDIA DAY S BKN USA CABanner 4Today, LeBron James will play in his eighth straight NBA Finals.

King James and his Cleveland Cavaliers will face the Golden State Warriors for the fourth year in a row.

UnknownLeBron and the Cavs are the clear underdogs.

In fact, the Warriors are historic favorites in the 2018 NBA Finals. The reigning NBA champs are favored by 10 to 1 odds to win their third title. The Warriors are favored by 12.5-points in tonight’s Game One: the largest point spread in recent Finals history.

So, despite the odds — why do I believe LeBron James has a legitimate shot to win his fourth NBA title?

I have three simple reasons:

He’s LeBron James.

He’s having an historic year.

And I hate Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors.

AUSTIN-CARRFull disclosure: I’m a Cleveland boy, born and raised. I’ve been a Cavaliers fan since the franchise was launched in 1970 — and Austin Carr led them to the ‘76 Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, losing valiantly in 6 games.

The Cavs had their moments after that — making 10 playoff appearances from 1985 to 1998. But they rarely made it past the first round.

04araton-articleLargeIn 1989, for instance, Michael Jordan famously dashed their hopes by draining a first-round series-winning buzzer-beater over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo. It was Game 5 of a 5-game series. (Remember those?) And Cleveland was playing at home.

Man, that was painful.

Then came LeBron James.

James played high school basketball in Akron Ohio – just 40 miles from Cleveland.

Already a national sensation as a teenage high school player, his hometown Cavaliers made  LeBron the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft .300_003_lg

As a 20-year-old kid – in just his second year in the NBA — LeBron poured in 56 points against the Toronto Raptors, setting Cleveland’s single-game scoring record and was named to his first All-NBA Team. (This year, in his fifteenth season in the league, he earned that honor again.)

In his third season in 2006, LeBron was named the NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player and finished second in the NBA MVP voting to Steve Nash. He led The Cavs into the playoffs for the first time since 1998, losing to the Detroit Pistons in the second round.

LeBron’s fourth year in the league marked him as a true superstar. He led the Cavs to 50 wins for the second year in a row and took his team all the way to the 2007 NBA Finals against one of the NBA’s greatest teams: the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron and his overmatched Cavs were swept in four games – setting the stage for his infamous “Decision” to jump to the Miami Heat.

goneLeBron’s years with the Heat are well documented.

At the time, I went on the record that I didn’t blame LeBron for leaving the Cavs. Far from burning his jersey like some bitter fellow Clevelanders, I cheered him as he won two NBA championships in his four years in Miami – then welcomed his Northeast Ohio homecoming.

It didn’t take long for LeBron to return the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. He did it in his first year back. And if Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving had been able to play in the 2015 Finals against the Golden State Warriors they might have won.

20609133-standardAnyway, LeBron led the Cavs to victory the following year – my hometown’s first major sports championship since Jim Brown, Frank Ryan and Gary Collins led the Browns over the Colts in 1964!

Then LeBron and the Cavs lost to Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the Warriors in last year’s Finals. It was The King’s seventh straight NBA Finals appearance.

And tonight’s tip-off marks Lebron’s eighth straight Finals.

Okay, I know that Bill Russell and his 1960’s-era Celtics made a shitload of NBA Finals. In fact, Russell made 10 straight Finals. Bill Russell is certainly one of the all-time greats — but let’s look at a typical NBA playoff bracket from Russell’s playing days.1964nbaplayoffsbracketresults

Do you notice something?

CN73LMUFYWN5IIN7SWW5XC7K7AFor most of those ten dominant years, Russell and his Celtics played just 2 or 3 rounds in the playoffs. And they usually played only two. LeBron James – like all of his modern NBA contemporaries — has faced four grueling playoff rounds every single year. Just sayin’.

And then there’s this business about Kevin Durant vs. LeBron. Don’t compare Durant’s playoff success with LeBron’s. (How far did The Slim Reaper ever take the Thunder?) And please don’t equate Durant’s jump to the Warriors with LeBron’s move to the Heat.

When LeBron went to The Heat, it had been 5 years since they were in the Finals and won an NBA championship. Durant joined Golden State the year after they had made two consecutive Finals appearances and won their first NBA title.

Kevin Durant is a front-runner. LeBron James is something else altogether.

kloveAs both teams prepare for tip-off tonight, I am confident that LeBron James will burnish his legacy in these NBA Finals.

And if Kevin Love is healthy enough to make his usual All-Star contribution on the boards and from the 3-point line – and Kyle Korver or J.R. Smith or Jeff Green or George Hill step up and hit some shots – then I like my team’s chances, despite the long odds against them.

One thing is certain.

I’m not betting against LeBron James.

I’m not betting against The King.

Go Cavs!

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A Post-Victory Look at My Earlier Take on the 2016 NBA Finals.

big3iI wrote this post before the Finals started. And when the Cavs were down 3 games to 1 after Game 4, it might have seemed like I would have to eat crow. But, somehow, I never lost faith that LeBron and my Cavs would prevail. (You can ask my daughter, Emilia.) With all due humility, I’ve highlighted the best parts in bold.

Okay. It’s the NBA Finals.

Starting tonight — Thursday, June 2nd — the battle between the Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers and the Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors will get underway.

And as a Cleveland boy, born and raised, I must call my shot.

lebron-james_416x416So, I’m calling LeBron “King” James and the Cavs over Stephen “Mouthpiece-Masticating” Curry and his Golden State NBA golden boys.

Of course, Warrior fans will say I’m favoring Lebron and the Cavs simply because I’m a myopic, championship-starved Northeastern Ohio native looking to Lebron James through the distorted prism of a basketball-related messianic complex.

But, while that’s true — it’s not the whole reason.

15970992-mmmainI’m calling this NBA Finals series for the Cavs mostly because of the fact that, this year, Lebron is heading into the Finals with a healthy team: with All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving fully fit for service.

In the 2015 Finals, Stephen Curry and the Warriors barely held off James and the Cavaliers in 6 tightly contested games – without Love and Irving on the court. Now, with Kevin and Kyrie healthy and ready to compete – the balance of power has shifted toward Cleveland.

150202105528-kevin-love-lebron-james-kyrie-irving-020215.1200x6723-point shooting has been the hallmark of Golden State’s potent offense. But in the first two rounds of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, the Cavs lit it up from beyond the arc. James, Love, Irving, J.R. Smith, Channing Frye and Co. rained threes in an historic fashion. In fact, the Cavs’ 3-point shooting percentage in the 2016 playoffs is higher than that of Golden State’s sharpshooters. But hoisting threes isn’t the key to Cleveland’s game.

gettyimages-474678790Golden State has no answer for Cleveland’s interior strength. As much as Golden State wants to run up and down the court jacking up crazy threes from half-court, the team that controls the paint (and the boards) will still have the advantage. And I’ll take Cleveland’s big men, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov, over Golden State’s Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli every game.

538861d3df6acbb8d03d65d024fe6e76_crop_northAnd let’s keep an eye on the Warrior’s volatile emotional touchstone, Draymond Green. He’s just two technical fouls away from big trouble – and one flagrant foul away from suspension. Can he last the series without getting himself suspended for a game or two? Count on the Cavs to take it to the rim against Green early and often. Draw contact. We’ll see whether trash-talking, crotch-kicking Draymond can control his dramatics – and his cheap shots.

Ch0WHZwXEAAPR3GI could go on and on about the specifics of match-ups and man-to-man breakdowns — but ultimately, I’ll confess that my take on the 2016 NBA Finals is less analytical than emotional.

Cleveland hasn’t won a major sports championship since the great Jim Brown and Frank Ryan’s Browns won an NFL Title in 1964. That’s 52 long years in the wilderness.

images-1This year — with Cleveland hosting Donald Trump’s madcap Republican National Convention this July, my downtrodden but proud, hardworking hometown needs a prophylactic, honorable, full court shot of redemption.

I believe Lebron and the Cavs will make that shot.

So, I say Cavs in 6.

Or less. (Okay, here’s where I went over the top.)

Game on.usa-today-9094536.0

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One Cleveland Boy’s Take on the 2016 NBA Finals.

big3iOkay. It’s the NBA Finals.

Starting tonight — Thursday, June 2nd — the battle between the Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers and the Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors will get underway.

And as a Cleveland boy, born and raised, I must call my shot.

lebron-james_416x416So, I’m calling LeBron “King” James and the Cavs over Stephen “Mouthpiece-Masticating” Curry and his Golden State NBA golden boys.

Of course, Warrior fans will say I’m favoring Lebron and the Cavs simply because I’m a myopic, championship-starved Northeastern Ohio native looking to Lebron James through the distorted prism of a basketball-related messianic complex.

But, while that’s true — it’s not the whole reason.

15970992-mmmainI’m calling this NBA Finals series for the Cavs mostly because of the fact that, this year, Lebron is heading into the Finals with a healthy team: with All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving fully fit for service.

In the 2015 Finals, Stephen Curry and the Warriors barely held off James and the Cavaliers in 6 tightly contested games – without Love and Irving on the court. Now, with Kevin and Kyrie healthy and ready to compete – the balance of power has shifted toward Cleveland.

150202105528-kevin-love-lebron-james-kyrie-irving-020215.1200x6723-point shooting has been the hallmark of Golden State’s potent offense. But in the first two rounds of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, the Cavs lit it up from beyond the arc. James, Love, Irving, J.R. Smith, Channing Frye and Co. rained threes in an historic fashion. In fact, the Cavs’ 3-point shooting percentage in the 2016 playoffs is higher than that of Golden State’s sharpshooters. But hoisting threes isn’t the key to Cleveland’s game.

gettyimages-474678790Golden State has no answer for Cleveland’s interior strength. As much as Golden State wants to run up and down the court jacking up crazy threes from half-court, the team that controls the paint (and the boards) will still have the advantage. And I’ll take Cleveland’s big men, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov, over Golden State’s Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli every game.

538861d3df6acbb8d03d65d024fe6e76_crop_northAnd let’s keep an eye on the Warrior’s volatile emotional touchstone, Draymond Green. He’s just two technical fouls away from big trouble – and one flagrant foul away from suspension. Can he last the series without getting himself suspended for a game or two? Count on the Cavs to take it to the rim against Green early and often. Draw contact. We’ll see whether trash-talking, crotch-kicking Draymond can control his dramatics – and his cheap shots.

Ch0WHZwXEAAPR3GI could go on and on about the specifics of match-ups and man-to-man breakdowns — but ultimately, I’ll confess that my take on the 2016 NBA Finals is less analytical than emotional.

Cleveland hasn’t won a major sports championship since the great Jim Brown and Frank Ryan’s Browns won an NFL Title in 1964. That’s 52 long years in the wilderness.

images-1This year — with Cleveland hosting Donald Trump’s madcap Republican National Convention this July, my downtrodden but proud, hardworking hometown needs a prophylactic, honorable, full court shot of redemption.

I believe Lebron and the Cavs will make that shot.

So, I say Cavs in 6.

Or less.

Game on.usa-today-9094536.0

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Small Ball? Please. The Cavs Go Big. Big Time.

Cavs 5Please pardon this Clevelander for crowing – but the Cavaliers have had a very good offseason so far. After taking the Golden State Warriors to 6 games in the 2015 NBA Finals without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love, the Cavs are fully reloaded for the 2015-16 season.

635490647420316139-USATSI-8144247With Kevin Love’s re-signing on the first day of free agency, the message to the rest of the NBA is clear: The Cavs will be going back to the Finals. And this time, barring injury, Stephen Curry and Co. – or anyone else — won’t be enough to stop them.

So many trendy NBA pundits and executives have gotten all excited about “small ball” and how the Cavs were done in by Golden State’s jump-shooting lineup of shorter players. But the fact is that the Warriors were nearly down 3-0 to a Cavs team without Irving wreaking havoc at the point or Love stretching the floor, grabbing rebounds and knocking ‘em down from long distance.

635597185906014271-2015-02-16-LeBron-KyrieTake a moment to consider the Cavs starting five. This is a team that can start All-Star Kyrie Irving at the 1. LeBron James at the 2: easily the leagues most overpowering shooting guard. All-Star Kevin Love (6’10”) at the 3, Tristan Thompson (6’10”) at the 4 and Timofey Mozgov (7’1”) at the 5. Let anyone else play small ball. The Cavs front line is a shot-blocking, rebound-eating animal – with a guy in Kevin Love who will murder you from the 3-point line.

With this lineup, there is so much less pressure on LeBron night after night. He doesn’t need to score a triple double every night like he averaged in the NBA Finals. He’s got more than enough help in every facet of the game.

AR-150629943A word to David Blatt: This is your starting five. Do NOT be afraid to start such a big front line. There will be plenty of room in the paint for LeBron and Kyrie to drive to the hoop when Love leaks out to the perimeter and a defender has to follow him. And on defense, no opponent is getting to the rim easily — if at all.

16233532-mmmainI’ll be interested to see what the Cavs can do to improve their bench. But just sending Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith back to the bench is a good start. And I love Matthew Dellavedova and his hustle, but we could use a bit more bench help at the point. (Though I do want to keep Deli!)

Say a prayer for good health, Cavs Fans, our long municipal nightmare may soon be over.

And given that the average age of our starting five is just 26 years old — the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks very, very big.

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My Mid-Season NBA Prediction.

NBA BannerNBA Banner 2Mark the date, NBA fans. Today I’m announcing that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers will face each other in the 2015 NBA Finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Atlanta HawksFull disclosure: I was born and raised in Cleveland – and I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life living in Los Angeles. So, you’d be justified in thinking that I’m less than objective. But you’d be wrong.

I’m not betting on The Cavs and Clips just because they’re my favorite Eastern and Western Conference teams. I’m banking on the basketball brilliance of LeBron James and Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul, Kevin Love and DeAndre Jordan.

The Cavaliers and Clippers both began the season with high expectations – and both spent much of the first half of the season dashing those lofty hopes.

458127466-jpgFans and detractors alike expressed concerns about the Cavalier’s first-year head coach. It didn’t help that his name was Blatt – and his team played flat. But just as speculation rose that Blatt’s all-star players were gunning for him behind his back – LeBron and Kyrie and company ran off eight straight wins. (And counting as of this writing.)

DeAndre Jordan, Omer AsikThe Clippers have also gelled in recent weeks – with Lob City finally airborne and the league’s best sixth man, Jamal Crawford, raining shots from every corner of the court. With Doc Rivers, their sage head coach and general manager, making just the right personnel moves, the Clipper’s improving chemistry has been evident in their recent six-game winning streak. (And counting as of this writing.)

Both teams have the talent to get to the finals.

Both teams have the postseason experience.

Both teams have superstars at three positions, a brace of perimeter sharpshooters, dominant inside power and rim protection, speed and athleticism.

2013-04-23T193255Z_1_CBRE93M1IB000_RTROPTP_3_SPORTS-US-NBA-CLIPPERS_JPG_475x310_q85And both teams are improving. Just this week, Cavs guard Kyrie Irving just dropped 55 points on the 32-14 Portland Trailblazers – winning without LeBron. And Clippers super sub Jamal Crawford filled it up for 21 points in the 4th quarter to beat the Denver Nuggets.

And they’re just getting started.

Sorry Warriors, Hawks, Blazers and Wizard fans.

It’ll be The Cavaliers versus The Clippers in the NBA Finals this year.

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