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NBA Finals Preview: underdog LeBron James vs the Golden State

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Join me in wishing good luck to an all-time great Thunder player as he heads into the finals with his new team

2017 NBA Finals - Game Four Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Once again, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be sitting on their couches when the NBA finals start tonight. Luckily, OKC fans have a clear rooting interest in this series. A former Thunderite, one who exemplified everything great about this organization, will be suiting up tonight, pursuing the title he was unable to win while wearing the powder blue. While the team of course misses him dearly, and the fanbase was heartbroken by his departure, everyone here at WTLC wishes him nothing but the best, and if OKC can’t win, seeing this guy hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in a few weeks time would be the next best thing.

Good luck to Kendrick Perkins and his Cleveland Cavaliers tonight!!!!!

Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
He looked better in blue
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Also, former Thunder (and Supersonics!) forwards Kevin Durant and Jeff Green will both be competing in these finals as well. Best of luck to both of them. Coincidentally, if you recall, it was the Thunder’s trade of Jeff Green to Boston that originally brought Perkins into OKC, and now the pair team up to attempt to take down Durant’s Warrior squad.

Sadly, Perk is unlikely to touch the court in this series- the Cavs have so far used him only to yell at Drake these playoffs. That’s a shame- Perk getting on the court would be interesting, if nothing else, and these finals look like they will get uninteresting, and quick. This will be the 4th straight time the Warriors and the Cavaliers face off. That itself is not a problem- the Celtics-Lakers dominance of the 80’s is now remembered as a golden era of the NBA- but part 4 of this saga looks to be the least competitive version of this match-up yet. Infinity War Part II, this ain’t.

The Warriors do look vulnerable for the first time in the Durant-era; the Rockets took them to the brink in the conference finals, and if Chris Paul didn’t get hurt, Houston might be the team facing Cleveland tonight. The trouble is the Cavaliers look weaker than ever. Last year the Cavs stormed into the finals with only one loss in the first 3 round of the playoffs, raining 3’s on everyone. LeBron and Kyrie were cooking, Kevin Love looked great, and the Cavs posted historic numbers on offense. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Cavs posted a 121.6 offensive rating (126.1 points per 100 possessions) in last year’s playoffs, a mark that blows out of the water anything posted by even the best regular season offenses. While the Warriors (who were a smidge behind on offense, with a 121.3 rating, but lapped Cleveland defensively) ended up winning the series in 5 games, the pure fire the Cavs were spitting made you think they at least had a chance heading in, however small.

This year, Kyrie is gone for greener (sorry) pastures, Kevin Love is a shell of himself and has been in concussion protocol since game 6 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the bench is a tire fire, and the Cavs were taken to 7 games by both the Pacers and the Celtics. This year they posted a 110.1 offensive rating in the playoffs — essentially, they were as good offensively as the Thunder were in the regular season, which is to say fine but not exceptional — and they paired that with some truly mediocre defense. Only the singular greatness of LeBron got them back to this stage. No one else- not Durant or Curry, not James Harden or Russell Westbrook, not Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo- could have led this disastrous roster into the finals. LeBron did it, and, amazingly, we all expected him to- even when the Cavs had their backs against the wall in both he Pacers series and the Celtics series, no one really expected him to lose. His greatness is such that the feats he pulls off are simultaneously awe-inspiring and completely predictable.

The fairy tale is about to end however. Basketball is a team game, and while LeBron has been the gracious leader and praised his teammates every step of the way, his roster cannot hold a candle to the Warriors. LeBron is the best player in this series, but the Warriors have players 2-5 by a pretty wide margin- and those 4 players are all top 20 in the entire league, including 2 former MVPs and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.

Houston came up short with a roster that was specifically designed to combat Golden State. The Cavs roster wasn’t really designed at all- it was completely remade twice in the last year, once when Kyrie demanded a trade, and again when the team overhauled at the trade deadline. And yet, at the end of the day, Cleveland will mostly rely on the same roster as last finals, with George Hill in the place of Kyrie Irving and, uh, Jeff Green in place of Richard Jefferson and Iman Shumpert. Those are pretty major downgrades, to say the least, enough to wipe away any hope Golden State’s near-defeat in the Conference finals may have inspired.

If this was anyone else, I’d pick a sweep. It’s LeBron though- at his very, very best, he can defeat almost anyone. If the finals were a one game affair, I might just pick him. But even LeBron can’t be perfect for 48 minutes 4 separate times in 7 games, and that’s what it would take for him to overcome these Warriors. And even a perfect LeBron may not even matter - last year, with a better team, he averaged a 34-12-10 over 5 games while shooting 56% from the floor, and his team had no shot at winning the series. This finals feels preordained, even more so than last year. The Rockets nearly knocking off Golden State should put an end to talk that the Warriors are invincible, but the near total lack of drama in the finals themselves is disappointing.

Still, the finals will still be entertaining- the presence of LeBron, Steph, KD, and Draymond guarantees that, as does the fact that beloved comic relief characters Nick Young, JaVale McGee and J.R. Smith will be on hand. The games played in Cleveland, where LeBron’s teammates at least play with a pulse, figure to be close. But the outcome isn’t in doubt.

Since the finals are a bit of a bummer this year, and predicting them an easy task, let me offer a more optimistic and less certain prediction- this is the last time Golden State cruises to the title. They’ll probably end up taking at least one more home with this core, but the rest of the league is not going to roll over. The Rockets will try to get even better. The Celtics looked ready to make the finals without their two best players- return Kyrie and Gordon Hayward, and they might win 60 games. The 76ers young core looks great, and they have the cap space to add another star. Kawhi Leonard healthy, whether on the Spurs or elsewhere, gives Golden State problems. LeBron will either be on a new team or have a better set of teammates. Even the Thunder, should Paul George re-sign and Andre Roberson return to health, could be a dangerous match-up for Golden State. The Warriors will still enter next season the favorites to win the title- but tough series like the Rockets just gave them are about to be the norm instead of the exception.

For now, though, let’s just enjoy the last few basketball games we have left before the long, cruel summer without games (but with plenty of drama) begins. Even if there isn’t much drama over the proceedings, these will still be fun games to watch.

And once again, best of luck to Kendrick Perkins. We’re rooting for you big fella.

Warriors in 5.

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In how many games will Perk get garbage minutes?

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