The NBA Finals should be a time to celebrate an outstanding season and the culmination of two conference series with the final two teams vying for the title.
With the fourth installment of the Golden State Warriors versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s turned out to be something less than that.
Many fans are turned off by another season of seeing LeBron James act as the underdog David and the Warriors as a collective Goliath. The Cavaliers did win one, in 2016, but the Warriors are the overwhelming favorites to win their third championship in the last four seasons.
In many ways, a trilogy is good enough.
Sometimes, a fourth helping can be too much and can ruin a good thing. Consider the original Star Wars trilogy, where the fourth movie, “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace,” turned out to be one of the worst in the entire series.
There’s something about the rule of thirds that works but there’s also the rare case of having a fourth thing work. Look at “Rocky IV,” which ended up being one of the best in that movie franchise. The Warriors started their recent run as the heroes, but have turned to villains because of their success.
In many fans’ eyes — especially Pistons fans’ — James always will be a villain. That makes this a lose-lose Finals proposition.
There are no lightsabers or blasters in this series, but there will be plenty of dunks and long-range 3-pointers to fill in the gaps. Here’s a look at five things to watch when the Warriors and Cavaliers open with Game 1 on Thursday:
What a title means
The talk continues about whether James has entered the same pantheon as Michael Jordan in terms of historic greatness. Jordan has six titles — in six tries — and James is anything but perfect. But some of the feats that James continues to add to his resume, including his amazing postseason performance this year, are worthy of consideration among the all-time greats.
Leading this team to the Finals is a big enough accomplishment, but if James is able to even the Warriors-Cavs tally at two titles apiece, it would be one of his most significant feats.
The Warriors could win their third championship in four years and would be regarded among the best dynasties in NBA history. It’s within their reach, as they’d have to have a lot of things go wrong to not win the series in five or six games.
No Kyrie, no problem?
After trading Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics and getting Isaiah Thomas — who was later dealt to the Lakers — and still getting back to the Finals is a testament to how good James is, but the Cavaliers need help. George Hill needs to be a presence as a facilitator and scorer, and several of the role players will have to take on prominent roles.
While the Cavs were relying on a Big Three of James, Irving and Kevin Love last season and fell short, the prospect of doing it with essentially just James is mind-numbing. Irving’s season-ending injury became just a footnote when the Cavs ousted the Celtics in the East finals.
Love still is in concussion protocol and might not be ready for Game 1. Besides James, he’s the one mismatch the Cavs would have. Without him, it’s a steep uphill battle for Cleveland to even win a game or two in the series.
The Warriors have been without Andre Iguodala for much of the West finals but managed to squeak past the Rockets. They already have enough of an advantage, but getting Iguodala back will complete their vaunted “Death Squad” and provide even more depth for their bench.
What happens next?
No matter what happens in the Finals, there’s some uncertainty left — at least for the Cavs. First and foremost on their offseason to-do list will be trying to retain James and keeping any semblance of a contender together. That’s probably less than a 50-50 proposition.
The Warriors have their core together and could be going for true dynasty status if they can pull off another title. Kevin Durant will be a free agent, but who has it better in this scenario? Money won’t be a draw to make him leave — creating his own legacy as a champion in Oakland will be enough to convince him to stay.
Warriors in four?
It’s not that simple. James can just win a game that seeps into the fourth quarter and is there for the taking. It’s easy to imagine the Cavs winning one and taking the series to five games, but anything beyond that is a tweet from a LeBron James burner account on Twitter.
The Warriors showed some weaknesses in their series with the Rockets, but the Cavs don’t have the same firepower and assets to pull of the big upset. James Harden and Chris Paul are not walking through that door.
Prediction: Warriors in 5 games.
All games on ABC
Thursday: Cleveland at Golden State, 9 p.m.
Sunday: Cleveland at Golden State, 8 p.m.
Wednesday, June 6: Golden State at Cleveland, 9 p.m.
Friday, June 8: Golden State at Cleveland, 9 p.m.
x-Monday, June 11: Cleveland at Golden State, 9 p.m.
x-Thursday, June 14: Golden State at Cleveland, 9 p.m.
x-Sunday, June 17: Cleveland at Golden State, 8 p.m.
x – If necessary