Greg Cote

Warriors, Cavaliers are now poised to rescue the NBA postseason they helped to ruin

A renewal of LeBron James and Steph Curry’s testy rivalry would be just what the NBA needs to rescue this postseason.
A renewal of LeBron James and Steph Curry’s testy rivalry would be just what the NBA needs to rescue this postseason. Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors' third consecutive NBA Finals are to begin June 1, the inevitability so foregone that the two teams standing in their way are hardly worthy of mention.

Did I say “standing” in their way? Kneeling or curtsying is a more apt image. In a perfect world Team Hopeless and Team Who-They-Kiddin' would quietly abandon the pretense and concede so we might get to Cavs-Warriors 3.0 that much more quickly. It'd be the gentlemanly thing to do.

The teams of Steph Curry and LeBron James are so good, so above the rest in their conference, that they are ruining this NBA postseason. But for that very same reason, they will ultimately save it with the epic third installment in the trilogy.

These playoffs have mostly been bad. Only one of the first 11 series completed has gone the full seven games. Thirty-seven of the 63 games have been decided by double-digit margins.

It has been so undeniably uncompetitive that TV analyst and former star Charles Barkley called this postseason “awful,” adding, “Thank God for the NHL playoffs.”

Blame LeBron, Steph and their teams – the two varsity bullies to everybody's else's JV.

Golden State and Cleveland are the first pair of teams in NBA history to skate to the conference finals with 8-0 records in the same postseason. Meaning the two best teams by a lot also are the two most-rested teams moving forward.

Giving the Warriors and Cavs the luxury of time off is a little like giving Usain Bolt a head start, or Bill Gates a raise.

curry
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) blocks a shot by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Cleveland, Thursday, June 16, 2016. Ron Schwane AP

Golden State has been perfect thus far by an average winning margin of 16.5 points, which, over an entire playoffs, would be a record. Cleveland is unblemished by an average margin of 9.6 points.

These two are such superpowers, I'm half-surprised North Korean president Kim Jong-un hasn't threatened a nuclear attack on both franchises.

(Quick aside: LaVar Ball thinks his son Lonzo could single-handedly beat both the Warriors and Cavaliers in a game of 1-on-10).

LeBron has been so terrific in these playoffs – averaging 34.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.1 assists – that anybody who wanted to rekindle the argument whether he's the best ever might hark back to his past month's performance for ammunition.

Golden State is so good they don't even need a coach. Steve Kerr has been out due to back ailments. No worries. I could coach this team. Blindfolded. My pregame talk would be to look where I thought Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were sitting, and say, “Do what you do, fellas. Let's go!”

A third straight Warriors-Cavs Finals – the rubber match after Golden State won in 2015 and Cleveland in '16 – would rescue the very postseason these teams have helped ruin with their excellence. Picture Daenerys Targaryen swooping in heroically on a fire-breathing dragon.

NBA Finals Containing Curry Basketball
In this Jan. 18, 2016, filephoto, Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry (30) knocks the ball loose from Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) duriing the first half of an NBA basketball game in Cleveland. Tony Dejak AP

It would be historic, for one thing.

In the long history of the NBA, born in 1947, the same two teams have never before met in three consecutive Finals. Two in a row isn't so rare, but even that hadn't happened, before GS-CLE, since Chicago and Utah went do-si-do in 1997-98.

Warriors vs. Cavs intensified, of course, with Kevin Durant having the temerity to follow LeBron's South Beach blueprint – a superstar changing uniforms, and thus changing the dynamic of the NBA.

The real intrigue in Warrors-Cavs III, though, will be the next chapter in the intense personal rivalry of James and Curry, who combined have won six of the past eight NBA MVP trophies.

It used to be LeBron's league. Steph took it. Last year's Finals allowed LeBron to think he'd won it back. Now Steph wants that mythical-yet-real title for good.

They don't much like each other, by the way.

From the new LeBron biography “Return of the King,” by ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin: “James had dealt with young stars arriving to challenge him. He'd found ways to manage them. But Curry was a different sort of challenge. There was a special edge growing there already.”

Another new book, “Golden: The Miraculous Rise Of Steph Curry,” by Bay Area writer Marcus Thompson, expands on the players' animus. He portrays James as not liking all the hype Curry enjoys. In Game 6 of last year's Finals, LeBron blocked a Curry shot and glowered and trash-talked Curry – a rarity from James.

Their tense reunion in a third straight Finals will be good for the sales of both new books.

It'll be even better for the NBA, and for a postseason that needs the big finish.

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