2017 NBA Finals: 10 storylines as the Cavaliers and Warriors meet for third straight year

Cleveland’ s LeBron James celebrates in the final moments of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals against at Golden State. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will meet for the third consecutive season in the NBA Finals starting Thursday in Oakland.

The teams have split the first two series, with the Warriors winning in six games in 2015 and the Cavaliers recovering from a 3-1 hole to win Game 7 on the road in 2016.

Now, we have a new twist to the rivalry as Kevin Durant joined the Warriors in the offseason to give them a Big 4 (Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) to go against Cleveland’s Big 3 (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love).

The series should be compelling so we bring you 10 storylines to keep in mind throughout:

Will Golden State lose a game these playoffs?

The Warriors enter the finals 12-0 in the postseason with sweeps over Portland, Utah and San Antonio. The closest anybody has come to that in the expanded playoffs era (needing 15 or 16 wins for the title) are the 2001 Lakers who were 15-1, sweeping the first three rounds and defeating Philadelphia in the Finals, 4-1. So the question really is: Will Golden State sweep Cleveland, which would give it a 16-0 postseason? The Warriors will win the title but, yes, they will lose a game – or two – along the way.

If the Cavaliers wins, will LeBron James’ success in Cleveland surpass his success in Miami?

LeBron’s first two seasons in his return to Cleveland and first two in Miami ended the same; losing in the Finals the first year and winning a championship the second. And while LeBron’s Cavs teams have had an easier run through the East than his Heat teams, the Warriors teams Cleveland has played in the Finals clearly are better than the Mavericks and Thunder teams the Heat faced in the 2011 and 2012 Finals. The Heat then defeated a very good Spurs team in the 2013 Finals, one that was much closer to these Warriors. If Cleveland wins this season it is on the same track as the 2011-2014 Heat. Then perhaps next year could determine which team has been more successful.

Will we see Warriors coach Steve Kerr on the bench in the Finals?

Kerr has not been on the bench since Game 2 of Golden State’s first round series against Portland due to complications from his 2015 back surgery – a spinal cord fluid leak causing headaches and nausea. Kerr, though, started traveling during the conference finals but remained in the locker room during games as Mike Brown continued as acting head coach. Kerr said Monday that he is not healthy enough to return to the bench and his status for the series is “still up in the air.”

What would another title mean to LeBron James’ legacy?

LeBron (and teammate James Jones) will become the only players not members of the Celtics’ dynasty of the 1960s to appear in at least seven straight finals. Michael Jordan, the man to whom LeBron is compared, never played in more than three in a row but it can be argued he would have been to eighth straight had he not abruptly left the sport for two seasons. This is James’ eight finals overall, winning three championships and losing four times in his previous seven. But last year’s title came against the greatest regular season team in league history. He still will have to convince some he is on par with Jordan if the Cavs upset the Warriors, but that gap would be narrowed.

Will the winning team be invited to the White House?

This will become a storyline after the Finals. Kerr is one of a handful of NBA coaches who have been outspoken against Donald Trump, calling him a “blowhard” and saying he “could not be more ill-suited” to be president. James never has been a fan of Trump’s, speaking out against his immigration order and refusing to stay at a Trump property in New York. The question then comes down to if the winner somehow is invited, will it accept?

Will Charles Barkley accuse Kevin Durant of riding Stephen Curry’s coattails if Golden State wins?

A discussion last week between Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal on TNT got personal when Shaq once again reminded Barkley that he has never won a title and Barkley shot back that Shaq won his four titles by riding the coattails of Kobe Bryant in L.A. and Dwyane Wade in Miami. Durant could be accused of the same thing if the Warriors win. Durant already was heavily criticized last summer for joining Golden State after his Oklahoma City team blew a 3-1 series lead in the conference finals and lost Game 7.

Are Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love a better fit with LeBron James than Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?

James had his ups and downs (mostly ups) with both the Cavaliers (since his return) and the Heat, but many believe he has never been better than he has this postseason. In both situations the third wheel of the Big 3 (Bosh and Love) had to make major sacrifices and at times some wondered if it would work (it did). James’ main sidekick (Wade and Irving) appeared to have an easier time with the transition. The biggest difference is Irving is a point guard while Wade is a shooting guard. But either way, James has done pretty well playing with both.

Will Draymond Green stay out of trouble in this year’s Finals?

The Warriors’ polarizing forward was suspended for Game 5 last season after being assessed a flagrant foul 1 on a play in which he and James got tangled and Green swung his arm into James’ groin area. Green has had several incidents throughout his career in which he has appeared to attempt to kick an opposing player, sometimes making contact to the groin. But Green has been a good boy during these playoffs. … so far. The NBA has handed out 10 fines during the postseason, none to Green. And there have been four flagrant 1s and one flagrant 2 called, none on Green. The worst he’s gotten is two technical fouls. So, continue that pattern and, yes, he’ll be OK. But, you never know with that temper.

Can either team be challenged in their respective conferences in the next few years?

The Warriors are younger when you consider their top four players still are in their 20s (Curry will turn 30 next March). James is 32 while Irving and Love are in their 20s. Still, neither team appears to be slowing down at least for the next two to three years. The only team possibly challenging either is Boston, which made it to the East finals this season, has the No. 1 pick in the draft and enough money to sign a max free agent.

Will the Finals make up for a boring NBA postseason to date?

Like the thrilling second half and overtime of the Super Bowl made up for a boring NFL playoffs? Yes. These playoffs have not been very competitive with five series ending in sweeps and two more lasting just five games, and just two going to Game 7. But this is what everybody has been waiting for and now is the time for the Warriors and Cavaliers to save the postseason.

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Cleveland’s LeBron James, Kyrie Irving will rest tonight against Heat

 

 

Cleveland's LeBron James (23) and Kyrie Irving (2) will rest tonight against the Heat. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)
Cleveland’s LeBron James (23) and Kyrie Irving (2) will rest tonight against the Heat. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)

MIAMI –LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will not play tonight for the Cavaliers against the Heat, meaning Cleveland will be without all three of its all-stars.

Kevin Love continues to sit after undergoing surgery on his left. Knee.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said the decision to rest James and Irving came following the Cavs’ victory last night in Atlanta. James played 39 minutes and scored 38 points on 14-of-27 shooting in Cleveland’s 135-130 victory. Irving had a game high 43 points.

“He needs the rest for what we’re trying to do for where we’re trying to go,” Lue said about James, 32.

This is the second time in the last three games in Miami that James has sat out to rest. He did not play in a Heat victory in December of 2015 and was serenaded by Heat fans with chants of, “LeBron is tired.”

The Heat are 4-0 at home against Cleveland since James left Miami to rejoin the Cavaliers in the summer of 2014.

This is the fifth game James will miss this season, all because of rest.

Lue was asked if James understands these rest days are more necessary later in his career.

“He’s gotten better,” he said. “He understands the big picture of what we’re trying to accomplish and the guy’s played so many minutes over the course of his career. Going to six straight Finals he has to take some rest at times. When I talk to our training staff and they see it’s a game he has to take off that’s what we do.

“He understands that. As much as he doesn’t like it, he has to deal with it.”

This will be the seventh game Irving misses this season, five are due to various injuries.

The Cavaliers enter 42-18, two games ahead of Boston for the best record in the East. The Heat are 28-34, 1.5 games out of the final playoff spot.

Former Heat forward will James Jones will replace James in the starting lineup. Newly acquired Deron Williams will start in place of Irving.

Irving has missed six games this season, five due to various injuries.

Miami Heat happy for Derrick Williams after his impressive debut with the Cavaliers

Cavaliers forward Derrick Williams scored 12 points in his Cleveland debut, a loss Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Cavaliers forward Derrick Williams scored 12 points in his Cleveland debut, a loss Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

NEW YORK – Derrick Williams played just more than 15 minutes and scored five points in his last 12 games with the Miami Heat.

On Thursday, three days after he was released by the Heat, Williams signed a 10-day contract with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers and later that night he scored 12 points as the first man off the bench. Williams hit all three of his shots and made 6-of-8 free throws during Cleveland’s 118-109 loss at Oklahoma City.

“This is my first day, but you can just feel the energy as soon as you step in the locker room,” Williams told reporters Thursday. “Everyone is ready to play. That’s the championship mentality everyone has here.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra texted with Williams before and after the game.

“I was happy for him,” Spoelstra said. “I sent him a congratulations after, even though they lost. It was good to see. So much of this league is about preparing yourself mentally and physical to being in top shape and then be ready for the right opportunity at the right time and hopefully this is what that is.”

Williams, who signed a $4.6 million contract with the Heat last summer, was released when Miami signed rookie Okaro White to a two-year contract. Williams played 25 games for the Heat, starting 11, and averaged 5.9 points. Williams, who appeared to have earned playing time in the preseason, quickly fell out of the rotation and did not play the first five games of the season. He had 25 games in which he did not play because of a coach’s decision.

Williams, though, praised the Heat, and President Pat Riley, upon his departure.

https://twitter.com/DWXXIII/status/828662073089523712

“He really approached the last few months in the right way and that’s why we both felt we benefited from it,” Spoelstra said. “It was great having him around. He embraced our culture work ethic got in tremendous shape. That will allow him now moving onto the next spot that he’s ready and the next part is what this league about, the right place at the right time and the right opportunity. It could be different on different teams.”

Goran Dragic, who wished Williams luck on Social Media, was happy to see his former teammate make an impact in his first game.

“Really happy,” Dragic said today. “He’s a great guy, great teammate, everybody loved him here. Unfortunately he didn’t have an opportunity here but we all know he can play. Maybe sometimes you just need to find the right fit. Judging from last night maybe he found it.”

Williams joined the Cavs a couple of weeks after LeBron James called out ownership to get him more help on the court. And although he did not mention the Warriors, the plea was a message that the Cavs need more to compete with the team they have met in the Finals the last two years.

James has been instrumental in Cleveland sprinkling former Heat players into its roster. He was joined by James Jones and Mike Miller the year he rejoined the Cavs and the team brought in Chris Andersen this year. Andersen played just 12 games this season and is done for the year after tearing his ACL.

Mario Chalmers, the Heat point guard during the Big Three era, recently had a try out in Cleveland. He has not been signed.

[Heat guard Dion Waiters to miss second straight game because of sprained ankle]

[A look at some of the Miami Heat’s most valuable trade chips as trade deadline nears]

[Heat Mailbag: Trying to predict final record; can Miami make an offer for Jimmy Butler]

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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra may be too emotional to watch Dwyane Wade tribute video

 

 

Erik Spoelstra has told his players, 'stay down' when guarding Dwyane Wade tonight. (AP Photo)
Erik Spoelstra has told his players, ‘stay down’ when guarding Dwyane Wade tonight. (AP Photo)

MIAMI – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says he does not get emotional about much, except when a close friend who he had worked with for 13 years, grew together as coach and player, and become like family, returns.

In fact, the emotion of the moment may be so overwhelming that Spo said he does not know if he will watch the video the Miami Heat plan to play of Dwyane Wade when the most popular player in franchise history returns tonight for his first game against the Heat since signing with the Chicago Bulls.

Spo though has a built in excuse.

“I’ll probably be in the huddle,” said. “I don’t get emotional about anything expect for these kinds of things.”

The video is schedule run during the first time out of the game.

Spoelstra was asked (again) about his emotions with Wade’s homecoming now just hours away and his friendship.

“Who knows?,” he said. “There will be emotion I know that. There’s not a text book on this. I don’t know what to expect. I think it will be great. I think there will be electricity in the building, I think there will be great response to Dwyane as there should be. I’m expecting pretty much all the above.”

[How much will Dwyane Wade have left tonight after playing 34 minutes in Atlanta Wednesday?]

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[Ex-Jet Jason Taylor had no fun in his return, but hopes Dwyane Wade is loved]

Spoelstra has been through several tributes, the most recent for LeBron James, Mike Miller, James Jones and Mario Chalmers. But nothing will top the emotion of tonight.

“This is different,” he said. “I don’t want to take away from anybody else that’s had something like this but that’s a long time to be working with somebody together and growing together and getting to know a player and his family. You share so much love for a player. I can only speak for myself. I haven’t been through something like this before.”

Spo was asked about the first time he met Wade:

“Would have been his draft workout,” he said. “His draft workout was so uneventful. You saw his tape in the NCAA run. I remember we were all watching film of him back then and he was electrifying during that tournament. A one man wrecking crew that put a team on his back. … You could see his multitude of talents.

“Fast forward to his draft workout. ‘This is that guy?’ Then as you got to know him you realized ‘yeah, he’s the kind of guy you need 10 players out there. …’ That’s when you see him rise to most levels most players can’t get to. But that’s not happening on a 1 on 0 workout.”

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James Jones: ‘Chris Bosh will play again’ despite blood clot issues

LeBron James #6, James Jones #22, Chris Bosh #1, and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat look on during a game against the Detroit Pistons at American Airlines Arena on December 1, 2010 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
LeBron James #6, James Jones #22, Chris Bosh #1, and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat look on during a game against the Detroit Pistons at American Airlines Arena on December 1, 2010 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

MIAMI — It looks like Chris Bosh’s career with the Heat is over, but one former teammate believes Bosh’s NBA career will continue.

Heat president Pat Riley said last month just an hour before media day that Bosh’s career with the team was probably over because of a failed physical and his ongoing issues with blood clots.

Cleveland forward James Jones is confident that Bosh will play again, though. Jones played with Bosh as a member of the Heat during the Big Three era from 2010-14 and they won two championships together. Continue reading “James Jones: ‘Chris Bosh will play again’ despite blood clot issues”