If there is a glaring hole on Golden State’s championship resume, it’s that the Warriors have never gone back-to-back.
That will change.
The Warriors are about to win their second straight NBA championship and their third in the last four seasons — all of them coming at the expense of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who won’t have enough even if LeBron James plays to the absolute utmost of his capabilities. The Warriors have home-court advantage, and have three of the best four players who will appear in the series.
They’re just too good to lose.
If they were going to lose, it would have been in the Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets. Houston was a team that was built for one purpose — beating the Warriors. And the Rockets might have done it, too, had Chris Paul’s hamstring not popped in the final seconds of Game 5 and forced him to the sideline for the rest of the series.
Golden State rallied in both Game 6 and Game 7, as Paul looked on helplessly. Yes, the Warriors caught a huge break. They won’t waste this chance.
The teams have changed mightily over the last four seasons. There were 20 players who appeared in first Cavaliers-Warriors game of the 2014-15 season — only eight of them will be in uniform during this series. Kevin Durant is in Golden State now, Kyrie Irving isn’t with the Cavaliers anymore, the benches are very different particularly in Cleveland’s case.
But the principals are still there: James, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green.
And over these four years since James returned to northeast Ohio, the Warriors are 17-9 against the Cavaliers. Golden State needed six games to beat Cleveland for the title in 2015, five games last season and if Andrew Bogut didn’t get hurt in Game 5 of the 2016 Finals the Warriors — who ended up blowing a 3-1 lead that year — probably would have won that series as well.
James might be playing the best basketball of his life. That’s why Cleveland is still in these playoffs.
Even he won’t be able to save the Cavs this time.
Cleveland looked like a team that couldn’t guard anyone in the regular season, and to its credit has greatly improved on that end of the court during this postseason. But facing Golden State will be such a bigger challenge than Indiana, Toronto and Boston could provide. And if the Warriors get Andre Iguodala back, their spacing will be even better and put further demands on the Cavs.
The Cavs won’t have any pressure on their shoulders. The Warriors will have it all, but after Curry, Durant and Thompson found a way to rally from 15 points down in Houston to win a Game 7 on the road and capture the Western Conference, Golden State will come into this series brimming with confidence.
That confidence will keep growing until they get handed another Larry O’Brien Trophy.
The pick: Warriors in five.
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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynoldsap.org