Here is LeBron James back in the Finals, to finally deliver Cleveland a winner.
Here is Stephen Curry in his first Finals, ready to give the Bay Area its first basketball winner since 1975.
It doesn’t get much better than this for an NBA Finals matchup, which should have started days ago, but finally arrives in Oakland tomorrow night.
It’s either going to be LeBron’s third ring in six Finals tries and Cleveland’s first pro sports championship since the 1964 NFL Browns won it all in the pre-Super Bowl era.
Or, it will be Curry’s first ring to cap off one of the great seasons in league history for a team that has long lived in the shadow of its more successful neighbor to the south, the L.A. Lakers.
So who do we like? The Warriors in six games. Here are six reasons the Warriors long championship drought will soon end:
1. The Warriors have the defenders to slow down LeBron.
Steve Kerr’s team has the ability to throw more quality defenders at James than anyone has during the 2015 playoffs. Kerr and his ace defensive coach, Ron Adams, will be able to guard James with Draymond Green, a first-team All-NBA defender who finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting; Andre Iguodala; Harrison Barnes; Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston.
One thing to remember: Adams is a former assistant to former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau, who just came off his third encounter against James in the playoffs. You can bet the two have talked over the last few days about potential strategies to keep James from having huge games.
James has not shot well in the playoffs (43 percent versus 57 percent last year for the Heat in the playoffs). But he has had big games against the Bulls and Hawks — neither of which had the ability to put multiple defenders on the four-time MVP.
But this series is different.
“They have multiple bodies that they can kind of put on me," James said of the Warriors the other day after a practice in Cleveland. "But it doesn't affect what I need to do.’’
He needs to continue to do all of the heavy lifting for a Cavs team that arrives for its second-ever Finals as the decided underdog. If James wins, it will be his greatest feat as a pro basketball player yet, delivering a title for his home-area team in his first season back in Cleveland since leaving for Miami in 2010. He would notch his third ring, halfway to Michael Jordan’s six and two short of Kobe Bryant’s five. But if he loses, it extends Cleveland’s misery and will make him only 2-4 all-time in Finals play, making all those comparisons to Jordan (6-0 in the Finals) seem rather silly.
2. Curry is a brutal matchup for the Cavs.
You can say he’s been that way for every Warrior opponent this year, based on him winning the regular-season MVP and what he’s done in these first 15 playoff games. Curry comes into the Finals off his monster series against Houston in the West Finals. In that five-game triumph for the Warriors, he became only the second player in league history to score at least 40 points in a conference finals game while making at least five three-pointers and making at least 55 percent of his shots from the field. The only other player to do it? Jordan.
During the Warriors' run to the Finals, Curry is averaging 29 ppg on 46 percent shooting, with five three-point makes per game.
Curry’s quickness, ballhandling, playmaking and quick release make him nearly unguardable. The Cavs don’t appear to have a stopper, either, as they’re quick to admit. They’ll use heavy doses of Iman Shumpert, but this is a matchup perfectly made for Curry to add a Finals MVP to his regular-season MVP.
3. Kyrie Irving’s knee injury spells big trouble for the Cavs.
Irving has battled tendinitis in his left knee in the playoffs and it’s showed. He had three ineffective games in the Chicago series and then had to sit out two games when the Cavs swept the overmatched Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It’s double trouble for the Cavs if Irving is hobbled and can’t be effective in giving James a competent No. 2 scoring option. For one, Irving is one of the top ballhandlers in the game today and is a virtuoso scorer when he’s driving to the basket. But when he is limited to shooting jumpers because he doesn’t have his normal burst to the basket, that turns him into a more one-dimensional offensive performer.
At the other end, he’s a below-average defender, so any lack of mobility he has will be magnified when he has to guard Curry or the other Warrior guards. Rest assured, Golden State will attack Irving at the defensive end if they feel he’s more vulnerable because of his knee.
4. The Cavs have yet to play this kind of opponent in the playoffs.
The Warriors were only the 10th team in league history to win as many as 67 games, and they’ve shown in the post-season that it wasn’t a fluke, winning 12 of 15 games. When they hit some adversity in the playoffs, falling behind Memphis, 2-1, in the second round, they made the necessary defensive adjustments and reeled off three straight wins to advance to the West Finals. There, they beat up on a Houston team that featured James Harden, who finished second to Curry in the MVP; and Dwight Howard, still one of the game’s top big men.
The Cavs are 12-2 in the post-season, but the Warriors are more talented and deeper than anyone, including the Celtics, Bulls and Hawks -- the three teams the Cavs defeated in the Eastern Conference bracket to get to the Finals. This is where we’re going to see how much better the West was, once again, than the East.
5. The Warriors have the big man to contend with Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov.
The Warriors’ league-leading defense has a 7-foot anchor in Andrew Bogut, something that the Cavs didn’t have to worry about when they swept the Hawks, making Atlanta the first 60-win team since the 1998 pre-Phil Jackson Lakers to lose 4-0 in a playoff series.
Starting for the injured Kevin Love, Thompson has had a breakout playoff run. With Mozgov, the two dominated the Hawks on the glass, but Atlanta’s best “bigs’’ were, in fact, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, two forwards.
6. The Warriors won’t be hurt by their lack of Finals experience.
Golden State is the first team since the 1997 Utah Jazz to arrive in a Finals without having one player who has played in a previous championship series. Before anyone makes too much of that, remember that among Cleveland’s main rotation players, only James has played in a Finals. Irving, Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Thompson, Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova have never made it this far. James has played in 27 Finals games, going 11-16. What will help the Warriors to overcome this? Kerr played in five Finals (three in Chicago and two in San Antonio) and they have the benefit of having the homecourt advantage, where they get to play before arguably the NBA’s loudest fans. They’re 46-3 this season at home, including the playoffs.
Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 22 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence