With the NBA Finals right around the corner, we examine who has more pressure to win this series: LeBron James or the Golden State Warriors?
It’s the trilogy everyone predicted would take place back when Kevin Durant took his talents to Oakland. All that’s left to do is to get through the NBA’s version of Super Bowl week.
With the Warriors breezing through the Western Conference playing the minimum amount of games and the Cavs playing just one more than that in the East, we’ll once again get the two best teams in the league squaring off for the title at the top of the ladder. This time, both teams fully healthy, which means…zero excuses.
The irony is that a season filled with agitated fans complaining about rest will end after a long period of, well, rest.
By the time Game 1 of Finals arrives, Warriors will have only played 19 games in last 63 days. That's 44 off-days. https://t.co/4gTGqmXbYG
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 26, 2017
So when the series begins on Thursday, who will have more pressure, the Warriors or LeBron James?
The interesting part of this question is that we’re comparing an entire team to one player. But the reason is understood: LeBron isn’t competing against this super team, he’s bobbing, weaving and throwing power punches at the obstacles that separate him from becoming the greatest ever. Remember that ghost he said he’s chasing?
In the end, defeating these Warriors would prove to be the most impressive feat of his career, even usurping his dominance that helped his Cavs overcome a 3-1 deficit against the 73-win version of this team.
But there’s an astronomical difference this time around. Golden State is no longer an organic, homegrown team that capitalized on draft picks exceeding expectations. This group added a former MVP, who has been heralded as the second-best player in the league and one of the greatest scorers of this generation.
Durant replaced Harrison Barnes, who was tasked with knocking down open threes and occasionally grabbing rebounds. For KD, his responsibilities are a polar opposite. After putting up 25/8/5 on 53 percent shooting from the field and playing arguably the best defense of his career this past regular season, Golden State needs that level of production to continue for one last series.
So if James were to lead the Cavs past the greatest collection of talent the league has ever seen, many have argued this would count as probably two champions. But even nixing those types of personal opinions would leave you with the fact that LeBron would now have four titles (likely four Finals MVPs) with the last two coming against a team that combined for 140 regular season wins.
If you think James is operating this year with no pressure at all, it means you’re grossly underestimating his drive. He’s not one who’s content because of what happened last year. Championship hardware elevates greatness. And LeBron believes he can win more rings. So yes, there’s a ton of pressure on him to win.
But it’s pretty much inarguable the Warriors are the ones with the most pressure going into this series. Can you imagine what the narrative would be if they lost this year? No team has ever won more games in a three-year period than the Warriors, but it would have resulted in just one title. That one? The year Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were hurt and LeBron played alongside the 2015 version of the 2007 Cavaliers he took to the Finals.
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In order for Durant’s departure from OKC to be justified, he must get it done. A loss would be devastating for his legacy and it wouldn’t lead to, “you’ll get ’em next year” tweets. The team with Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson has no excuses such as injuries or controversial suspensions to key players.
The stage is set for Ali versus Frazier in the 2017 NBA Finals. The Warriors are 12-0 and are beating teams by an average margin of 16.3, the biggest point differential in NBA history. The Cavs have LeBron James playing at the highest level of his illustrious career.
There’s pressure on everyone. But the most pressure is on the team with full court advantage, the team that should’ve won last year…the team that will get it done this year.