Part three has finally arrived. LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers will take on the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals.

There he was, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, making the rounds on Wednesday, the eve of his league’s grand showcase to the world.

From almost every major national radio show to Mike Francesa on WFAN, Silver boasted about his association while deflecting thoughts about competitive balance, a meaningless regular season that sees superstars riding the bench and a stance on politics.

Here’s the good news for Silver: now that the tour before the showcase has since been completed, none of it matters. Forget the fact this is the first time in the league’s history a 3-peat from the NBA Finals has taken place. Forget the fact the team’s combined record is 24-1 entering Thursday night.

For the next two weeks, the NBA will finally be with us. The NBA will have officially started and (hopefully) provide us with the same style of excitement it did a season ago.

When Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals officially tip-off, the issues will be washed away. And what a matchup it is.

From a bevy of standpoints, the matchup of LeBron James and his defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers taking on the Dubs, otherwise known by older individuals as the Golden State Warriors, is incredibly fascinating.

The Warriors deserve to stroll in as the favorites. Finishing 67-15 and then sweeping their way through the western conference side of the bracket, this team almost won a second consecutive title a year ago without Kevin Durant and Draymond Green for Game 5. Couple that with the fact LeBron and his boys couldn’t care less about the regular season, finishing behind the Boston Celtics in the standings, it’s easy to understand who’ll be favored.

As we saw a season ago, favorites in the NBA Finals don’t mean a thing. (They absolutely mean everything during every single game leading up to the Finals, but that’s it.)

Feb 27, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Golden State Warriors won 119-108. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Major Difference From Last Year To Now

Everybody points to the Green suspension and the Andrew Bogut injury as the reason the Dubs lost the series. While it was a critical aspect in the Cavs 3-1 comeback, those two happenings didn’t account for everything.

Tristan Thompson and a much meaner and more physically dominant Cleveland team beat up the Warriors over the course of the final three games. That was the key James needed in order to finish the storybook ending off.

JaVale McGee, while a downgrade from Bogut, still fits the mold.

The area that’s extremely different this season comes in the form of that offensive player on Golden State that’ll destroy the legs of the great LeBron.

A season ago, James never had a cover responsibility. He could roam. He could watch the entire court on every defensive effort. Now, with Kevin Durant in play, forget about it. LeBron has his own defensive game within the game cover against Durant.

June 19, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) moves to the basket against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) and guard Klay Thompson (11) in the first half in game seven of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Does this mean he’ll expend more energy? Yeah, probably. But more important that that is the fact that the Cavs won’t be able to lean on James in help situations. James won’t be there as much when Kyrie Irving gets burned by Stephen Curry.

The fact James is forced to take Durant one-on-one is a huge leg up for the Warriors and changes the entire complexion of the matchup from a year ago to now.

The 2017 X-Factor

It really doesn’t matter to me that Steve Kerr isn’t roaming the sidelines. While I do believe it could hurt the Dubs during one or two instances during the series, Mike Brown, LeBron’s former guy, won’t make much of a positive or negative difference.

Sure, the Cavs are deeper this time around. With the likes of Kyle Korver and Deron Williams, there’s more to this team than last spring.

Don’t overthink it.

If James has any designs of capturing that fourth NBA Championship, his team will, once again, need to out-physical the graceful Dubs.

They’ll need to pop in a few Knicks-Heat 1990s tapes and muck it up. Tristan Thompson will need to come away with a couple 20-rebound performances, again. Rebounds will be the name of the game for Cleveland.

The Under-the-Radar X-Factor

Think about the matchups.

  • Thompson-Pachulia/McGee
  • Love-Green
  • James-Durant
  • Smith/Shumpert-Thompson
  • Irving-Curry

Thanks to the ability of Durant not allowing James to freelance (as he loves to do), each individual matchup will grow in importance. Considering that, the better defender between Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry may just provide his team that final leg up.

Both point guards, while splendid offensively, are horrid on the defensive end. Does either even have the ability to reach a solid defensive point on a given night? I’m not sure. But if one does, that can completely change the complexion of each trip down the floor.

Jun 19, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) go after a loose ball during the third quarter in game seven of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Final Prediction:

Last year, I chose the Cavs in six games. Even after falling down 3-1, I told the world it was not yet over.

Despite my fellow man and woman mocking me to my near death, I held strong with the belief LeBron could somehow find a way through, and that’s just what he did with “the block.” While, no doubt, Irving came through with the three (a shot that allows James haters to puff their chest), LeBron’s block showcased his exact all-around greatness the casual basketball fan cannot grasp.

That’s the point: most cannot see the entirety of James’s greatness.

They look at his less than stellar outside jump shot and compare it to the beautiful, Michael Jordan-like jumper of Kobe Bryant‘s. They see James pass the ball in crucial situations when it’s the right basketball play, and, once again, mock the man.

For every play you do see James make, he made 10 more basketball IQ moves you didn’t notice. That’s the point.

If James didn’t do what he did in the finals a year ago, I’d pick the Dubs in 6. Thanks to that one breakthrough, my choice is the Cavs in 7.

Yes, LeBron James is that great. Not only has he always been equipped with the greatest raw abilities of all-time, but he has the legendary basketball mind to match it.

Cleveland Cavaliers in 6 Games

NBA Finals MVP: LeBron James


Chip Murphy: New York Knicks Boss/Senior Editor

Finals Prediction: Warriors in 5 Games

The best offense in NBA history is primed for revenge after blowing a 3-1 lead in last year’s finals.

Steph Curry and Kevin Durant have both made over 50 percent of their shots and 40 percent of their three-point attempts during Golden State’s dominant playoff run.

Cleveland’s defense has stepped up during the playoffs (as expected) but they haven’t played an offense of Golden State’s caliber yet.

LeBron James can do it all, literally, but they’ll need more than just him in this series. The Warriors have too much firepower.

LeBron’s Stat Line: 31.5 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 9.0 APG

In last year’s Finals, LeBron averaged 29.7, 11.3, and 8.9. This year he gets a triple-double. Unfortunately, it’s not enough for the King.

Finals MVP: Steph Curry

These Finals can be redemption for Steph Curry after what happened last year. For Golden State to win, he’ll need to win the head-to-head battle with Kyrie Irving.  

 

[graphiq id=”5t9lMoYuxq5″ title=”NBA Championship History” width=”600″ height=”603″ url=”https://sw.graphiq.com/w/5t9lMoYuxq5″ frozen=”true”]

[graphiq id=”1lEaJwwd6Sx” title=”NBA Franchises with the Most Championships” width=”600″ height=”603″ url=”https://sw.graphiq.com/w/1lEaJwwd6Sx” frozen=”true”]

NYY

NYM

NYG

NYJ

NYK

BKN

NYR

NYI

NJD

SJU