Six Questions About The NBA Finals

1. Why the hell did we just have a week between games?

It makes sense that the dates were set and the build up, reminiscent of the bye week before the Super Bowl, was almost welcome. Almost. This past weekend was desperately in need of basketball. I shudder in fear of the upcoming months and months with no games.

2. . Who will make history, the Warriors or LeBron?

Here’s a list of every team to finish with a better record than this year’s Warriors and win the title:

  • Jordan’s Bulls (three times, ’92, ’96, and ’97)
  • Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers in 2000
  • The Sixers in 1967, who started 4 Hall of Famers, including Wilt in his prime
  • 1972’s Lakers, who won 33 straight in the regular season

And that’s it. That’s not just nice company; that’s rarefied air.

Meanwhile, LeBron looks to make history of his own. He’s already joined Bill Russell and friends as the only players to reach five consecutive Finals (Well, and James Jones, who like the little fish that follow sharks around, has drifted behind LeBron for the last five years).

LeBron’s resume will always be compared to that of Michael Jordan, especially as his career turns towards the home stretch. Here’s where they stand right now:

final jordan and bron

LeBron is in his 12th year in the NBA. Following his 12th season, Michael Jordan had 4 rings.

LeBron is 30 years old. When Jordan was 30, he had 3 rings.

In order to keep pace, or at least stay within striking distance (depending on which method you prefer to gauge their careers by), winning this Finals and securing his third championship is huge for James’ legacy as it relates to Jordan’s.

LeBron has multiple legs up in that he got a two year headstart (though missed the playoffs both years) and won’t take the multiple sabbaticals that wasted about 4.5 years of His Airness’ career.

Were he to lose this year (more on that in a minute), James would find himself with nine seasons before his 40th birthday. Three titles in nine years sounds much more feasible than four, particularly given the likely trajectory of LeBron’s career as he ages.

Tim Duncan has shown success well into his late thirties, by some act of God, magic, or simply Popovichian brilliance, but his days dragging teams to the Finals are long behind him. Duncan’s late career success is as much tied to the development of his teammates (Ginobili, then Parker, and now Kawhi Leonard) as it is to his own continued level of play.

There’s no reason LeBron’s game won’t translate to a new style as he ages. He’ll always be an elite passer and his body, though it may wear and tear, will always be a physical advantage over most forwards. But in order to realistically see him winning well into his thirties, you’d expect the team around him to be a large part of that success. Is Kyrie Irving capable of receiving that torch? Would Andrew Wiggins have been a better option than the question marks surrounding Kevin Love, the man the Cavs swapped for Wiggins?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. They could all be irrelevant if LeBron’s prime not only extends for a few more years, but elevates, and he wins four of the next five titles.

I just know that the path to six championships and a place equal or beyond Jordan’s greatness becomes a lot easier with a win in this series.

3. Is there any team more equipped to guard LeBron James for 7 games than the Warriors?

james

Now that we’ve established that we’re dealing with an all-time great at the peak of his powers, let’s look at how the Warriors will stop him.

The answer to the question I’ve posed is no. Sure, Golden State isn’t trotting out a Scottie Pippen or even a Kawhi Leonard to cover LeBron. The question wasn’t about having the single best option to cover the King, but the most options.

Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, and maybe even Klay Thompson will get a run at covering the world’s best player and each will bring a different challenge. Barnes will get the bulk of the work and has the best body and skills to do so. Iggy’s long arms will making passing or getting a shot off tough. Thompson is their quickest option, forcing James to the block and Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov to who-knows-where. Green’s minutes covering LeBron will be like bodyshots in a prizefight; James may score on Draymond, but the bruising Green will dish out will start to hurt LeBron by Game 3 or 4.

This Cavs team has become another collection of  LeBron and the LeBronnettes. In order for them to win games, they’ll need everything he’s got and the Warriors will throw the kitchen sink at him.

4. Is there any team less equipped to guard Stephen Curry for 7 games than the Cavs?

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Miami Heat

From a team prepared to cover one of the league’s best to…well, the Cavs.

The Cleveland rotation of guards is a ragtag group, all with questionable ability to cover Curry.

Iman Shumpert is their best defender, but his size may be better used on Klay Thompson. Kyrie Irving is both banged up and not a great defender. JR Smith is JR Smith. And though you can’t judge a book by its cover, if Matthew Dellevedova was a book, the cover would read “Look At This Guy Who Shouldn’t Cover Steph Curry.”

Though Dellevedova is a better defender than that suggests, he has no business covering Curry for 40 plus minutes, and given his offensive limitations, he shouldn’t be on the court for the majority of a Finals game.

David Blatt and his staff will need to get creative, because Steve Kerr is licking his chops thinking of ways to get Curry open looks.

Speaking of which:

5. Steve Kerr is going to coach circles around David Blatt, isn’t he?

Yes, he is!

So much so, that I wasn’t even sure I should say “David Blatt” or “The Cavs coaching staff”, because who even knows who’s calling the shots on that team.

Kerr has been excellent and will no doubt bring an extra wrinkle to this series that will give the Dubs an extra leg up.

Kerr’s brilliance has been best summed up by a series of tweets from the great Ethan Booker:

6. How many games will the Cavs win?

It would make logical sense for the final question here to be “Who will win the series?”, but I can’t find a path for the Cavs to win 4 of 7.

LeBron may play great, but is there a way he plays great enough, against all of those good defenders, and great enough to offset the Cavs other deficiencies, and great enough to steal at least one game at the brutal Oracle Arena?

Looking back at the legacies of this Warriors team and of LeBron James, this is the toughest test the King has faced thus far in his career:

LeBron's Finals Foes

This Warriors team is too good, too strong, and too deep for him to beat by himself. Even if we get a wild JR Smith game or a Kyrie resurgence, I don’t think it’s enough to win the series.

I’ll take the Warriors in 5.

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. He started writing this post before Grantland’s Zach Lowe posted a similarly structured column and was pretty bummed when Lowe’s was published. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to palestraback@gmail.com.

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