Sports fans have been fortunate to watch some big events this year. From Super Bowl XLIX pitting the greatest dynasty of the 2000s in the New England Patriots against a team looking to repeat in the Seattle Seahawks to the biggest boxing match of this modern era featuring Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, we have been able to witness legendary athletes, coaches, and teams compete to be the best. In the NBA, the "best" has usually been a moniker reserved for a select few organizations. Since 1999, the only other teams to win an NBA championship besides the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs or Miami Heat were the 2004 Detroit Pistons, '08 Boston Celtics, and '11 Dallas Mavericks. This year's NBA Finals feels revitalized as the chokehold NBA blue bloods have had on the series is no more. 2015 features the Golden State Warriors who haven't won the championship since 1975 and the Cleveland Cavaliers who, well, have never captured the elusive NBA title.
For Lebron James, the two-time NBA champion, four-time NBA MVP, and eleven-time All-Star, the objective has never been more clear. When he returned to the Cavaliers after a four-year stint maturing with the Miami Heat, he called for patience saying in his homecoming letter, "it will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010 [when James and the Heat lost to the Mavericks]." After a rocky 20-20 start and a season ending injury to one of the Cav's "big three," Kevin Love, Lebron James' letter seemed more prescient than ever. However, Lebron is the king for a reason. After losing just twice in the first three rounds of the playoffs and sweeping the best team in the Eastern Conference without Love or an injured Kyrie Irving, King James has once again carried his hometown team to the pinnacle--that's five straight Finals appearances for the kid out of Akron.
The Golden State Warriors' initial push to become one of the league's elite began in 2011 with the hiring of former NBA point guard, Mark Jackson, as their head coach. Under his short three-year tenure, the Warriors were able to acquire and develop players such as Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, and reigning MVP Stephen Curry. Prior to the start of the 2015 season, Mark Jackson was controversially fired. Perhaps it was for the best considering he was unable to lead his budding team past the Eastern Conference semifinals during his three years. His replacement? Five-time NBA champion and Michael Jordan disciple, Steve Kerr. Now, their play is unorthodox yet surgically lethal; once they cross half court any shot is within range. From the tip-off of the first game to the final buzzer of the their Western Conference Finals victory over the Houston Rockets, the Golden State Warriors have been the best and probably most exciting team in professional basketball. While King James fights to bring hope and a long-awaited championship back to where he grew up, the Warriors look to reward a fan base that has unconditionally supported their team for forty fruitless years.
I'm not sure which team comes away crowned NBA champion, as I'm sure many have debated and will continue to debate until this Thursday's tip-off of Game 1, yet my mind tells me the Cavaliers pull away victorious and here's why:
This post-season run has seemed to be less tumultuous than previous for Lebron James. In recent seasons, James had to battle it out with tough, hard-nosed Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls teams, making the King fatigued in the final round. This time around; however, James and company have played a total of 14 playoff games, suggesting a well rested bunch come Thursday. What's more is that Lebron has continued to improve as the Cavs became more injured and dependent upon their king. In the 4-0 series sweep against the Atlanta Hawks, LBJ averaged 30.3 points per game, 11 rebounds per game, 9.3 assists per game, and 1.5 steals per game. Averaging almost a triple-double is deadly and to marginalize James' greatness to say that the best defensive team in the NBA can handle him is ludicrous. Watch out Golden State.
Outside of the obvious impact James will have on this series, the Cavaliers have a supporting cast that has grown more comfortable and more effective at the roles they play with each game. Although Kyrie Irving will still be hobbled by a knee injury come Game 1, his tremendous ball handling skills, ability to get to the cup, and long range shooting prowess will be much needed support to James' arsenal. People forget, but Kyrie holds the Cavalier's record for most points scored in a game with 57. Moreover, the line-up is infused with superior athletic wing play. J.R. Smith, a guy who prefers to shoot the ball contested over open looks, and Iman Shumpert, a flat out baller shooting 36.8% from three, and who, by the way, are both over 6'5" tall give the Cavaliers an advantage against a smaller Warriors backcourt. The loss to Kevin Love could have created a vulnerable weakness in the Cavaliers' rotation, but the mid-season addition to Timofey Mozgov and emergence of center Tristan Thompson, who is averaging 9.9 RPG, will allow for James and Irving to effortlessly execute transition offense that inevitably results in one of those raging tomahawk slams by the King.
Ultimately I believe the Cavaliers win this series because of Lebron's sheer will-power. The fact that at the end of this series James could either be 2-4 or 3-3 in the NBA Finals is a huge motivating factor for not only him, but also his team. I think the Cavaliers have rallied around Lebron James throughout these playoffs as he's put them on his back. Plus, when you add the fact that this man wants nothing more than to bring a championship to Cleveland, it makes it difficult for a young Warriors team to dethrone the King.
With that being said though, the Warriors continue to pull on my heart strings. From watching Stephen Curry annihilate every record he sought out to break and shoot the lights out of the gym with fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson, to watching a cohesive unit rank atop the NBA in offensive and defensive statistics led by a rookie coach who just last season was a sideline commentator--you can't help but think that this team is capable of something special. The Warriors' also have depth. Boasting a nine, sometimes ten-man rotation highlighted by Andre Igoudala coming off the bench (which might have been the smartest coaching decision Kerr has made to date), this team will be fresher down the stretch to fend off James and company. Moreover, playing at Oracle Arena will be a tall task for the Cavs. That place is going to be loud and it is going to be a raucous starting on Thursday. If the Cavaliers can steal one game in San Francisco, I'd say they have a good chance at winning the title, but if the Warriors control home-court advantage they might be favored to win it all. If anything, this series is an opportunity for Chef Curry and the Warriors to complete their maturation process and join the group of the elite.
I know I'm contradicting myself, but how could you not go back-and-forth trying to figure out who wins this matchup. The Warriors time-and-time again have proven that they are the best team in the league, especially after convincingly emerging out of a conference that is eons ahead of the East. But, there is something about the Finals that elevates King James' game and his team's game, and that's because he is a leader and he knows how to push the right buttons, so his team will be at their best. Either way, the potential is there for this year's NBA Finals to be one of the most exciting in recent memory. Join the conversation! Leave a comment below telling us who you think will be crowned NBA champion, and tune in to ABC tomorrow at 9pm EST.