Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Finals Pick: Dreaming For Drama

Let's Get Predicting
Normally if I were faced with an NBA playoff series that has been this devoid of drama, I'd be carping about it, to be frank. There's not enough sports for my tastes around this time of the year, given that my tastes have gone away from baseball, and off-season NFL is just a cry for help... but the plain and simple of my life right now is that sports are only seen at the gym or at a bar, so there's that. My life is a rotation of sleep, work, gym for the weekdays, and the weekends just swap in other forms of work than the office. I'm lucky to keep my fantasy baseball team current, and watching hoop is more about timing than anything else.

So it's OK with me that we're going to see a 12-0 team face a 12-1 club, for the third straight year, with an interminable amount of time between the conference finals and the real ones. If it gives us enough time off to get Steve Kerr's back healthy and Kyrie Irving's ankles ok and Kevin Durant's knee as good as new, so much the better, really. What you really want to see after a post-season that's been eight weeks of Finals Already Please is a series that, unlike the Spurs losing Kawhi Leonard, goes off without asterisks and excuses.

And with that said, and my record in picking this spring a sparkling 12-2 (sounds more impressive than it is, since Picking Chalk could have gotten you in the same realm)... let's get into the nuts and bolts of the series.

The case for Golden State: Nearly won last year; only questionable officiating in suspending Draymond Green for Game Five and the performance of LeBron James' life kept them from repeating. Better in the starting five with Durant, of course, and now have more half court isolation options that work when things get super tight late. On the ball defense, especially at the three point arc, is the best in the Association. So is the home court crowd, and it might be the NBA's best hope for derailing the team when they move to San Francisco. PG Stephen Curry is playing the best ball of his last 16 months, and seems 100% healthy, if not as freakishly accurate from the arc; he might even be better now as a penetrator. C JaVale McGee gives them great energy moments off the bench, and many of the younger bench guys have been deadly, especially at home. If they aren't turning the ball over, they are scoring 30+ points per quarter, and they haven't been turning it over.

The case against: Warrior Fan doesn't want to hear this, and there isn't anything they can do about it, but they just haven't been tested very much for months and months now, some of which can relate to injury luck. Interim / Potentially Forever HC Mike Brown didn't exactly cover himself in glory the last time he was in the Finals, with James. The bench isn't as deadly as it used to be, with PG Shaun Livingston and SG Andre Iguodala in particular losing some effectiveness. SG Klay Thompson is still doing nice things on defense, but hasn't been nearly as good on offense; some clean looks that used to be automatic just haven't been, and it wouldn't shock me if it costs them dearly in the Finals. If you can beat them up on the boards and force turnovers, you can make them look mortal, and they can get bored with the lead. Green has loose cannon aspects, and can take himself out of a game; the Dubs can't win without him.

The case for Cleveland: James is the definitive player of this generation, and may be the best in the history of the game. He can win games with defense and passing even when his shot isn't falling, and when his shot is falling, it's absolutely unfair. His teammates get open looks all the time due to his gifts, and his decision making with the ball is among the best in the game. Irving gives them a great option in the half court especially, and when PF Kevin Love is making his shots and throwing long outlet passes, they go on big runs. SG JR Smith can carry the team for stretches, and bench gunner Kyle Korver seems to have found his niche and happy place with James. PG2 Deron Williams has also had a career rebirth in the past few months. Unlike every other team in the world, they have no fear of the Warriors.

The case against: HC Tyronn Lue is mostly a figurehead, and doesn't do a good job of conserving James by getting him off the floor when it would make sense. Defensively indifferent for long stretches, though not recently. When the 3s aren't falling, can look like they don't have any other ideas, and can be taken off the dribble, especially for Love and Irving. Don't have the deep paint scorers that can make the Warriors look bad, and also don't have home court.

The pick: I think everyone is just hoping for a long and dramatic series after the past few months of blowouts, and if this is short, it's just going to feel like a cheat... but honestly, it really could be. There's no guarantee this has to go long, especially if Cleveland steals home court and Brown panics, or if the Dubs come out like their usual house on fire and Thompson joins the party. That's now how you bet, of course, because the Association has shown more than enough ability to extend the Finals by any means necessary, but a single tweaked ankle could ruin things.

Having said all that... this Warrior team is better than last year's, and last year's was historic. Cleveland is just a little better; the Dubs are a lot, and Curry's much more himself this time around. But the biggest reason why the title goes back to the Bay Area this year is Durant. He's not as good as James, but the difference might not be drastic, and his 7-foot wingspan gives the Warriors a much better defensive presence than last year.

Warriors in six... though some part of me kind of wants to see them sweep and finish the playoffs at 16-0, just so we can maybe take Best Team Ever status away from franchises I can't stand. Besides, two less nights in the bar or gym is two less nights in the bar or gym...

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