By the time Thursday rolls around, three crucial hockey games will have been played since the last time we saw the NBA.
Over 90 major league baseball games will have been played, a corrupt FIFA president retained power and the French Open will have progressed from the second round to the semifinals.
When LeBron James and Stephen Curry dap it up prior to finally tipping off the 2015 Finals, it’s going to become crystal clear why this year’s matchup renders all those events mere morsels of entertainment that helped us pass the time.
San Antonio and Miami lived up to the hype in consecutive years, splitting a pair of memorable series, so it’s no small feat to anticipate that, in terms of simply being riveting, this matchup may surpass them.
Somehow, the best player on the planet leads a sizeable underdog (+200) into the Bay Area, without an NBA title in 40 years. James is doing so while back in a Cleveland uniform, hoping to end that city’s 51-year run without a major championship.
He didn’t anticipate having the opportunity this soon, even if oddsmakers did.
While James wrote that it would take time to cultivate a winning atmosphere and grow with a young roster, the Cavs were installed as the universal favorite to get out of the Eastern Conference almost immediately.
Despite a sidelined Kevin Love and a hobbled Kyrie Irving, James has guided a team led by a first-time NBA coach and filled with former Knicks and Heat reserves to the cusp of a championship.
Standing in his way is Curry, the overwhelming MVP choice, whose Warriors have now won 79 of 97 games this season, setting up the possibility they’ll become the most prolific league champ since the 1999-2000 Lakers.
Before Shaq and Kobe won 67 plus the 16 it takes to ultimately hang a banner, you have to go back to Michael Jordan’s Bulls to find a team that registered more victories in crowning themselves champs.
It’s happened almost too quickly for rookie coach Steve Kerr, who commands a group that arrives with zero combined games of Finals experience outside of his own exploits as a player.
GM Bob Myers has admitted the Warriors have blown his expectations out of the water. Curry, as well as his adorable 2-year-old daughter, Riley, have become household names. Klay Thompson, expected to have no problems clearing the NBA’s concussion protocol and starting Game 1, landed on the All-NBA Third Team.
Draymond Green has gone from backup forward to runner-up for both Most Improved and Defensive Player of the Year.
That this group has been installed as a substantial favorite (-240) has delivered the early public money to the underdog Cavs, especially since the lengthy layoff has allowed Irving to heal those debilitating knee and foot injuries that forced him to miss most of Cleveland’s sweep of Atlanta.
Because neither franchise has had much success on this level, the passion that’s going to be unleashed at two of the league’s top venues, Oracle Arena and the Q, will ratchet up the intensity up even further.
James will be playing in his fifth consecutive NBA Finals, putting himself in a category featuring a host of 1960’s Celtics as the only men to accomplish that feat. Reserve wing James Jones will join him earning that distinction, although he failed to get off the bench in ’11 against the Mavs.
Add in the championship pedigree of little-used reserves Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, Kendrick Perkins and Brendan Haywood and there’s no question the edge in experience favors Cleveland. Still, that advantage will be considerably offset by the fact the Warriors earned the right to get comfortable in their home gym in Games 1 and 2 by compiling such a gaudy record.
Yes, James is the ultimate tour guide and has a bunch of cohorts who have been here before, but if you’re looking for that intangible to play a major role in the series, you’re mistaken. The bulk of his supporting cast, the most able-bodied ones, are right there with the rest of the Warriors as Finals novices.
Those on the Cavs bench that have reached this stage are, for the most part, better suited as counselors than participants. Cleveland’s most vital x-factor is going to be rebounding.
It’s no coincidence the Cavs haven’t lost a game this entire postseason holding the edge on the boards. Love’s season-ending shoulder injury has forced Tristan Thompson into a co-starring role and his play has been a revelation at both ends of the floor.
With 7-footer Timofey Mozgov also serving as a formidable presence inside, it’s going to be interesting to see if the Warriors will be able to flourish playing small ball, as they’ve been able to throughout most of these playoffs. Memphis gave them the most trouble due to their ability to clog the paint and slow the pace.
Given the fact James is certain to also make contributions on the glass, Golden State might be in trouble competing on the glass if its jumpers aren’t falling.
The Warriors primary weapon will be spreading the floor and creating mismatches, especially since Kerr will have the ability to wear down LeBron with four bodies that can all take turns making him work.
Green, an All-NBA Defensive First-Teamer, will be joined by Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Thompson in a rotation equipped to make a far more significant dent than anything Boston, Chicago or Atlanta brought to the table.
Ultimately, the majority of the games in this series will probably also be decided by 3-point shooting, since both teams have effectively utilized the long ball as a weapon in getting to this point and have masterful catalysts in James and Curry that will draw attention and help create open looks.
While those two are odds-on favorites (James 4/9, Curry 2/1) to earn Finals MVP depending on who wins the series, there’s also tremendous value in taking a shot at a Klay Thompson (11/1) or Irving (12/1), who would probably not be marked at such a high pay-off if not for their injury concerns. Green (16/1) and Tristan Thompson (100/1) are intriguing long shots.
The lean here favors Golden State in 7 games, as we’ll see a show that will help us forget this year’s NBA playoffs has delivered an abundance of duds in spite of its share of buzzer-beaters.
We may even get one from Curry when it matters most, since it’s been that kind of storybook season for him thus far. Riley would surely join him on the dais to celebrate.
There are still appetizers coming, but the main course is set to be served. It will be worth the wait.
Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Contact Tony at [email protected].