The 2017 NBA Finals have had an air of inevitability about them since before the start of this season.
But what I’m predicting to happen next in “Golden State-Cleveland, Part 3” may be a surprise.
It’s not because I’m picking Golden State to win this series that starts Thursday night. The Warriors are favored, after all, just as they were last year.
The surprise is that I’m picking Golden State to win in four straight games. Yes, a clean sweep, which means the Warriors will finish 16-0 in the postseason.
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No way, you say! LeBron James is arguably the best player of all time and certainly among the top three. The guy who brought Cleveland all the way back from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals would never let that happen.
Maybe not. But I will remind you that a year ago at this time I picked Cleveland to win a seven-game thriller, and the Cavaliers did just that.
And this time, I have a feeling very different than I had last year.
It can be boiled down to six words – Kevin Durant is now a Warrior. Putting Durant on Golden State’s team creates a talent imbalance that would mean Cleveland’s three stars – LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – would each need to play an “A-plus” series for the Cavs to win four games.
Could the Cavs win the Finals for the second year in a row over the Warriors? Sure.
This will be the third straight year Golden State and Cleveland have met in the NBA Finals. Golden State won the 2015 series, 4-2, and Cleveland won the 2016 series, 4-3.
Will that happen? No.
Can Cleveland win a game or two in this series? Of course.
But I think KD and Steph Curry have figured out how to work together, and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are also among the top 20 players in the NBA, and that the talent imbalance will simply be too great for Cleveland to overcome unless one of Golden State’s four All-Stars sustains a serious injury.
Curry told me in in a one-on-one interview in Oakland in November that last year’s devastating NBA Finals loss to Cleveland was “something you’ll never forget.”
“Just because it was so close and we didn't get the job done,” Curry told me. “Does it haunt me? I would more say that it motivates me.”
What I think will happen is that there will be a number of plot twists, but the series will ultimately be disappointing in terms of sheer drama compared to the one a year ago. Curry and KD will make sure of that (and then they will both return to Golden State over the summer, as Charlotte fans pining for the return of the golden child get disappointed once again).
Yes, Golden State is going to win this series.
And it’s not going to be close.