Michael Jordan has held the title of G.O.A.T. (greatest of all-time) ever since his retirement (the first-time around), but LeBron James is in the midst of a legendary career himself and closing the gap on ‘His Airness’.
James’ 3-5 record in the NBA Finals pales in comparison to Jordan’s flawless 6-0 mark, but the former’s longevity and the fact that he’s still at the top of his game means he’ll have more chances to rack up championships.
Plus, James still has the unique distinction of having never lost in the first round of the playoffs after putting up 45 points in the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ Game 7 win over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.
Check out the video below to see how James statistically stacks up to Jordan.
The Golden State Warriors haven’t looked the least bit desperate for Stephen Curry to come back in the playoffs, but his return will nonetheless be a welcomed boost for a team that can still take it to another level.
After being sidelined with a sprained knee since March 23, Curry is expected to play in Game 2 against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.
The Warriors have so far not needed Curry as they wrapped up their first round match-up against San Antonio in five games before blowing out New Orleans by 22 points in the opener of the conference semi-finals.
But with a potential heavyweight bout against the Houston Rockets looming in the next round, Golden State may have no more than three more games to get into rhythm with their full squad before meeting the West’s top seed.
I asked Steve Kerr if this victory at all affects the Warriors' decision about Steph Curry for Game 2. "No," Kerr said. "He's going to play. He's going to play, barring a setback in the next couple of days."— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) April 29, 2018
Curry, however, isn’t planning on forcing anything when he gets back in the lineup.
“If I do get the green light, just play my game,” Curry told The Undefeated. “Do what I do on both ends of the court to help the team. There is nothing special about it. Just try to use my energy as a spark.”
If the Warriors play like they did in Game 1, it won’t matter how rusty or out-of-sync Curry is, at least as far as this series is concerned.
Golden State were unbothered when they clobbered the Pelicans by scoring 76 points in the first half as six players finished with double-digit points.
With Curry back, it’s not just possible, but likely the Warriors can be even better. No player in the league had a better offensive rating or net rating than Curry (120.4, plus-14.7) in the regular season, among players to appear in at least five games.
After consecutive years of being nothing more than a speed bump on James’ road to the NBA Finals, the Raptors are in prime position to change their fortunes when they face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference semi-finals.
Toronto has nearly everything working in its favour, from home-court advantage, to additional rest having wrapped up their series in six games – Cleveland needed seven – to ultimately being the better overall team.
And yet the one thing they have working against them may end up being the most important factor of all: James is still standing in the way.
You can forgive Raptors fans for having nightmares of the past two playoff meetings with the Cavaliers, which saw James sweep Toronto with ease last season and cruise past them in six games the year before.
The circumstances and rosters, however, have dramatically changed, with the Raptors proving to be the best team in the East this season, while Cleveland has had to rely on James more than ever to get them to this point.
And after the Cavaliers had to scrap and claw just to get out of the first round against Indiana, it’s clear Cleveland shouldn’t strike the same fear into Toronto that they have in the past.
So while James’ presence always gives the Cavaliers more than a fighting chance, the Raptors have reason to be confident, with their depth and balance equating to a significant advantage.
Are the Raptors better prepared to knock off the Cavs this year than they were in years past?— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 29, 2018
DeRozan: "No question. No question. I feel it. We all have that confidence."
Toronto could have handled the Washington Wizards a little easier in the first round, but their blueprint for success in the regular season translated to their first playoff series, which was an encouraging sign.
For comparison, Cleveland had six players in total average that many points, with James’ mark of 34.4 making up 36.2 per cent of the team’s scoring.
The Cavaliers received key contributions from the likes of Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson and George Hill in the first round, but still needed James to score more than 40 points for three of the wins.
It’s fair to wonder how much longer James can do it all, especially against better competition.
Aside from demoralising Toronto even further, a series loss to Cleveland would potentially end the Raptors’ best chance at reaching the Finals for the foreseeable future, with Philadelphia and Boston on the rise and appearing to be the class of the East for years to come.
Which is why it isn’t hyperbole to say the Raptors have to beat the Cavaliers.