LeBron James is staring at the tallest mountain he’s had to scale yet and the odds stacked against him are just as high.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors have done this dance before – the past three summers to be accurate – but never has the rivalry felt so one-sided as it does now on the eve of a fourth straight meeting in the NBA Finals.
Standing on one end is a foursome of All-Stars in Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Facing them is James and his cadre of foot soldiers, who’ve done just enough to help their leader get back to a stage he’s been a regular on for eight consecutive years.
It was only two years ago when James did the unthinkable and fought back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat a 73-win Warriors side in the greatest Finals comeback ever, but much has changed since then. Durant joined Golden State’s budding dynasty in 2016, tilting the balance of power like an anvil dropping onto one side of a seesaw. Cleveland managed to take only one game from the new iteration of the Warriors last June and that was with Kyrie Irving still in the fold.
Irving left to ply his trade elsewhere, leaving an even greater load for James to carry, while Golden State remained intact. Andre Iguodala’s knee injury changes the equation a bit, but even that loss may be somewhat offset by Kevin Love’s concussion, which has kept the Cavaliers forward sidelined since the early minutes of Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The rest of James’ supporting cast has undergone massive turnover since the start of the season, with veterans Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose replaced with Jordan Clarkson, George Hill and Larry Nance Jr and Rodney Hood.
The Cavs traded Kyrie Irving. Kevin Love missed two months. Ty Lue missed two weeks. Isaiah Thomas missed two months. They ripped up half the roster in February. LeBron’s played every game. And they’re going back to the Finals— Joe Vardon (@joevardon) May 28, 2018
It’s been one of the most challenging seasons of James’ career, but for all the drama and change that has taken place around him, the Cavaliers have given him a chance at capturing a fourth title – as unlikely as it may be against the Warriors’ juggernaut.
“At the end of the day, the game is won in between the lines, and we have an opportunity to play for a championship. That’s all that matters,” James said. “No matter what the storyline is going to be, no matter if we’re picked to win or not, let’s just go out and play ball. “We’re going to have a great game plan. We’re going to try to get better throughout the series, and we’ll see what happens. I just like to compete. I have a love for the game. I have a passion for the game, and everything else will take care of itself.”
These could also be the final games for James in a Cleveland uniform as he has the option to hit free agency in the offseason, adding more intrigue to a series that already consists of the highest stakes.
For Golden State, this is an opportunity to cement their claim as a dynasty, as three championships in four years would put them in exclusive company, alongside the early 2000s Los Angeles Lakers, the 90s Chicago Bulls, the late 80s Lakers and the 60s Boston Celtics.
LeBron is a superhero, but this is a situation even he can’t overcome on his own. The Warriors are too talented and possess too much firepower for this series to be all that close. Because it’s LeBron and Golden State tend to fall asleep when they’re unbothered, it won’t be a sweep. But five games is as far as this series can go.
Warriors in 5
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