It was meant to be. The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing in the NBA finals beginning June 2 in a rematch of last season’s championship series, which the Warriors won in six games.
This is the matchup everyone wanted, except maybe for the fans of the San Antonio Spurs, who thought their team could get past the Warriors this year and advance to the finals.
Unfortunately, San Antonio couldn’t get past the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that also gave the Warriors a scare before they managed to regroup and win the last three games are trailing 3-1 in the series.
That showed the resiliency a championship team needs to have. It’s something the Warriors will need more of if they are to win their second straight title.
Most people forget the Warriors trailed the Cavaliers 2-1 in last year’s series. They also forget that Cleveland starting power forward Kevin Love didn’t play in the entire series and that point guard Kyrie Irving missed the last five games. Both are healthy this season.
In other words, it should be a good series.
The Warriors are still led by the shooting of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, but Draymond Green has become a more imposing figure this year and the Warriors may have the most depth off the bench of any team.
Do you remember the championship series most valuable player last year? It was Warriors reserve Andre Iguodala, who was inserted into the starting lineup in the fourth game of the series and went on to play tough defense against LeBron James and helped share the scoring load with Curry and Thompson.
James, who was reduced to a one-man salvation team last year, has more help this year.
Playing in his sixth straight NBA finals — only members of the Boston Celtics 1960s teams can also say that — this is a crucial series for James. Overall, it’s his seventh trip to the finals. His teams have won twice: in 2012 and 2013 with Miami.
The only NBA hall of famers with worst records in NBA final series are Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, whose 1960s Lakers teams kept meeting up with the Celtics in the finals.
If James is to remembered as one of the greatest NBA players ever when he retires, he needs to win another title. If he wins it with this Cleveland team, his legacy is secure.
I think it will be a back-and-forth series that won’t be decided until Game 7 on June 19. That game will be played in Oakland and the Warriors will use the home court advantage to win their second straight title. But it won’t be easy.
BULLPEN BLUES: A friend and I were arguing about the Dodgers bullpen the other day. We both agree the bullpen, except for closer Kenley Jansen, is inconsistent at best, dreadful at worst.
The argument was over how Jansen should be used. My friend said Jansen should pitch the eighth and the ninth whenever the Dodgers have the lead in a close game. I argued that Jansen’s arm would fall off in August, if not sooner, if that happened.
Once upon a time, closers pitching two innings at a time — or even more — was a common practice. Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage, who pitched in the 1970s and 80s, often threw two innings at a time.
When the Dodgers won game six of the 1981 World Series to clinch the title, Steve Howe pitched the last three and two-third innings.
But around the time Oakland A’s manager Tony La Russa made Dennis Eckersley his closer in 1987, the role of the closer changed.
Instead of being asked to do what ever it took to win the game, the closer was asked to get the last three outs. That made the bridge from the seventh to the ninth inning more important and the term set-up man came in to being. That was the second most important person in the bullpen, the guy to get key outs after the starter had left the game.
And that is where the Dodgers’ problems lie. They don’t have a dependable set-up guy in the bullpen. They have tried using former closers like Brandon league and Brian Wilson, who were both expensive failures.
They didn’t pitch as well in the seventh and eighth innings as they had earlier in their careers in the ninth inning. Perhaps the adrenaline rush wasn’t as high. Who knows.
For the last two years, the Dodgers have looked at cheaper alternatives for the set-up role. Pedro Baez and Yimi Garcia are young and throw hard, but they don’t have the temperament to be set-up men. They wither on the vine in pressure situations. You can see it the longer they hold on to the ball between pitches.
J.P Howell pitched well the last two seasons, but he has been uneven at best this year. Joe Blanton has started getting the ball in pressure situations and has done surprisingly well. Believed to be washed up as a starter two years ago, Blanton reinvented himself in the bullpen at Kansas City and Pittsburgh last year and has been the best off-season acquisition for the Dodgers bullpen so far.
Another key factor in the Dodgers’ bullpen woes is the starting rotation. With the exception of Clayton Kershaw, no one has been able to consistently pitch into the seventh inning. That puts a lot of strain on the bullpen also.
But guess what? The Dodgers aren’t alone in having question marks in their bullpen. The Mets, who played in the World Series last year, saw their closer blow two games to the Dodgers last weekend. The Cubs pen gave the Dodgers five runs in two innings May 31.
The bullpen is one of the Dodgers’ problems, but so is the starting rotation and the offense hasn’t started clicking on all cylinders yet. There are still some good things going on in Chavez Ravie and there are still four months left in the season.
It’s too early for Dodger fans to hit the panic button.