By Don Wanlass
For the fourth year in a row, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will meet in the NBA Finals, which start May 31 at 6 p.m.
The Warriors have won two of the first three battles: bringing home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2015 and 2017, after blowing a three-game-to-one lead in 2016.
Never in the 71-year history of the NBA Finals have the same teams met four years in a row, not even during the great Lakers-Celtics rivalry in both the 1960s and 1980s. The best the Lakers and Celtics could do was four meetings in five years, which happened in each decade.
Both the Warriors and Cavaliers were extended to seven games in the conference finals, with the Warriors overcoming the Houston Rockets and the Cavaliers outlasting the Celtics.
The Warriors are 11-7 in the three finals against the Cavaliers and I expect them to win a third title in four years in five or six games.
Even without Andre Iguodala, who missed the final four games of the Rockets series with a leg injury, the Warriors are deeper and more talented than the Cavaliers.
If LeBron James leads this Cavaliers team to a title, it will be the biggest achievement of his career. The Cavaliers just don’t have the talent the Warriors do.
With Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the Warriors have four all-stars in their starting five. The Cavaliers have James and maybe Kevin Love, their power forward who suffered a concussion in game six of the conference finals and hasn’t been cleared to return yet.
The Cavaliers will live and die by what J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver can provide from beyond the three-point line. Unfortunately, those two aging veterans aren’t good for much of anything else.
If Love remains sidelined, James is going to have to strap this team to his back and see if he can carry the load.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue played 61 games over three seasons with the Lakers from 1998-99 to 2000-01. He tried to compare the Cavaliers’ role players with Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher and Horace Grant from those Lakers’ teams.
To me, there’s no comparison.
I wouldn’t trade Horry for Korver or Fisher for Smith and there’s no one on the Cavaliers who do what Fox and Grant did for those three championship teams that Lakers had at the turn of the century.
The Rockets gave the Warriors a good test in the Western Conference finals. Unfortunately, the Rockets never figured out how to slow down the Warriors in the third quarter and with Chris Paul out of game seven, the Warriors eventually wore down the Rockets after spotting them an 11-point first half lead.
It took almost eight minutes of the third quarter for the Warriors to catch Houston. They then went on a 8-0 blitz in 66 seconds as Curry hit three successive baskets and never looked back.
The Rockets’ James Harden couldn’t will his team past the Warriors and the South L.A. native once again will have to watch the finals while awaiting his most valuable player award.
ACE RETURNS: Clayton Kershaw returns to the Dodgers rotation May 31 after missing most of the month with biceps tendinitis.
It couldn’t come at a batter time. Kenta Maeda left the game in the second inning May 29 with a strained hip, meaning the Dodgers once again will have three starting pitchers on the disabled list. Hyun-Jin Ryu remains sidelined with a torn groin muscle and Rich Hill is having trouble with blisters on the middle finger of his pitching hand.
Fortunately for the Dodgersthe National League West is extremely weak this season and Walker Buehler is the pitcher the Dodgers thought he was when they drafted him out of Vanderbilt in 2015. He continues to pitch like a veteran and if the playoffs started tomorrow he would probably start the second game after Kershaw pitched the opener.
Ross Stripling also is proving he can handle the responsibility of starting in the big leagues. The bullpen is still trying to find itself, except for closer Kenley Jansen who is in mid-season form after a slow start this season.
The Dodgers are now in third place in the National league West, 4 ½ games behind Colorado. When their offense gets clutch hits, the bullpen seems to get clutch outs. When the Dodgers don’t hit, they don’t pitch well, either.
Manager Dave Roberts is still trying to mix and match his relief pitchers into a comfortable rotation. More stability in the starting rotation would probably help the bullpen and Kershaw’s return should provide that.
BABY BALL: The Lakers got blistered by most of the media for giving LiAngelo Ball a tryout May 29 as part of the team’s evaluation of talent in preparation for the NBA Draft.
Ball, the younger brother of Lonzo Ball, never played a minute at UCLA after being arrested on the team’s preseason trip to China and suspended for the season.
His father, Levar Ball, yanked him out of school and took him and younger brother LaMelo Ball to Lithuania where they played minor league basketball for a few months, ruining their college eligibility in the process.
LiAngelo is not the player Lonzo is, although he is considered a better shooter. Listed at 6-5, most people say he is closer to 6-2, meaning he would be a small shooting guard in the NBA.
The Lakers were accused of trying to placate Levar Ball by inviting LiAngelo to try out when most teams would be trying to distance themselves from Levar, who is a walking distraction.
Most NBA scouts think the only way LiAngelo Ball plays in the NBA is by playing exceptionally well in a summer league and then winning a roster spot in fall training camp. Nobody expects him to be drafted in three weeks.