LeBron James is back in the NBA Finals beginning tonight but I figure he won’t be there for long. Make it Golden State in five.
To me, this series shapes up a lot like LeBron’s first Finals trip with Cleveland way back when he was 22. San Antonio won it in a four-game sweep with LeBron desperately in need of support from a Cavs lineup short on supplemental stars.
Cleveland averaged just 80.1 points in the 2007 Finals and the Spurs even won Game 3 despite scoring only 75.
This time around it’s a high-octane Warriors team with MVP Stephen Curry in LeBron’s way. If the Cavs had all their players it might be a long series, but Kyrie Irving is hurting and Kevin Love can’t play at all. That means LeBron will need to do more than score 28 points a night. He’ll also need to rebound and defend at monster levels.
Oh, plus he does most of the coaching, too. It’s a little too much to ask once you get out of the Eastern Conference and into the NBA’s fast lane.
Looking back on the 2007 Finals, there really wasn’t much more LeBron could have done. He didn’t have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He had Sasha Pavlovic and Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. When LeBron had a 4-for-16 shooting night in Game 1, there was no one else to help.
LeBron pressed the whole way. The best game was the clincher for the Spurs, with LeBron scoring 24 points on 10-of-30 shooting and only two other Cavs in double figures. San Antonio won 83-82.
No matter what, two things will be different for LeBron this year.
First, he’s a much more versatile scorer at 30 and will shoot a higher percentage, with lots of assists to keep the Warriors defense scrambling.
Second, there will be a lot more interest in this series. The 2007 Finals were a bust for ABC, with the lowest television ratings to that point for a championship series.
Viewership numbers dropped 27 percent from the previous year’s Finals, and you’ll probably like this next part.
The 2006 Finals were a Miami showcase, with the Heat taking their first title in six games against Dallas. Dwyane Wade was the Finals MVP with a 34.7-point average. Pat Riley was the Heat’s coach.
For now, though, it’s time to see if LeBron can do more with this Cleveland team, which won 53 games during the regular season, than he did with the 2007 Cavs, who won 50.
If he manages somehow to win another championship in his first year back in Cleveland, it will be a greater achievement than the two he won in Miami. That’s how much of the load is on his shoulders alone.
Oh, by the way, the FiveThirtyEight website, where numbers are king, figures that LeBron’s current Cavs roster is better than the 2007 crew, but only by a hair.
And if you can make sense of anything in that deep bucket of data, thank your calculus teacher.
If you can’t, feel free to enjoy this crazy NBA Finals preview from Taiwainese animators: