LeBron and Cavs actually less competitive in Finals than they were in 2007

 

Would LeBron James actually leave Cleveland again for a team with better NBA title chances? Only now am I beginning to wonder, and for a couple of reasons.

For openers, the Cavs are actually less competitive in the NBA Finals right now than they were when LeBron initally dragged them to the championship round at the age of 22.

Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving, from left, LeBron James, Dahntay Jones and J.R. Smith sit on the bench during the second half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
OAKLAND – Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving, from left, LeBron James, Dahntay Jones and J.R. Smith sit on the bench during the second half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Yes, I know, that’s really saying something since San Antonio swept Cleveland in 2007. What’s more, LeBron had only two teammates who scored in double figures on average in that series, and the best of them was Drew Gooden at 12.8.

Looking back, however, the Spurs really had to scrap to win the last two games, 75-72 and 83-82. Overall, San Antonio’s average winning margin was six points per game.

The 2016 NBA Finals are off to a much more lopsided start with Golden State winning by an average of 24 points per game. That’s a record for the first two games and it breaks a mark that stood for 55 years.

Of course, the Warriors are to blame for most of this. They play at such a high efficiency level that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson haven’t even needed to score much yet and the games are still blowouts.

LeBron has, however, everything he wanted in Cleveland, right down to the head coach of his choice, Tyronn Lue. Never mind that Lue finished the regular season 27-14 after taking over for David Blatt, fired at 30-11. LeBron is the boss and Cleveland fans trust him to make good on his pledge to throw them a championship parade. The best he has done so far is an 0-2 record in the NBA Finals and a big hole to climb out of in another.

Kyrie Irving is no Dwyane Wade. Kevin Love is no Hall of Famer, either, plus he’s uncertain for Wednesday’s essential Game 3 in Cleveland because of concussion protocols. The cavalry, in other words, isn’t coming. LeBron, nearly averaging a triple-double in the Finals at 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, is more isolated than ever.

If he hasn’t started thinking about other options by now, in other places, with other stars as teammates, it would be a surprise. Winning it all in Cleveland may just not be possible, no matter how much LeBron wants it, and playing out the rest of his career with that notion in mind would be torture for so competitive a man.

[No such thing as a simple summer for Dwyane Wade]

[A last look back at all those great Doral moments]

[A modest proposal for spicing up Dolphins OTA workouts]

Here’s the second bit of historical context when it comes to the potential for another LeBron free-agency blockbuster this summer.

The last time LeBron leaped from Miami to Cleveland, it was coming off a demoralizing NBA Finals loss. San Antonio beat the Heat in five games and the last three victories were routs, with the Spurs winning those by an average of 19 points.

Either because he thought the run in Miami was over, or because he was compelled to make things right in Cleveland, or more likely a combination of both, LeBron said goodbye, burning bridges with Pat Riley on his way out the door. That was after a playoff blitz that included just three Heat losses on the way to the Finals.

What we’re looking at now is a Cavs team that lost two playoff games on an easy ride to the Finals but seems all set up for another quick knockout by a tougher team from the Western Conference.

If that’s not bad enough, this could make two straight losses in the Finals. That never happened to LeBron in Miami.

Put it all together and Wednesday’s Game 3 may come down to a referendum on how much more of playing in Cleveland can LeBron stand, and how much longer will Cavs fans believe they have Superman on their side.

If he blows town once more, no heartfelt letter to Sports Illustrated will make a difference. It will be an admission that nobody is ever going to strike gold in that market, and that would hurt more than all previous disappointments combined.

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, I picked the Cavs to beat the Warriors in six games. So you’re saying there’s still a chance, right?

 

Alright, let’s get this NBA Finals prediction on the record

If LeBron James really is part of a new Big Three in Cleveland, it shouldn’t be impossible for them to add up to four.

That’s what Big Threes do. They win four games in the NBA Finals. They close the deal like LeBron and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did twice together in Miami.

FILE - In this June 16, 2015, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) hangs his head during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Cleveland. This Cleveland-Golden State series will mark the 14th time that there's been a rematch in the NBA Finals. Good news for the Cavs: Six of the last seven teams coming off a Finals loss won the rematch. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
CLEVELAND – Cavaliers forward LeBron James hangs his head during the second half of Game 6 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Now maybe you’re not convinced that LeBron and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love comprise a genuine “Big Three,” as in “unstoppable trio,” as in “prepare the trophy case for immediate arrivals.” I’ve got my doubts, too, based on Love’s inconsistency and his tendency to get hurt.

Have to pick LeBron’s bunch this time, however, in a Finals rematch with the amazing Golden State Warriors. It’s a guess based on the Cavaliers owning a 2-1 series lead last year before running out of gas, and that’s with Irving and Love playing just one game between them because of injuries. It’s a prediction soaked in compassion, too, because the Cleveland sports market has waited long enough for a championship.

Foolish to go against Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who made 62 three-pointers between them in the Western Conference final? Yeah, probably is. Golden State has only lost 14 games all year, and that includes the playoffs. They’re beyond stubborn and so much fun to watch.

The Oklahoma City Thunder really did have them on the ropes in the last round, however. Down 3-1. In need of a miracle, which is what Thompson’s 11 three-pointers represented in Game 6.

LeBron may be the only guy in the league capable of delivering a knockout punch the next time the Warriors start wobbling, and he’ll begin by trying to steal Game 1 tonight at Oakland.

Again, look at last year’s Finals, a series so competitive that two of the six games went into overtime.

LeBron alone made it competitive. He had two triple-doubles. He averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists. He led both teams in all three categories, an NBA Finals first.

A little bit of help from Irving and Love and what have you got? We’ll find out this time, and with a healthy dose of 6-foot-11 Channing Frye’s scoring thrown in, too. Frye wasn’t with the Cavs last year. He’s making almost 58 percent of his three-point shots in the 2016 playoffs, and that’s splashier even than the Splash Brothers.

[After 54 golden years, Doral’s Blue Monster deserves better than this]

[There’s really no such thing as a simple summer for Dwyane Wade]

[First hard evidence of where Dolphins rookie Laremy Tunsil will play]

“They wanted to get back to this moment, Ky being out seven months and Kevin doing rehab for three-and-a-half months on his shoulder,” LeBron said earlier this week. “They just had so much built up, anxiety or rage or excitement or whatever the case may be, just to be back on the floor and to show why we were all put together.”

If it wasn’t to win a championship, what exactly is the point?

One other thing. Six of the last seven teams to lose an NBA Finals and earn an immediate rematch won the title the second time. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Cleveland in six. If they get stretched to seven, the Warriors are at home and that’s not going to work for any opponent, no matter how bullish its superstar.

And if all of this turns out to be wrong, we’ll just scrap this Big Three concept for a while, OK, at least until Pat Riley puts another one together some day.