Hoping for a little churn at the top of the NBA and not the seemingly inevitable Warriors-Cavs rematch

 

Surely in the minority here, but I’m glad Dwyane Wade is with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the simple reason that it makes the 2018 NBA Finals worth watching.

It’s going to be Golden State vs Cleveland again next June. You know that. Every other team in the league knows that, too, though they will try to convince themselves otherwise as the new season kicks off this week.

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant defends Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Does this make the 82-game regular season that stretches before us a crashing bore? Of course not. There will be all kinds of drama. Sensational and courageous playmaking. Comebacks and upsets and teams, like the Miami Heat last year, playing absolutely out of their heads for significant stretches.

In the end, though, it we wind up with Warriors vs. Cavs again, for what would be the fourth year in a row, it will be abundantly clear why fans get so worked up about the free-agency signing period each summer. It’s the only time when competitive conditions across the league are subject to real change.

Come to think of it, even that has become a bit of a wash in recent years, with all kinds of great talent going all kinds of interesting places but the Warriors negating that collective energy by taking Kevin Durant for themselves.

Which new talent grouping interests you most? My choice is Oklahoma City, with Billy Donovan trying to find a formula that works for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Fascinating stuff, but again the Thunder aren’t expected to measure up to the Warriors in the Western Conference, so there they go again.

Trying not to be so cynical here, but a little churn at the top keeps the interest going stronger and longer for me.

Even with all the talk of Tom Brady and New England dominating the NFL, the last 10 Super Bowls have been won by eight teams. Two each by the Patriots and Giants, and the rest spread around among Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle and Denver. That grows hope in more fan bases. It makes the regular season count for more than just playoff seeding.

As for baseball, here’s one that surprised me. There hasn’t been a World Series rematch since the Yankees beat the Dodgers in 1977 and again in 1978. And here we are looking at the Warriors and the Cavs for a possible fourth year in a row?

Thanks goodness it’s a league and an industry driven by stars because the teams alone seem to be fairly ordered.

As for the Boston Celtics winning eight NBA titles in a row from 1959-66 and a total of 11 in 13 years over the same stretch, we won’t go there, hopefully, ever again.

[What Miami will get from Syracuse, the team that lost to Middle Tennessee?]

[Flying high again with the ever-changing Central Florida Knights]

[Even greatest UM teams learned how tough it is to run the table]

 

 

LeBron may be 3-5 in NBA Finals appearances, but he’s a long way from being a loser

Let the LeBron bashing begin. Oh, wait, it never stopped?

Pretty amazing that an athlete this comprehensively talented could be laughed at as a loser, but Cleveland’s loss to Golden State in the NBA Finals on Monday night has unleashed the usual wave of social-media silliness.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James speaks at a news conference after Game 5 of basketball’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 12, 2017. The Warriors won 129-120 to win the NBA championship. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

LeBron brings it on himself, no doubt, appearing always to be the guy who gets whatever he wants in terms of building a team worthy of his participation, but there needs to be a little reality to go with the rants about his 3-5 record in the NBA Finals.

Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA Finals appearances despite at times having Hall of Fame teammates like Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. The Boston Celtics dynasty of Bill Russell and company wouldn’t let West and the Lakers close the deal and yet West wasn’t called a loser.

Instead, he got the nickname of “Mr. Clutch.” He was voted the NBA Finals MVP in 1969 in a losing effort. His silhouette was chosen as the logo for the NBA.

Wilt the Stilt was 2-4 in the NBA Finals and there never has been a more physically imposing athlete than Chamberlain was in his time.

Hey, they’re not all going to be Michael Jordan, 6-0 in the championship series. Doesn’t mean that everyone else stinks.

In South Florida LeBron will always be appreciated for bringing two NBA titles to Miami and loathed for bolting to Cleveland and grumbled about for the two NBA Finals when he and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t win.

Take a look at the numbers, though. Wade, beloved for bringing the first title to the Heat before the Big Three era had arrived, was the MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals while averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in a six-game series win over Dallas. He shot 47 percent, too. Can’t do much more than that, right?

Well, LeBron just did in this five-game series loss to the Warriors.

James averaged 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists while shooting 56 percent against the Warriors.

Those numbers in defeat were even greater than LeBron’s stats in his three NBA Finals MVP performances with the Heat and the Cavs.

“With him, the negativity that surrounds him (LeBron), honestly, to me, I think is so unjust and so unfair,” West told ESPN last summer. “Take him off of the team and see how these teams do. That’s all you have to do. Take him off. And it frustrates the heck out of me when I see some of these players who play this game at an enormously high level get criticized because their teams quote, ‘Can’t win the big one.’ The damn guy gets his teams there every year.”

[Panthers hire new coach but how long before he’s on the hot seat like most other NHL bosses?]

[Predicting a 4-1 start to the season for Miami Dolphins]

[Malik Zaire is what Gators want, but what they need is for Feleipe Franks to win job]

Not saying that I love LeBron because that’s not true, but it makes little sense to hate him the way that some people do.

If he were a free agent this summer and available to the Heat, would you hate the idea of Pat Riley getting a meeting?

Warriors in six games, and this time LeBron won’t be able to stop it

Nobody much cares to hear about it now, but I correctly predicted that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the 2016 NBA Finals.

Not precisely, mind you, since my guess was Cleveland in six games over Golden State and not seven, as it turned out to be. Still, with LeBron James climbing out of a 3-1 hole in the series, the whole thing is fairly amazing. The Cavs winning, of course, and me actually being right for a change.

 

Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant prepares to shoot during practice on Wednesday in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors face the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, June 1. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

So with Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals upon us, let’s take another stab at it.

The pick is not so exotic this time. In fact, my call of Golden State in six games falls right in line with many others in the business.

Kevin Durant is the reason. He’s good to go for 30 points or more any night, and the Warriors were pretty great before he joined them last summer.

Russell Westbrook will get the 2017 MVP award later this month but until that happens it is fair to say that Golden State has all the MVP winners since LeBron’s last trophy in 2013  – Durant in 2014 and Steph Curry the last two years. That’s just too much firepower to overcome, though LeBron will bust a gut trying.

Add in the Warriors’ home-court advantage and the feeling gets stronger.

Could LeBron win a Game 7 at Oracle Arena? He did last year. Doing it twice in two years is asking too much of anyone, however, even with a teammate like Kyrie Irving, whose three-pointer in the final minute won the deciding game last June.

As for looking at the regular-season series between the Cavs and Warriors, a 1-1 split, there’s no much to glean from there. Last year Golden State won both regular-season matchups but it didn’t mean a thing in the Finals, when Cleveland’s aggressive defense limited Curry to 22.6 points per game and a severe loss of confidence.

Durant is the answer to that problem in these Finals. He also is deadly from any range and will sting the Cavs often enough to get Curry more open shots.

[LeBron was predicted to be this great the day he left high school]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

If any of this turns out to be wrong, we’ll try it again next year with the same two teams. The Warriors and Cavs are going to be an NBA Finals thing for a while longer. The only way that changes is if LeBron begins to fade noticeably and if somebody else in the East grows up. Not all that likely in either case.

The best news of all is that all the major players are healthy for this series. If that holds true, there should be enough electricity here to make up for an ultimately meaningless postseason so far.

Every amazing thing we’re seeing from LeBron was predicted on the day he left high school

 

All right, so this LeBron James guy is pretty good.

Here he is again, cruising into the Eastern Conference finals with…oh, what does it matter which team he is on at a particular moment?

TORONTO – Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James slam-dunks past Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka (9) during  Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series on Sunday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Whoever has this guy is going places, as demonstrated by the fact that LeBron will be playing in his seventh consecutive NBA Finals if the Cavaliers get there this year, and surely they will.

I thought it might be fun to look back at coverage from the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper on the day LeBron was drafted to see what people in the industry were saying about him. Of course, every indicator was great. The guy came straight out of high school to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2003 NBA draft.

Could anyone have seen all this coming, however, with absolute certainty?

Consider that LeBron averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists in his senior season at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.

His career numbers in the NBA postseason against the best of the best aren’t much different – 28.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

Here is what LeBron said about his expectations on the day he was drafted.

“As a 6-8 point guard, I can rebound and do what Jason Kidd does,” James said. “There’s a lot of mismatches for a 6-8 point guard, it’s like going back to the Magic Johnson days. At whatever position I’ll play, I’ll bring the willingness to win because I don’t accept losing very well.”

Cavs teammate Darius Miles clearly agreed. He took one look at the high-schooler and said “LeBron’s like one in a million. There was Magic Johnson, now it’s LeBron James.”

[60th anniversary of Herb Score’s brutal baseball injury]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

[Draft confirms Adam Gase has confidence in himself and his plan]

Then there was the world association game played by ESPN’s talking heads. Going around the table, each gave a quick one-word reaction to the simple prompt of “LeBron James.”

Jay Bilas’ answer was “Springfield.”

No pressure, huh?

Most amazing of all when compared to today’s numbers, LeBron’s rookie contract, regulated by an established pay scale, was $18 million for four years.

Last year, LeBron’s agent told GQ magazine that the star’s current Nike contract is worth more than $1 billion all by itself.

Look to Spo’s history as a player for the toughness that helped turn season around

From 11-30 to the NBA playoffs is an incredible journey that the Miami Heat still haven’t completed, but the question is the same no matter how this turns out.

How does a coach keep grinding the way Erik Spoelstra always does, whether his team seems bound for a world championship or the draft lottery?

MIAMI – Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra watches during the second half of a game against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 19. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

That’s one heck of a range when it comes to expectations and achievement and personal satisfaction, and it’s one that didn’t always hold Pat Riley’s attention quite as well during his coaching days.

Riley, of course, was a brilliant athlete in high school, good enough to have Adolph Rupp chasing him at Kentucky and brawny enough to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys coming out of college. All he ever knew was winning when he got to the NBA, and he can’t stand to be away from it for long.

Spoelstra was just the opposite, scrapping for everything he got as a point guard who weighed just 98 pounds as a high school freshman. There’s an old USA Today story that tells of Spo taking 30,000 jump shots from three-point range one summer in order to stretch and improve his skills.

Yeah, that’s the kind of doggedness that comes in handy later when you’re 11-30.

Eventually Spoelstra earned a Div. I scholarship offer, but it wasn’t from UCLA or North Carolina. Instead he played at the small college in his Oregon hometown, the University of Portland.

Must have played pretty well, too, because he was named the Freshman of the Year in the West Coast Conference. Loyola-Marymount owned that league at the time, averaging 110 points per game, and Gonzaga, a No. 1 seed in the ongoing NCAA tournament, owns it today.

Problem is, the Portland Pilots weren’t very good overall. They started 0-13 in Spo’s first season there and wound up 2-26. It’s a real challenge not to quit on a team like that.

Stick with it, though, and 11-30 somewhere way down the line doesn’t rattle you as much as it might others.

Spo kept pounding away, starting 97 games in four years, which ranks ninth on Portland’s all-time list. He learned how to create scoring opportunities for teammates, ranking fifth on the school’s career list for assists, and how to make the most of his own chances, ranking fourth all-time at Portland with a free-throw percentage of .824.

That’s a lot of serious stat mileage for a player whose individual career numbers – 9.2 points, 4.4 assists and 2.4 rebounds – don’t exactly knock you out. Spo pushed every possible hot button, though, even though the Pilots never won more than 11 games during his four-year college career.

Is that the kind of guy you want coaching your team in the midst of an 11-30 nightmare? Well, sure, especially if he also has found great success, as in back-to-back NBA titles with the Big Three.

[Only 3 Gator teams ever made it to Sweet 16 more easily than this one]

[Most get in free for inaugural NCAA hoops title game in 1939]

[From franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat]

There’s something here for everyone on the Heat roster, a coach who understands the psychological torture of losing, a coach who remembers what it’s like to be overlooked, and a coach who will accept only the highest standards no matter what anybody else thinks or says about his team.

What the team has achieved and what it continues to chase make more sense in this context. It tells you that the Heat couldn’t be in better hands.

It’s true now. It was true at 11-30.

 

From the franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat

 

Here’s an irony for you. If Miami manages to earn the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Heat fans can draw inspiration from one of the lowest moments in franchise history.

Not wanting to rub any more salt than necessary into an old wound, I won’t give you all the details. Just two words. Allan Houston.

MIAMI – New York’s Allan Houston reacts to his game-winning shot against the Heat at Miami Arena in Game 5 of the first round of NBA playoffs. PHOTO BY: RICHARD GRAULICH (Palm Beach Post)

We’re talking 1999, when the New York Knicks became the only No. 8 seed to reach the NBA Finals.

They defeated a No. 1 seed in the opening round (all right, it was Miami) and it was only a five-game series (not seven like today’s format) and it came at the end of a weird labor-lockout season (the Knicks’ regular-season record was 27-23).

Still, any way you slice it, a No. 8 seed got it going in the playoffs, which is Miami’s fondest dream now, well, after qualifying for the playoffs in the first place.

That year the Knicks beat Miami in five games, swept Atlanta in four, eliminated Indiana in six games and reached the NBA Finals against San Antonio, which did not end well but was more interesting than it should have been. The Spurs clinched the league championship in Game 5, by a score of 78-77.

Four other times a No. 8 seed has won a first-round playoff series against a No. 1.

If Miami gets in as a No. 8, that would mean knocking off the Cleveland Cavaliers, defending NBA champions. Tough sledding, but here’s how it has happened previously.

Denver beat top-seed Seattle 3-2 in 1994’s first round.

Golden State upset the No. 1 Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the opening round of the 2007 playoffs.

Memphis beat the top-seeded Spurs 4-2 in 2011.

Then, the very next year, Philadelphia knocked off the No. 1 Chicago bulls 4-2.

In every case but the 1999 Knicks, the upstart 8-seed was eliminated in the second round.

All anybody wants is a shot, however, and that’s what Miami is fighting for now.

[Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all]

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to a healthier, happier life]

[NCAA berths weren’t automatic for UM in Rick Barry’s golden era]

 

 

If Warriors climbed out of 3-1 in last round, why can’t Cavs do it now?

 

Man, it still looks bad for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. When’s the last time a team came all the way back from a 3-1 hole in the playoffs?

Oh, yeah. It happened a couple of weeks ago when Golden State did it to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James smiles at a news conference after Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 13, 2016. The Cavaliers won 112-97. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
OAKLAND, Calif. – Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James smiles at a news conference after Game 5 of basketball’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 13, 2016. The Cavaliers won 112-97. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

What it really comes down to now is did you ever really think the Cavs had a chance to beat the Warriors. Did LeBron James and company have enough to overcome a historic 73-9 team led by two-time league MVP Steph Curry? Was it even worth discussing?

I believed it was and said so, writing in a pre-series blog that Cleveland would win the championship in six games. That looked pretty moronic a couple of games into this thing and it still falls well short of reality now with the Cavs trailing 3-2.

Look at where the Warriors just were, however, in the previous round.

It was much worse than just being down 3-1 to the Thunder. Golden State had just lost consecutive games for the first time all season and was stunned by the sensation. What’s more, OKC was looking more like the defending league champion than the Warriors did. The Thunder scored 72 first-half points on consecutive nights, for crying out loud, something that hadn’t been done in the playoffs since Magic and Kareem’s 1987 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.

“The idea now is to go home and get one win,” coach Steve Kerr said after the Warriors were crushed by 28 points in Game 3 and 24 points in Game 4. “Do that, and we put some pressure on them and we’ll see what happens.”

[My very strange day with Hector “Macho” Camacho]

[Rating the Adam Gase offseason buzz compared to other Dolphin debuts]

[All right, let’s get this NBA Finals prediction on the record]

Kerr also took questions that night on whether Curry was playing injured. Kerr said no, that all players have bad nights, but Curry was coming off a 6-of-20 shooting performance that included six turnovers. No, it didn’t look good for the Warriors at all, especially with the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook dominating Game 4 with his first triple-double of the postseason.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site crunched whatever numbers they crunch over there and determined that Oklahoma City had a 56 percent chance of winning the NBA title at that point. Cleveland was at 25 percent and the Warriors at 12 percent.

Looking at that same site today, the Cavs are given a 20 percent chance of coming all the way back to win the NBA Finals. That’s the new math, anyway, and it will keep changing until somebody gets their hands on the trophy.

The Warriors understand what the Cavs can still do because they have done it themselves. Monday’s Game 5 road win for Cleveland, with LeBron and Kyrie Irving scoring 41 points each, was made easier by Draymond Green’s suspension, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. The Cavs pushed through their first elimination scare and now they’re going home for Game 6.

I’m thinking there will be a Game 7, too. Probably the Warriors win, but not certainly.

Both teams have looked pretty lousy at times in this series. There can be no certainty when that’s the case. There can only be surprise, game after goofy game.

 

 

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.

 

With Pat Riley, the Miami Heat are never far from raising a banner

 

Miami Dolphins training camp is upon us, ushering in another August of obsession over a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since Tiger Woods was good enough to win a major and the Philadelphia Phillies were world champions.

Yeah, it’s been a while.

A proud Miami Heat President Pat Riley, (L), greets Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra, after the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in game seven of the NBA Finals Thursday evening June 20, 2013, in Miami.(Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post)
Miami Heat President Pat Riley, (L), greets Head Coach Erik Spoelstra after the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in game seven of the 2013 NBA Finals.(Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post)

Isn’t it nice to know, however, that the Miami Heat are never far from a run at the NBA Finals with Pat Riley in charge and Dwyane Wade still happy to be here?

Think of it. The Heat, with LeBron James and without, have been to the Eastern Conference finals six times in the last 11 years.

The San Antonio Spurs have been to the Western Conference finals six times, too, but nobody else in the league, and certainly no one in the East, has been as consistent.

Here’s the list of conference finals appearances since 2005, with the most recent appearance in parentheses.

 

San Antonio       6 (2014)

Miami                 6 (2014)

Detroit               4 (2008)

Cleveland           3 (2015)

Oklahoma City   3 (2014)

Boston                 3 (2012)

L.A. Lakers           3 (2010)

Phoenix               3 (2010)

Indiana                 2 (2014)

Dallas                   2 (2011)

Orlando               2 (2009)

Golden State       1 (2015)

Houston               1 (2015)

Atlanta                   1 (2015)

Memphis               1 (2013)

Chicago                   1 (2011)

Denver                   1 (2009)

Utah                         1 (2007)

 

It gets even better when you examine the dropoff Miami suffered once LeBron was gone compared to the pit that Cleveland fell into under the same conditions.

[Oh, and here’s another edge Steve Kerr had over David Blatt in NBA Finals]

[How could UM, FSU and Florida be left off a list top 100 college teams all-time?]

[If Ryan Tannehill is so lousy, Mike Wallace’s numbers should soar in Minnesota]

In the season after LeBron, Miami went 37-45, missing the playoffs but knowing that they might have gotten there with Chris Bosh available for more than the first half of the season. Knowing, too, that things are looking pretty good for next season with Wade and Bosh and Goran Dragic and Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside and newcomers Justise Winslow and Amar’e Stoudemore ready to go.

Cleveland, on the other hand, bottomed out at 19-63 the year after LeBron abandoned them for Miami. What’s more, in the four seasons after LeBron bolted, the Cavs never once reached the 37-45 mark that Miami hit last year.

Big Three isn’t the only kind of math that Riley understands. Because of that, when you say wait until next year with the Heat, there’s actual promise in the phrase.

In Cleveland, it’s always the ‘One’ or done.