NBA Basketball - INACTIVE

LeBron James, Cavaliers stand between Warriors and season of destiny

Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, right, speaks with Iman Shumpert, second from left, during practice on Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Oakland.
Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, right, speaks with Iman Shumpert, second from left, during practice on Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in Oakland. AP

It isn’t easy being the Golden State Warriors this season, even if it looks that way.

The Warriors piled up a franchise-record 67 wins and easily distanced themselves from the rest of the Western Conference. And except for back-to-back losses in the conference semifinals against Memphis, Golden State hasn’t been seriously threatened this postseason.

As the NBA Finals begin Thursday at Oracle Arena, the Warriors are 1-2 favorites (win $3 total on a $2 bet) over the Cleveland Cavaliers to take their first NBA championship since 1975.

But the Cavaliers are no ordinary underdog. They have LeBron James, a four-time league MVP and two-time NBA champion who believes he’s playing the best basketball of his career.

That’s enough to remind the Warriors the path to an NBA title won’t be easy. Along with MVP Stephen Curry, Golden State believes it has grown enough over the season to buck the knock of being too inexperienced to win. And the experience of trailing Memphis 2-1 in the conference semifinals galvanized the Warriors.

Even if the Warriors avoided a scare against the Grizzlies, they’d be focused. They know James is on a mission to win a title with his hometown team in his fifth consecutive trip and sixth overall to the Finals.

“You’re playing against a guy who is one of the greatest of all time,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s been in the Finals five years in a row. You know what you’re up against.”

The Warriors’ depth is a major reason they’ve essentially coasted through much of the season. But you won’t convince any Warriors they’ll be facing King James and the Pips. Kyrie Irving is an All-Star at point guard. Guard J.R. Smith is a former Sixth Man of the Year. Tristan Thompson has thrived at power forward since replacing injured All-Star Kevin Love.

“Tristan has had a great effect, just like Kevin Love did in different ways,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “I think a lot of ways it probably makes them better defensively … a completely different team, different looks, but at the same time both effective players in different ways.”

The Cavaliers’ journey to the Finals has been bumpy. Cleveland lost Love to a shoulder injury in the first round against Boston. Chicago led the Cavaliers 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals before Cleveland won the next three games to advance to the conference finals against Atlanta.

Cleveland swept the top-seeded Hawks to win the East despite Irving’s two-game absence because of knee tendinitis.

Early in the postseason, the Warriors appeared poised to run through the West after sweeping New Orleans and routing Memphis to open the semifinals. The Grizzlies, however, were the more playoff-tested bunch and looked the part in beating the Warriors in Games 2 and 3. Memphis wasn’t healthy or deep enough to keep it up as Golden State won the series in five games.

The comeback against the Grizzlies gave the Warriors a special confidence.

“The camaraderie was already there, but you always have to go through some adversity,” Kerr said. “To feel that against Memphis and respond the way we did and play three good games in a row, it was good for our team, good for our experience.”

Green agrees.

“Facing that adversity, I think it showed everybody,” what the Warriors can achieve, Green said. “We can always believe and say, ‘We can do this; we can do that,’ but if you never go through it, you really never know.”

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

NBA Finals

Best-of-seven series will be televised on Ch. 10

  • Thursday: at Golden State, 6p.m.
  • Sunday: at Golden State, 5p.m.
  • Tuesday: at Cleveland, 6p.m.
  • Thursday, June 11: at Cleveland, 6p.m.
  • Sunday, June 14: at Golden State, 5p.m.*
  • Tuesday, June 16: at Cleveland, 6p.m.*
  • Friday, June 19: at Golden State, 6p.m.*

*If necessary

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