Will Isaiah Thomas have enough to lead the Boston Celtics past the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James?
It’s still early in the NBA season, but that doesn’t mean we cannot begin to look at who’ll take home some hardware in the spring as the league’s MVP. And although that Christmas has not yet arrived, here are some players that are right now a cut above the rest.
DeMar DeRozan-Shooting Guard-Toronto Raptors
Since the Toronto Raptors made shooting guard DeMar Derozan the ninth overall selection of the NBA Draft in 2009, he has been a work in progress. As a rookie, DeRozan averaged 8.6 points per contest, but he would make a huge leap in his second season as he netted 17.2 points per game. And by 2014, DeRozan had elevated his game to that of an NBA All-Star.
Last season saw DeRozan help the Raptors make the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, and he’s doing his part to help Toronto take that next step in order to win an NBA Championship.
This season DeRozan is averaging 28 points per game, which has included a pair of 40-point performances. In all but three games this season DeRozan has scored at least 21 points as he is the focal point of the Raptors offense.
DeRozan deserves a ton of credit as after signing a five-year, $139 million extension to remain in Toronto over the summer, his production has increased which goes against the norm as athletes tend to regress after agreeing to a mega deal. But DeRozan is mentally tough and as he has the Raptors poised to make a title run, he cannot be overlooked in regards to being the NBA’s MVP.
LeBron James-Small Forward-Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James falls into that rare air. James has been one of the best players in the NBA since he first came on to the scene in 2003 which is evident by him being a four-time NBA MVP. James is always in the discussion to be the NBA’s MVP, and although that he’s only averaging 23.9 points so far this season, he is averaging 9.1 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per contest as he is still the game’s best all-around player.
Russell Westbrook-Point Guard-Oklahoma City Thunder
Since Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook made his NBA debut in 2008, he has been one of the league’s most explosive players. Westbrook is a five-time NBA All-Star in spite of the fact that he has spent his entire professional career playing out of position as he was always a shooting guard prior to joining the Thunder.
I expected Westbrook to have an increased role in the Thunder’s offense after small forward Kevin Durant left last summer in free agency and he has lived up to the expectations and then some.
In Westbrook’s first game this season, he dropped 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists on the Philadelphia 76ers. Westbrook follwed this up by torching the Phoenix Suns in the second game of the season for 51 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.
For the season Westbrook has 11 triple-doubles to his credit which includes recording one in his each of his last six games. Westbrook is currently averaging 31 points, 11.3 assists, and 10.9 rebounds as he is seeking to become the first player in the NBA to average a triple-double for an entire season since Oscar Robertson in 1962. And if Westbrook is able to pull off that feat, he should receive very strong consideration to be the NBA’s MVP.
Kevin Durant-Small Forward-Golden State Warriors
Small forward Kevin Durant shocked many people last summer when he left the Oklahoma City Thunder as a free agent to join the Golden State Warriors. And when Durant joined the Warriors, it was going to be interesting to see how he would play alongside point guard Steph Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson who are two of the premier scorers in the NBA.
But so far Durant hasn’t skipped a beat with his new team as he is averaging 26.5 points, 4.8 assists, and 8.4 rebounds which are a career-high. Durant has been consistent for the Warriors as he has scored at least 20 points in every contest in all but two for the Warriors. And as the Warriors once again find themselves in the title hunt, Durant’s contributions cannot be overlooked.
James Harden-Point Guard-Houston Rockets
Before this NBA season began, new Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni announced that he would be shifting James Harden from shooting guard to point guard. And whereas people such as myself laughed at the notion, D’Antoni has been right on so far.
Harden has still maintained his status as one of the better scorers in the NBA as he is averaging 28.5 points per game. But the amazing feat is that Harden has done this while he is leading the league in assists at 11.4 per contest. Harden has four triple-doubles on the season. And in those contests the Rockets are 3-1 which includes victories over the San Antonio Spurs, along with the Golden State Warriors.
D’Antoni has maximized the ability of Harden which is leading to victories for the Rockets and the elevation of the all-around game of one of the best players in the NBA.
Anthony Davis-Power Forward-New Orleans Pelicans
Being that the New Orleans Pelicans are not one of the better teams in the NBA, the exploits of power forward Anthony Davis could go unnoticed to the casual fan. Davis was the first overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft by the then New Orleans Hornets, and he has been as good as advertised. Davis is a budding superstar which began to recognized as he was named to his first All-Star team in 2014. That season Davis averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks as he helped the Pelicans reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Injuries limited Davis to just 61 games last season, but this time around he is currently averaging 31.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks.
On the season Davis has 10 games in which has delivered at least 30 points and 10 rebounds which was highlighted by going for 50 points and 15 rebounds in an opening night loss to the Denver Nuggets, along with a 41-point, 16-rebound barrage last Tuesday in a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Pelicans don’t have a good team around Davis which will hinder his chances as far as making the postseason goes, but what he is currently doing the season cannot be discredited.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
2. Indiana Pacers
3. Toronto Raptors
4. Boston Celtics
5. Detroit Pistons
6. Atlanta Hawks
7. Chicago Bulls
8. Washington Wizards
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
(8) Washington Wizards vs. (1) Cleveland Cavaliers (Cavaliers win series 4-0)
The Washington Wizards won’t be able to derail the express that is the defending NBA Champions.
(7) Chicago Bulls vs. (2) Indiana Pacers (Pacers win series 4-2)
The Chicago Bulls will spend most of this NBA season not being on the same page which will finally catch up to them against the Indiana Pacers.
(6) Atlanta Hawks vs. (3) Toronto Raptors (Raptors win series 4-2)
The Atlanta Hawks will be tough, but the Toronto Raptors are looking to build off of their momentum from making the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
(5) Detroit Pistons vs. (4) Boston Celtics (Pistons win series (4-2)
The size advantage of the Detroit Pistons will be on display in this one as the Boston Celtics are still unable to win a playoff series under head coach Brad Stevens.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Detroit Pistons vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (Cavaliers win series 4-2)
The Pistons are an improving team under head coach Stan Van Gundy, but they are still not on the level of the Cavaliers.
Toronto Raptors vs Indiana Pacers (Pacers win series 4-2)
This is a rematch of a gritty first-round series from last spring, but this time around, Pacers small forward Paul George has more help around him which should be the difference.
Eastern Conference Finals
Indiana Pacers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (Cavaliers win series 4-2)
Pacers small forward Paul George still will be unable to solve the riddle that is Cavaliers small forward LeBron James.
1. Golden State Warriors
2. San Antonio Spurs
3. Los Angeles Clippers
4. Portland Trailblazers
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
6. Dallas Mavericks
7. Memphis Grizzlies
8. Utah Jazz
Western Conference Quarterfinals
(8) Utah Jazz vs. (1) Golden State Warriors (Warriors win series 4-0)
The Utah Jazz won’t be a match for the Golden State Warriors as they will merely be happy to have their first postseason appearance since 2012.
(7) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (2) San Antonio Spurs (Spurs win series 4-1)
It’s that time of the year when you have to be weary of the San Antonio Spurs as they are simply laying in the weeds for another title run.
(6) Dallas Mavericks vs. (3) Los Angeles Clippers (Clippers wins 4-3)
The Dallas Mavericks have the heart and determination, but it won’t be enough to overtake the Los Angeles Clippers.
(5) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (4) Portland Trailblazers (Trail Blazers win series 4-3)
Hands down this will be the toughest first round series in the playoffs as it can go either way.
Western Conference Semifinals
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors (Warriors win series 4-2)
The Blazers are an improving club, but they still aren’t on the level of the Warriors.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. San Antonio Spurs Spurs (Spurs win series 4-1)
The Clippers are a good team, but right now they have to take a backseat to the Warriors and Spurs who are clearly the two best teams in the Western Conference.
Western Conference Finals
San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors (Warriors win series 4-3)
The Spurs defense will slow down the Warriors, but it won’t be enough to stop them.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors (Warriors win 4-3)
The hunger of losing the NBA Finals last summer to the Cavaliers will be enough for the Warriors to get back to the top of the mountain.
Y-Cleveland Cavaliers 59-23 (1)
The Cleveland Cavaliers will enter the 2016-2017 NBA season in an unfamiliar spot as they will be the hunted instead of the hunter. The Cavaliers are coming off of their first NBA Championship in franchise history after an epic comeback against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals that saw them overcome a 3-1 deficit in the series. Last season saw the Cavaliers push all the right buttons, and with Tyronn Lue entrenched as the team’s head coach, he must find a way to make sure that his squad doesn’t get complacent.
Luckily for Lue, he has strong leadership on the court for the Cavs that begins with small forward LeBron James. James returned to Cleveland in 2014 after four seasons with the Miami Heat, and he immediately made the Cavaliers a title contender. In 2015, the Cavs won the Eastern Conference Championship for the second time in franchise history, but injuries hindered their chances against the Warriors in the NBA Finals. However this time around the Cavaliers were healthy and thus they were able to win the NBA Title.
And even though that James is only 31-years of age, you have to wonder when the wear and tear is going to catch up to him. James is a 13-year NBA veteran that has appeared in the last six NBA Finals, along with playing in three different Summer Olympics for the United States. For his career James has averaged 39 minutes per game which is something that Lue will definitely keep an eye on as it is more important for the Cavaliers to have the best all-around player in the NBA fresh and ready to go when the postseason rolls around.
Around James, the Cavs do have a strong supporting cast that includes point guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love. Both Love and Irving were up for the challenge of playing alongside James last year en route to winning a championship, and their presence along with an overall hunger will be vital if Cleveland intends on repeating.
With the likes of center Tristan Thompson, shooting guard Iman Shumpert, and small forward Richard Jefferson, the Cavaliers should once again be one of the better defensive units in the NBA. Last year the Cavs were fourth in the NBA in points allowed at 98.3 per game, and it is vital to have a solid defensive unit on the floor in the final minutes of a contest. James can lock down the oppositions best perimeter player, while Shumpert and Jefferson aren’t slouches in that category either. Thompson is the Cavs best rebounder which is going to be more important this year after Cleveland lost center Timofey Mozgov in free agency to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The NBA Playoffs won’t begin until April, but every night will be like a playoff game for the Cavaliers after what they were able to accomplish last year. And Cleveland must find a way to be up for the challenge.
Y-Indiana Pacers 55-27 (2)
For the first time in nearly six years, the Indiana Pacers will begin an NBA season without Frank Vogel as their head coach. Vogel led the Pacers to the playoffs in five of the six years that he coached the team and only Slick Leonard won more games than him in franchise history. But Pacers team president Larry Bird decided that it was time for the team to go in a new direction with an eye on becoming more offensive oriented which comes as a surprise since he was the one responsible for giving Vogel the lack of offensive fire power to work with.
Nate McMillian served as an assistant coach for Vogel during the last four years and now he will assume the role of head coach for the Pacers. But this won’t be McMillan’s first trip around the block as a head coach in the NBA as he was the head coach of the Seattle Supersonics from 2000-2005, and then leading the Portland Trailblazers from 2005-2012.
McMillan’s transition to being the man that is calling that shots should be a seamless one as he has the services of small forward Paul George. George is back to the form that he had prior to him suffering a broken leg in 2014 and he is coming off of a career-high in points as he averaged 23.1 points per contest last season. The Pacers have been using George more as a power forward due to their “small ball” approach which means that he will continue to crash the boards as well.
The Pacers were tied with the Sacramento Kings in rebounding last season as they averaged 44.2 per contest which was 11th in the league. But the Pacers should be able to improve in that category now that they’ve acquired power forward Thaddeus Young and center Al Jefferson. Young averaged a career-high in rebounds last season with 9 as a member of the Brooklyn Nets while also scoring 15.1 points. The Pacers had to give up the draft rights to swingman Caris LeVert to order to obtain Young who could be in line to have his best NBA season as he plays alongside George. Jefferson is twelve-year NBA veteran that has averaged 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds for his career. Jefferson and the Pacers agreed on a three-year contract that is worth $30 million after he spent the last three NBA seasons with the Charlotte Hornets. And what Jefferson provides the Pacers with is a proven low-post scoring option in the post. Along with Young and Jefferson, power forward Myles Turner is looking to build off of a solid rookie season where he averaged 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds as Indiana is definitely more bigger and physical than they were at the end of the 2016 NBA Playoffs.
Shooting guard Monta Ellis averaged 13.8 points last season in his first year with the Pacers, and he’ll have some more help in the back court this time around as Indiana acquired point guard Jeff Teague from the Atlanta Hawks, and signing veteran guard Aaron Brooks. Teague gives the Pacers a proven ball handler that will take some pressure off of George, while Brooks will give Indiana instant energy off of the bench.
The Pacers are definitely one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and they should be able to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a definite scare.
Y-Detroit Pistons 48-34 (5)
It hasn’t taken Stan Van Gundy that long to once again make the Detroit Pistons respectable. In 2014, Van Gundy became the Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations as he has his hands all over the outlook of the franchise. And by Van Gundy’s second year in Detroit, the Pistons were playoff bound for the first time since 2009. Although that the Pistons were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual NBA Champions in the Cleveland Cavaliers, this team has what it takes to make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
After the Pistons acquired point guard Reggie Jackson from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, he is developing into one of their franchise players. In Jackson’s first full season with the Pistons, Jackson averaged 18.8 points and 6.2 assists, but the time is now for him to take the next step in order for Detroit to become a title contender. Jackson must become more of a facilitator as he had his moments last year when he would tend to become an iso-player. And with the likes of center Andre Drummond and power forward Marcus Morris on the Pistons roster, Jackson could see an increase in his assists if he is able to consistently get the football to them.
Drummond is only 22-years of age, but he is already a four-year NBA veteran. Drummond was the Pistons first-round pick in 2012, and in each season with the club his production has increased. Last season Drummond led the NBA in rebounds at 14.8 per game, while he also averaging 16.2 points per game. Drummond entered the NBA as a very raw talent and his overall game has continued to improve which is evident by the Pistons giving him a five-year, $130 million extension over the summer. Drummond is now a legit threat in the post for the Pistons, but he must find a way to improve his free throw shooting as he was just 35% from the charity stripe last season.
The Pistons are Morris’s third NBA team, but he appears to have finally found a home as he averaged 14.1 points per game last season in Detroit. Morris can be just what the doctor ordered for the Pistons offense due to the fact that he can hit the mid-range shot which takes pressure off of Drummond in the post, while also being a passing option for Jackson when he penetrates.
The Pistons have sized and depth that includes the likes of small forwards Tobias Harris and Stanley Johnson. Both Harris and and Johnson are Van Gundy’s kind of player as they simply do whatever it takes to win, and opponents must always account for them. Rookie power forward Henry Ellenson could have an impact for the Pistons as in one year of college ball for the Marquette Golden Eagles, he showed the low-post scoring ability that can take some more of the front court scoring pressure off of Drummond.
Defensive basketball has always been a hallmark of Van Gundy’s teams and the Pistons must find a way to improve at that end of the floor where they gave up 101.4 points per game which was 12th in the NBA. But as Van Gundy continues to get his kind of players in Detroit, the defensive intensity should increase this season.
Van Gundy’s team have been known to make their opponents work for everything that they get which should once again be the case this season as the Pistons should be a force in the Eastern Conference.
The first year for the Chicago Bulls under head coach Fred Hoiberg saw them finish with a winning record, but the season was an overall disappointment. The Bulls went 42-40 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 as there was a high level of inconsistency with this club. Hoiberg tried to implement his uptempo offensive system with a team that was full of defensive minded players who were left over from Tom Thibodeau’s time as the Bulls head coach. But now as Hoiberg is set to begin his second year in Chicago, and there has been a roster overhaul, he and the Bulls are hoping for better results.
The Bulls roster overhaul began with them parting with two players that defined the most recent era of basketball in the Windy City. The past nine years saw center Joakim Noah become the heart and soul of the Bulls due to his determination and toughness. Noah was one of the better rebounders in team history, and with him roaming the paint, there was never an easy basket for a Bulls opponent. But as injuries began to take their toll on Noah, the Bulls decided to allow him to leave in free agency as he is now a member of the New York Knicks.
The Knicks and Bulls would also become trade partners over the summer as Chicago sent longtime point guard Derrick Rose to the Big Apple. During Rose’s first four years with the Bulls, he was one of the most explosive players in the NBA until knee injuries sapped him of that. And as Rose is still attempting to find the form that made him the NBA’s MVP in 2011, the Bulls decided that it was time to move on.
The Bulls are welcoming an icon home as after 13 seasons and three NBA Titles with the Miami Heat, shooting guard Dwyane Wade is returning to his native Chicago. Wade will be 35-years of age in January, and although that he might not have the explosiveness that he once possessed, he can provide this team with tons of leadership as he has seen it all during his NBA career. On top of that the Bulls could be dealing with a very motivated Wade since he felt that the Heat disrespected him in their contract negotiations which opened the door for him to go to Chicago.
Along with Wade, the Bulls signed point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo is one of the most talented point guards in the NBA as he led the league in assists last season at 11.7 per contest. But the Bulls will be Rondo’s fourth different NBA team since 2014 as he has been known to wear out a welcome and it will be interesting to see if he is ready to conform to how Hoiberg wants his offense run in Chicago.
When the Bulls traded Rose to the Knicks, part of the deal was that they acquired center Robin Lopez. Lopez averaged 7.3 rebounds last year for the Knicks, and although that he won’t makes the folks in Chicago completely forget about Noah, he is definitely a member of the “all-energy team” as his hustle on the defensive end of the floor will earn the praise of the folks in the Windy City.
The Bulls have a very solid bench that is full of young players in forwards Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic, and Doug McDermott who should all contribute positively this season for Hoiberg.
But the engine that makes the Bulls go is shooting guard Jimmy Butler. In five seasons with the Bulls, Butler’s points per game averaged has increased, and if he averages 25 points or more this season, he will definitely find himself in the MVP discussion. And with Wade now as a member of the Bulls, we could see more of Butler at small forward this season, while along with Rondo, Chicago could have three proven ball handlers on the court at the same time.
The Bulls have plenty of new players that must find a way to work with one another. And although that Chicago could start the season slow, they should be able to pick it up en route to finding their cohesion.
Milwaukee Bucks 41-41
The Milwaukee Bucks began the 2015-2016 NBA season as a trendy pick to do some damage in the Eastern Conference. But as the Bucks had one of the youngest teams in NBA, they were never able to get on track. And as Jason Kidd is set to begin his third season with the Bucks, the talent is there, it is just a matter of Milwaukee living up to their potential.
The Bucks will begin the upcoming NBA season at a huge disadvantage as they will be without the services of shooting guard Khris Middleton. A hamstring injury will sideline Middleton for six months which leaves a void for the Bucks as was their leading scorer last season at 18.2 points per game.
The injury to Middleton would see the Bucks acquire forward Michael Beasley from the Houston Rockets. Beasley has had a very interesting basketball journey which has included three stints with the Miami Heat and two years in China. Beasley was the second overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft by the Heat, and outside of averaging 19.2 points per game during the 2010-2011 season as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, he has been consistently inconsistent during his time in the league. But luckily for Beasley, he joins a Bucks team where can be one of the guys as it will give him time to figure out his role with the team.
The Bucks will have to compete for the majority of the season without Middleton, but they have an emerging star in small forward Giannis Antetonkounmpo. In each of Antentonkounmpo’s first three seasons with the Bucks, his numbers have improved as he averaged 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists last season. And if there is one player that should become the focal point of Milwaukee’s offense, it is Antetonkounmpo who at 6’11” is a matchup problem for opponents due to his length and ball handling ability.
The Bucks are also loaded with talent and size in their front with the likes of power forward Jabari Parker and center Greg Monroe as Milwaukee would greatly benefit if the NBA allowed them to operate the 2-3 defensively due to their length. But surprisingly with all of the size that Milwaukee possesses, they were still 27th in the NBA last season in rebounding at 41.7 points per game.
A few years ago the Bucks were very high on point guard Michael Carter-Williams when they acquired him from the Philadelphia 76ers. But Carter-Williams would struggle last season in Milwaukee which saw benched. And with the injury to Middleton, it was the perfect opening for the Bucks to trade Carter-Williams as they sent him to the Chicago Bulls in favor of swingman Tony Snell who gives them more depth on the perimeter.
The Bucks are still a young team, but the addition of veteran players such as guards Jason Terry and Matthew Dellavedova who each have NBA Championships on their resume should help this squad figure it out.
The Bucks should be an up and down team during the upcoming NBA season, but they will be exciting.
After 45 years of trying, the Cleveland Cavaliers have reached basketball’s promised land. The Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors to win their first NBA Championship in franchise history, and in the process they made history as they became the first team to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals which included winning two of those games on the road. The Cavs did the impossible as they knocked off a Warriors team that set an NBA single-season for wins with 73, and they did it with heart and determination. The Cavaliers title run makes everything come full circle for small forward LeBron James who after spending the first seven years of his NBA career in Cleveland, took his talents to South Beach in 2010 to join the Miami Heat. In four years with the Heat, James won two NBA Championships, but he decided to return to the Cavs in 2014 and he has now delivered the title that the folks in Cleveland were seeking. And as the Cavaliers won the first title for the City of Cleveland in over 50 years, here are five events that shaped their title run.
Losing the NBA Finals last year
When James returned to the Cavaliers in 2014, it immediately changed how people looked at the team. In four years without James, the Cavs never won more than 33 games in a season, but they had to learn how to win in a hurry with James.
The Cavaliers went 53-29 en route to advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time 2007. But once Cleveland reached the NBA Finals, they were the walking wounded as they had lost power forward Kevin Love to a shoulder injury in the first round of the playoffs, while point guard Kyrie Irving sustained a fractured kneecap in Game 1 of the finals.
James tried to put the Cavaliers on his back, but the Golden State Warriors were clicking on all cylinders. And after having to watch the Warriors celebrate winning the NBA Championship at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland last June, the Cavs weren’t thrilled.
Tyronn Lue replacing David Blatt as Cavaliers head coach
When James returned to Cleveland, he knew exactly what he was getting into. The Cavaliers had recently hired David Blatt to be their head coach in spite of the fact that he didn’t have any prior experience in the NBA. And there would be a power struggle between James and Blatt in spite of the success that the team was having.
Upon returning to Cleveland, James would lose his first game as the Cavs lost at home to the New York Knicks. This immediately prompted Blatt to call a team meeting which wasn’t good for business. During Game 4 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Cavaliers found themselves tied at 84 late in the contest against the Chicago Bulls. With Cleveland already down 2-1 in the series and going down 3-1 a distinct possibility, Blatt called a play in the huddle that called for James to be the inbound passer. James immediately scrapped those plans, and instead he took the final shot which turned out to be the game winner.
This past NBA season saw the Cavs still as the premier team in Eastern Conference, but Blatt would be fired in spite of the fact that Cleveland was 30-11 on the season under him.
Blatt would be replaced by Cavaliers assistant coach Tyronn Lue who left his imprint on the team by changing around the Cavaliers rotations, and more importantly making James accountable.
During the Cavs 122-101 loss to the Miami Heat on March 19, Cleveland found themselves on the wrong side of a 21-point halftime deficit. Instead of James warming up with his teammates for the second half, he was seen joking around with Heat guard Dwyane Wade which drew the ire of Lue. Lue let James know that actions such as that would not be tolerated from James; especially since he is the leader of the team. And in one instance Lue did what most coaches have failed to do with James which is to hold him accountable.
Acquiring Channing Frye
The Cavs had their key players in James, Irving, and Love, but in order to win an NBA Championship, quality role players are needed. On February 18, the Cavaliers acquired power forward/center Channing Frye from the Orlando Magic. In 10 NBA seasons, Frye has averaged 9.2 points per contests, but he has the ability to stretch the floor due to the fact that he is a 38.5% career shooter from behind the three-point line. Frye only scored 2 points in the NBA Finals, but his contributions were important to the Cavs getting back there and winning it all.
Stephen Curry being the NBA’s first unanimous MVP
It’s hard to believe, but in the 70 years of existence for the NBA, there has never been a unanimous winner of the league’s MVP award until this year. Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry averaged 30.1 points per game this season to earn his second consecutive NBA MVP Award. And when it was announced that Curry was a unanimous winner of the award, James questioned it. James used that to add extra fuel to his fire as he averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks during the NBA Finals to be recognized as the MVP of the series as he was a one-man wrecking crew.
Game 4 of the NBA Finals
During Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals, frustration began to set in for James as the Cavaliers were well on their way to losing and putting themselves into a 3-1 hole in the series against the Warriors. Late in the game there was an exchange of words between James and Warriors power forward Draymond Green which led to Green calling James a “b—h”. James was infuriated over the matter and later on in the contest, the two players got tangled up with Green kicking James. James received a technical foul while Green was hit with a flagrant. And since it was Green’s fourth flagrant foul of the 2016 NBA Playoffs, he was suspended for Game 5.
With the Warriors looking to close out the Cavaliers at home, they were without the services of Green which made it easier for James to score. In Game 5, James and Irving each went for 41 points to help the Cavs stave off elimination. But the horse was out of the barn at that point as James went for 41 points once again in Game 6 before posting a triple-double in Game 7 to the tune of 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists to clinch the series.
The 2016 NBA Finals were extremely exciting, and if the City of Cleveland has to wait another 51 years to witness a championship, they got their money’s worth this time around.
After winning their first NBA Championship in 40 years last spring, the Golden State Warriors came into this season looking to do it again. The Warriors won 67 games en route to winning an NBA Title, and they somehow found a way to top that this year by setting a single-season NBA record by winning 73 games. As a result of this, the Warriors found themselves compared to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls who have been viewed by many as the greatest team in NBA history. But unlike the Bulls who won 72 games en route to winning the NBA Title, these Warriors didn’t and in the process missed the opportunity to see themselves alongside the greatest teams in sports history.
The regular season was a breeze for the Warriors as they won their first 24 games. It didn’t stop there for Golden State as many of their wins came in blowout fashion. And as the win total increased, so did the comparison to the Bulls as this team never lost consecutive games all season long. Warriors point guard Steph Curry would be named the NBA’s MVP for the second consecutive year, and he became the first player in the NBA history to win the award unanimously.
The first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs would be cakewalk for the Warriors as they made short work of both the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers. But in the Western Conference Finals, Golden State got all that they could handle from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder’s duo of point guard Russell Westbrook and small forward Kevin Durant kept the Warriors on their toes while role players such as center Steven Adams and shooting guard Andre Roberson made their presence felt on the defensive end of the floor. The Warriors would lose three of the first four games in the series before rallying to win the last three and advance to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year.
In the NBA Finals, the Warriors would find themselves taking on a familiar foe in the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last June these two teams met in the NBA Finals with Golden State triumphing in six games. And even though that it was expected to be a very intense series, the Warriors were still favored to be NBA Champions for a second consecutive year.
It was all Warriors to begin the series as they won the first two games at home easily and had another NBA Title to be within their reach. The series would then shift to Cleveland were the two teams would split Games 3 and 4 with Golden State returning to Oakland for Game 5 with a commanding 3-1 series lead. Everything was in the Warriors favor as no team in NBA history had ever lost the finals after possessing a 3-1 series lead as they were 82-0. Two of the final three games would be played at the Oracle Arena in Oakland where the Warriors had only lost twice during the regular season while they had never lost three games in a row all season long.
But the series shifted in Game 4 during an exchange between Cavs small forward LeBron James and Warriors power forward Draymond Green. During Green’s brief NBA career, he has developed the reputation of being an agitator as he talks smack and loves to get into the heads of opponents. Words were exchanged between Green and James where Green proceeded to call James “a b—h”. James took extreme offense to this which led to the two players getting tangled up later in the game. James and Green would go to the floor, and when James stood up, he stepped over Green which led to Green kicking James. James would be assessed with a technical foul, while Green would be assessed with a flagrant foul. And due to the fact that Green had already been assessed several flagrant foul in the playoffs, he was suspended by the NBA for Game 5.
The Warriors would lose Game 5 at home by 15 points with James and Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving each going for 41 points. The series would return to Cleveland for Game 6, but once again the Warriors could not stop James who had once again scored 41 points. Game 7 would be a battle of wills as Green put the Warriors on his back to the tune of 32 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists, while James chimed in with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. And in crunch time it was James the stepped to the forefront to lead the Cavs to their first NBA Title in franchise history.
So as the Warriors let a chance at history slip through their grasp, what they were able to do in the regular season was taken away from them in the NBA Finals as “small ball” couldn’t cut it.
All season long it was the Splash Brothers of Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson that would put on shooting displays with their long three-point shots. And as people wanted to dub Curry as the best shooter that the game of basketball has ever seen, you could see that the majority of the shots that he was attempting during the regular season weren’t even contested.
But in the Warriors March 19th loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the blueprint was laid out as far as neutralizing Curry. Defensively the Spurs kept a hand in his face, while he was never able to get free as he came off of screens. The Spurs also chipped him and disrupted his timing. The Spurs would defeat the Warriors that night 87-79 and Curry was limited to just 14 points.
And whereas that the Thunder simply tried to outscore the Warriors, the Cavaliers were focused on making the Warriors have to work on the offensive end, while also making Curry who is not a great defender, have to work as far as guarding Irving. For the NBA Finals, Curry only averaged 22.6 points per game, while in Game 7, he was held to just 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting as his and the Warriors season ended just one victory shy of their ultimate goal.
The Warriors inability to win it all illustrates once more how difficult that winning a title is, and it also shows why people should think twice when it comes to attaching the term “greatest of all-time” to a team, or an individual athlete. This Warriors team that only lost 9 games all season long ironically would lose 9 games in just four rounds of the playoffs.
What made the 1995-1995 Bulls unique was that they had one of the greatest head coaches in NBA history in Phil Jackson running things. The Bulls also had arguably the greatest player of all-time in shooting guard Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest sidekick in NBA history in small forward Scottie Pippen, and arguably the greatest rebounder in NBA history in forward Dennis Rodman while each player was also known for his defensive prowess. Jackson was a tremendous philosopher who knew how to motivate each of his players to maximize their ability, while he also put his team in the best spot to win. And even with all of that, the will of Jordan to be the greatest would not allow the Bulls to lose sight of the NBA Championship once the playoffs rolled around.
That same will was on display in these NBA Finals, but it was possessed by James who was able to lead his team to the promised land as he denied the Warriors of a title. The Warriors began this NBA season seeking to make history, and although that they made history in the NBA Finals, it’s not the kind that they wanted as they are now simply thrown back into the pile with the other 29 teams that didn’t win a title this season..