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Everybody is counting out LeBron James, Cavs in NBA Finals again

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 5/30/2018 Stefan Bondy

Are Durant and the Warriors too heavily favored against the Cavs?
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Michael Jordan never lost in the NBA Finals, but he was never an underdog like LeBron James, either.

According to the Westgate Sporting Book in Vegas, the betting line on the Warriors is -1000 (Cavaliers +650) for the entire Finals, which represents the largest series line since started keeping track in 2002.

Jeff Van Gundy, an NBA coach since joining the Knicks as an assistant in 1989, believes the level of historic lopsidedness goes back even farther. He said Tuesday that any victory for the Cavs “would be a huge upset.”

“This is the biggest difference that I remember between two teams heading into the Finals in my time in the NBA,” Van Gundy added in a conference call to promote ABC's coverage of the Finals.

“I can't think of a bigger gap from a team perspective.”

That's a debatable statement since Van Gundy's NBA career spans the Lakers' dominant three-peat. In 2002, Jason Kidd's band of merry Nets (including Keith Van Horn) didn't stand a chance against Kobe and Shaq before they were swept. In 1996, the Sonics were fun to watch but Payton-Kemp-Shrempf was never close to the level of Jordan-Pippen-Rodman.

Most would consider Cleveland lucky to win two games like those Sonics. But then again, the Cavs have LeBron James.

“I'm not going to say zero percent chance they win because they have the best player in the world in the NBA Finals,” Mark Jackson, another ESPN/ABC analyst said Tuesday. “With that being said, the Warriors will make you pay the price for making mistakes.

“So if you are to have any chance of beating them at all, you have to make sure that defensively you're one accord. The Warriors are clearly the favorite, without question. But the luxury of having the best player in the world in that situation, anything can happen."

Unlike last year when they went 15-0 to start the playoffs, the Warriors have looked vulnerable in the first three rounds - including their nail-biter series against the Rockets. The Cavaliers? Well, they're simply riding on LeBron's back for as long as he can carry them.

The Saturday Night Live skit on LeBron's teammates (the point guard is a Roomba vacuum cleaner and their center is a dog) was hilarious because it's not too far from reality.

But here's another reality: LeBron James, basically by himself, held a 2-1 lead in the 2015 Finals against the Warriors - and almost was leading 3-1 - with even less help. He made everybody believe Matthew Dellavedova was an indispensable legend. His second-leading scorer in that Finals was Timofey Mozgov.

Again: Timofey Mozgov.

So let's not get carried away with burying LeBron like we did when he was down 3-1 two years ago. If his teammates concentrate on defending and the Cavs successfully slow the pace, they can make things uncomfortable for the Warriors. Van Gundy warned against sacrificing athleticism on defense, which the Rockets did in Monday's Game 7 when Ryan Anderson was torched by Steph Curry.

“It's really difficult to play a slower player if you're going to switch pick-and-rolls. So Ryan Anderson, in eight minutes, was at minus-12 because he's switching on to Curry and that's a challenging matchup for a guard, let alone a slower big,” Van Gundy said. “So I think Cleveland, they have to make sure rotation-wise that they don't compromise their lateral quickness.

“Obviously James is going to have to be great, and just like the three-point shot was detriment to both Boston and Houston in their Game 7 victories, I think they are going to they are going to have been lights-out from the three-point line to have a chance to win a game.”

LeBron didn't come this far hoping to win a game. And he's never been known to adhere to the odds.

Related Slideshow: Best of the 2018 NBA playoffs (provided by photo services)


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