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Playoff Journal, June 2

   by Larry Ness - 06/02/2016

NBA Playoff Journal (NBA Finals)

Bird and Magic entered the NBA for the start of the 1979-80 season, rejuvenating what was a 'dying' league. Here's what a check of the history books tell us. Of the 36 championship teams since that 1979-80 season, 18 have been teams which finished the regular season with the best regular season record (or tied for the best record). Nine champs have been teams which finished with its second-best mark and four others with its third-best record. That leaves just FIVE champions from outside the top-three regular season records over the last 36 seasons (or just 13.9 percent). On the eve of the 2016 playoffs I opined, should we expect any surprises? Or, are the record-setting Warriors a ‘lock’ to become back-to-back NBA champs? The 67-win Spurs owned this year’s second-best record and the 57-win Cavs had the third-best record. Anyone really think that this year’s champ will NOT come from one of the league’s “top-three?”

There have been just two upsets in this year’s postseason, the No. 4 Clippers losing a 2-0 lead to the 5th-seeded Blazers, when Portland won the final four games of that opening round series (injuries to BOTH Paul and Griffin just may have had something to do with the result) plus the No. 3 Thunder knocked off the second-seeded Spurs 4-2 in the the second round, out West. Over in the East, the higher seeded team won all seven series. The Warriors got a HUGE care from the Thunder (became just the 10th team to overcome a 3-1 deficit and win a best of seven series) in the conference finals and are back to defend their title AND the team’s record 73-win regular season. Awaiting them are the Cavs, for a rematch of last year’s Finals, as LBJ appears in his SIXTH consecutive NBA Finals, as well as the seventh of his career.

The Cavs swept their first two series and then after blowing out the the Raptors in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, hit a ‘speed bump’ in losing Games 3 and 4 in Toronto. Hoverer, Cleveland rebounded with dominating wins in Games 5 and 6. Cleveland’s four wins over the Raptors came by an average margin of 28.5 points. This meeting between the Warriors and the Cavaliers will be the 13th time two teams have met in back-to-back NBA Finals. Will the result be the same as last year? Since the end of the Bill Russell era, history says no. The Chicago Bulls in 1997 and 1998 are the only team in the past seven repeat matchups to win both times (against the Utah Jazz, in each case). Will the result be the same as last year? Clearly, the Cavs are a MUCH better team than last year, with both Love and Irving healthy but the Warriors did beat the Cavs in both regular season meetings. Then again, BOTH of those games were played before Lue took over as head coach. Lue pointed out just that at his Wednesday press conference. "Organization-wise, it's the same two teams, but playing-wise and players-wise, we're a different team. Kevin and Kyrie are both healthy, the addition of (backup forward) Channing Frye, we're a completely different team than we were last year."

“King James” has been on the winning side in just TWO of his previous six Finals appearances, both times alongside of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. As has been well documented, the city of Cleveland has been without a major sports champions since the 1964 Browns of the NFL and LBJ badly wants to bring a championship to his city, plus he also surely knows a FIFTH loss in seven tries in the NBA Finals is not something he wants on his resume. Golden St head coach Steve Kerr is looking to make it back-to-back titles (in his first two season as a head coach) and said he expects Curry's competitive nature to be in high form as former NBA players and James , who questioned how valuable Curry is after the MVP tally, continue to hurl slights in his direction. "He doesn't have to say anything," Kerr said at his Wednesday press conference. "He does his talking through his play, basically, but he definitely is motivated by things that people say about him or things that he reads or anything like that. The guy is as gifted and skilled as he is, and I think one of his greatest attributes is his competitive fire."

Checking in on the postseason numbers to-date, home teams are 54-25 SU (.684) and 48-31 ATS (60.8%). Forty-eight of the 79 games have stayed under (60.8%) and those following the Zig-Zag theory are 33-32, which is minus-2.2 net games. It should also be noted that the team with the home court edge in the NBA Finals has gone 27-9 (75 percent) since Magic and Bird’s rookie season of 1979-80. Game 1 is tonight (9:00 ET on ABC), with the Warriors favored by six points. Golden St is slightly more than a 2-to-1 favorite to win the series.

My next playoff journal will be Sunday, available by 12 noon ET.

Good luck...Larry

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