By Arthur Triche

Since last June, many basketball fans have wondered if Golden State would have beaten Cleveland if the Cavaliers hadn’t lost a couple of All-Stars (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) prior to and during last year’s Finals.

LeBron James claimed he wouldn’t make any excuses – remember the “I feel confident because I’m the best basketball player in the world… it’s that simple” comment after Game 5 – and the Warriors wouldn’t feel sorry for them, as they brought home the franchise’s first title in 40 years as they wrapped up the series in six games.

Fast forward 12 months later, we’re here once again as the NBA’s two finest teams get set to do basketball battle as the 2016 NBA Finals start later tonight in Oakland. There will be no pre-Finals injuries to worry about as both teams – minus a second-round scare to two-time MVP Stephen Curry – enter this series ready and raring to go (or as well as they can be after 100+ games to this point), and if you truly love this game, do what Terrell Owens says and “get yo’ popcorn ready” because we are in store for a terrific Finals series.

You don’t need a program for this one. The stars and reserves, and their respective coaches, are well known to everyone by this point. If you haven’t heard enough about the Splash Brothers and Draymond, and LBJ, Kyrie and KLove, you’re not a hardcore fan. But that’s alright, you’ll quickly fall in love with America’s Game by watching the best in the West take on the best in the East over the next two weeks.

You have two back-to-back MVPs (James in 2009 and 2010, and 2012 and 2013, and Curry in 2015 and 2016), eight past or current All-Stars (Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala (in Philadelphia), and James, Irving, Love and Mo Williams (in 2009)), a Sixth Man of the Year (J.R. Smith), and a Coach of the Year (Steve Kerr) for starters. The Warriors bring an NBA record-setting 73 wins into this series and the Cavs pretty much steamrolled through the East to get here.

Statistically, the Warriors – led by their ridiculous three-ball shooting – are percentages ahead of the Cavs offensively, but while Cleveland may be better defensively; remember, most of that came against a weaker Eastern Conference, quite frankly.

I’m not here to bash the East, because the Cavs earned their way to these Finals and aside from a couple of bumps against the Raptors, they have nothing to be ashamed of. While Golden State’s road was a little bit tougher, no surprise there, they clearly showed their championship mettle by disposing of a gritty OKC Thunder team that pushed them to a grueling seven-game win.

And here we are… again.

The matchups and coaching decisions in this series will be quite interesting. Sleep on Cavs coach Tyronn Lue if you want, because if you want to believe his inexperience as a coach will hurt him against Kerr, I’ve got news for you. TLue has a better playoff record heading into this Finals series than the COY (Lue is 12-2 after three series, while Kerr is 12-5), but as you know, the first to 16 overall – or in this case, four more wins – will carry home the Larry O’Brien hardware.

As far as a prediction, this should be a shooters’ delight. Both teams are effective from long distance, and while the Warriors can be absolutely sick, the Cavs are no slouch themselves – ask the Hawks. The aforementioned stars will be stars, and if there’s a letdown by any of them, it will hurt their teams’ chances.

Curry relished winning his title a year ago, and he and his teammates want to validate their record-setting season by accomplishing the repeat. The Cavs on the other hand, clearly want to avenge that loss, and as James said earlier this week, he believes they are “better suited” than they were last year.

We’ll see about that, because while there are many who believe Love has to exceed expectations for a Cleveland series win, on the Golden State side, they cannot afford any foolishness from Green, whose ability to play close to the edge – some might say over – cannot afford any additional technical or flagrant fouls. Per league rules, Green will receive an automatic one-game suspension should he pick up two more technical fouls during the Finals, and should he garner another flagrant foul, he will get a game suspension; and if it’s ruled a flagrant-2, he would get a two-game ban.

If you’re looking for “x-factors,” my choices are Cleveland’s Channing Frye and Golden State’s Shaun Livingston. Frye was a tremendous mid-season acquisition for the Cavs, we certainly found that out during the Hawks series. His long-range shooting and defensive presence will help Cleveland for sure – and as an aside, don’t be surprised if you see James playing the 5-spot at some point. Livingston was a key reserve for the Warriors during the postseason a year ago, and while he struggled a bit during the OKC series, I expect he will return to form during these Finals.

Now for my prediction. Yes, Cleveland is better suited than they were a year ago, LeBron has revenge on his mind – on several levels – and I consider Tyronn Lue one of my best NBA friends EVER, but the Warriors have been on a mission, and they have one more mountain to climb.

Here’s my final stat for you. You really didn’t think I was ready to give you that prediction right now, did you??

Over the last 25 years, whenever the #1 seed vs. #1 seed matched up in the Finals – the team with the home court advantage won six of the seven times. The Warriors are the overall number one seed in this series. The only anomaly in that mix was Michael Jordan’s last season with the Bulls, when they took home title #6 against the top-seeded Utah Jazz.

So, here it is. I’m saying the Warriors will once again ride their sensational, ridiculous, out-of-this-world shooting HORSE game to another NBA championship… and again, in six games. They are an amazing team to watch, and as another one of the previous league marketing slogan once proclaimed, they are simply, “fantastic.”

Have fun with this one, I plan to. Popcorn ready.

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