Thursday, June 2, 2016

Curry, James showdown set in repeat final




Anticipation was building on Thursday for the start of an NBA Finals rematch between the defending champion Golden State Warriors, sparked by sharpshooter Stephen Curry, and the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.
From signs around the Bay Area to people wearing caps and shirts with the Warriors' yellow and blue colors and a mounting buzz of activity at Oakland's Oracle Arena, there was a sense that the 70th edition of the NBA's best-of-seven championship series could be one of the classics.
"The fact that we're going back-to-back is pretty unique," James said. "Just to have another opportunity, for us to play it, for the people to talk about it throughout the world, I'm blessed that I can be a part of conversations."
The Warriors beat an injury-depleted Cleveland line-up in six games last year to claim their first title since 1975 despite four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James setting the series pace in points, rebounds and assists.
Golden State produced the best record in NBA history this season at 73-9 and Curry won his second consecutive MVP award and the scoring title with a record number of 3-pointers.
But the Warriors barely escaped Oklahoma City in the Western Conference final, taking the final three must-win games to advance in seven.
"Us being back here against the Cavs again, there are obviously storylines and what-not that as a basketball fan are pretty cool when you have two teams fighting for the same trophy once again and trying to play at a very high level," Curry said.
"To be in a position now where we can create legacies and have memorable series, that's pretty special."
NHL, COPA ADD TO BUZZ
With that as an appetiser, area sports fans are ready for a feast as the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Final features the nearby San Jose Sharks against Pittsburgh and football's Copa America Centenario kicks off down the road in Santa Clara on Friday with host United States playing Colombia.
"This is a great time to kind of tune in and be a sports fan in the Bay Area," Curry said. "The world's eyes are going to be here.
"It's fun. I was in an Uber (hire car) and the guy was talking to me about all three different things going on and just the excitement over that 10-minute drive that he had, that in a nutshell speaks volumes about how much sports means to the fans around here and I'm excited to be a part of that."
In some ways, NBA fans were only teased a year ago because Cleveland forward Kevin Love was sidelined by injury early in the playoffs and teammate Kyrie Irving went down with a fractured kneecap in over-time of game one with the outcome in doubt. The full showdown of stars never materialized.
"What really scared me was the process of getting back, of learning how to walk again, how to do things again, and trying to be at the same level that I was last year – I just had to get out of my own way," Irving said.
"I'm just really happy to be in this moment and on this stage again, now that we can attack it the way I want to and I know my teammates want to as well. (I'm) just a Ferrari with no rear-view mirrors, no looking back, no regrets, and this is what it's about."
CAVS FASTER, CHAMPS WISER
James is in his sixth NBA Finals in a row, the longest run by any player in half a century. He won in 2012 and 2013 with Miami but returned home in 2014 to try and bring Cleveland its first NBA crown, or major sports crown since the 1964 NFL Browns. The Cavaliers fell short last year but now have the chance to avenge that defeat and achieve the goal.
This time, the schedule is such that games are not played the day after travel. And it's Golden State that have had to deal with playoff injuries.
"We have more confidence, having been through the whole run last year and what we've gone through this year and the adversity we faced," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We're stronger at our core, but we're very similar.
"They are dramatically different. Not only are they healthy, they've changed their style. They tried to grind us to a pulp last year playing big and they were slowing the ball down. This year they have shooting all over the place and they're playing at a much faster pace."