A thought few thought thinkable four months ago:
What if the Cavs and Warriors don’t meet in the NBA Finals?
Instead, what if it’s two party crashers, two freeloaders, two fourflushers?
Your classic bait and switch.
What if, come June, you collapse into your recliner, grab the remote, your beverage of choice, tune in for Game 1 of the Finals — and the Spurs and Celtics are walking onto the floor?
No Cavs. No Warriors.
If it happens it would be the first time those two teams had not met in the Finals since 2014.
It’s not a given, you know. Just because it’s been a Cavs-Warriors Finals two years in a row there’s no guarantee it’s going to happen three years in a row.
What if neither team even wins its conference? That seemed incomprehensible five months ago, but that now looks like it’s in play as well.
There are reasons why, in NBA history, the same two teams have never met in the Finals three years in a row. We may be seeing some of those reasons now.
For starters, it’s hard, really hard, for a team to make it to the NBA Finals. It’s even harder to make it two years in a row. Three years? For three trips in a row your roster better include one guaranteed Hall of Famer, two perennial all-stars, no players with major injuries, and a good chunk o’ luck.
That might get you back there three years in a row.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Cavs and Warriors appeared to be on a collision course for a three-peat Finals matchup. But then the Kevins got hurt — the Cavs’ Love and the Warriors’ Durant. J.R. Smith got hurt. And, most hideously of all, Andrew Bogut got hurt, ending his Cavs career after 58 seconds.
The Warriors meanwhile, downsized the non-All-Stars portion of their roster after last season. And they upgraded the All-Star portion. Starter Harrison Barnes, and selected bench players left, in order to allow the Warriors to add scoring machine Durant. But now the Warriors don’t have Barnes, or those bench players jettisoned to make room for Durant and his salary — and they also don’t have Durant. He’s injured.
It’s currently the worst of both worlds for the Golden State golden boys, and for LeBron James and the LeBronettes.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Both teams were supposed to sashay their way to another conference championship, by a comfortable margin, while biding their time, winning games by the bushel, keeping everyone healthy, and warily giving each other the cross-country competitive side-eye, in anticipation of another early summer steel cage winner-take-all match, followed by, for the victors, another victory parade.
Instead, it’s a bad case of hardwood cattywumpus.
For both teams.
The Warriors were 50-9 (.847) with a healthy Durant and are 2-5 (.286) since he went out with a sprained knee. That includes a loss at home to Boston and two road losses to teams with losing records, Chicago and Minnesota.
Steph Curry seems particularly catty, and a whole lot of wumpus, since Durant got hurt. Curry was shooting 40 percent on three-pointers until Durant got hurt. Since Durant got hurt Curry, on three-pointers, is shooting a mouthpiece-dropping 27 percent.
The Cavs have played several games since the holidays without two, three, and sometimes four starters (when LeBron and Kyrie Irving have been given nights off). The Cavs were 20-6 (.769) when Smith broke his thumb. In the games he missed they were 22-15 (.595).
The Cavs were 37-16 (.698) before Love underwent knee surgery. They are 5-5 since then.
Entering their games Saturday night, the Cavs and Warriors, since Feb. 28, had a combined record of 3-9, which is Brooklyn Nets territory.
Cue the party crashers.
As the league’s two powerhouse teams flounder, the conference riff-raff have closed the gap. At the start of hostilities Saturday night the Cavs’ lead in the East was down to 2 ½ games and the Warriors’ lead in the West was 1 ½ games.
The Warriors are still adjusting to the loss of Durant. The Cavs weathered the storm of the loss of Smith, and are trying to tread water until Love returns. It’s been a long haul. The Cavs are nearing the three-month anniversary since the last time they played a game with their starting five intact.
The last time the Cavs played a game with all five of their starters was Dec. 17. Indeed, the Cavs have still not yet played a single game with their true starting five and the recently-overhauled bench all available.
Once Love returns they will have only a few regular-season games left to shake out the wrinkles before the start of the playoffs, the Finals of which may or may not include the Warriors.
Or the Cavs.