OAKLAND – They got acquainted last June, sort of, and a year later they’re reuniting in the NBA Finals.
The Warriors, who won it all, have pretty much the same cast.
And the Cavaliers, with star forward LeBron James surrounded by a much different cast, are out for revenge, beginning with Game 1 on Thursday at Oracle Arena.
“I know we’re a better team than we were last year,” Warriors star Stephen Curry said Wednesday, “Just off experience and what we’ve been through in this postseason, better equipped to handle the scene of The Finals and all that’s kind of thrown at you when you get here.”
The Warriors followed up their championship season by posting the best record in NBA history, 73-9, with Curry winning his second consecutive MVP award – and the first to win it unanimously.
Much of the conversation, however, has been around Cleveland’s roster, which is healthier than it was at any time last June.
Cleveland is, according to James, a “totally different team” than that which the Warriors faced last postseason, or even during this regular season, when they won both meetings with the Cavs.
These Cavs have All-Star forward Kevin Love, who missed the ’15 finals with a shoulder injury. They have All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who was injured in Game 1 and did not return. They’ve lost Anderson Varejao, who now plays for the Warriors, and they’ve gained, most notably, forward Channing Frye.
“Coming into the postseason you actually want to have a great bill of health and we were just unfortunate of not having that going into the full extent of the postseason,” Irving said. “Kevin goes down in the first round. I go down in Game 1 of The Finals
“It just takes a lot of luck, which I understand. And as a professional, I understand whatever happens sometimes is out of your control. But the Warriors did what they could. They won the championship last year and now we come in, two evenly healthy teams, and No. 1 and No. 1 in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference, respectively, and this is what it’s about.”
The Cavaliers happen to be playing well, sweeping Detroit and Atlanta in the first two rounds of the playoffs before knocking out Toronto in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
These Finals may showcase the same jerseys, with most of the same stars, but both teams have grown.
“We’re stronger at our core, but we’re very similar as a basketball team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They are dramatically different. Obviously, they’re healthy. But 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 pace down.
“This year, they’ve added Channing Frye, they’re not playing (Timofey) Mozgov, they’ve got shooting all over the place and they’re playing at a much faster pace.”
This is the second consecutive rematch in The Finals, as Miami and San Antonio met in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014. The Heat won the first meeting, the Spurs the second.
James was with Miami for those series. He is playing in The Finals for the sixth consecutive season – the last two with his “hometown” team.
“The fact that we’re going back-to-back is pretty unique,” he said. “It’s pretty unique to be in this position and just to have another opportunity for guys to write about it, for us to play it, for the people to talk about it throughout the world.
“I’m blessed to be a part of those conversations.”