After the rather meek events of Monday’s showcase game, we can safely say the current NBA season has become sadly boring.
All the elements of something monumental seemed in place with another matchup between the Cavaliers and Warriors, this time in Cleveland.
Still aggravated that injuries left them shorthanded in their NBA Finals loss last season, the Cavs had even more motivation because of their loss on Christmas Day in Oakland.
Also, the once-perfect Warriors had shockingly been defeated two times in their previous three games and certainly seemed more vulnerable than they had all season.
That, however, was not enough motivation for the Cavaliers. They had to invent something. According to Cleveland.com, several players felt that Steph Curry “disrespected” them when Curry told reporters on Sunday that the visit to Cleveland would be special.
“Obviously, walking in the locker room, it’ll be good memories,” Curry said. “Hopefully, it still smells a little bit like champagne.”
LeBron James seemed surprised that he was not asked about the comment, which should have told him something. The comment was about the joy the Warriors felt and said nothing about the Cavs. The correct response from James should have been: “I don’t blame him. If we’d won it on their court, I’d feel the same way about returning there.”
James said he had a response but apparently since no one asked about it, he decided to save it for later. That proved to be a smart decision since the Cavs trailed by as many as 43 points before losing to the Warriors, 132-98.
Instead of whining about Curry, James was left to say this after the game: “Tonight was an example of how far we’ve got to go to get to a championship level.”
So far, the Cavs are 0-3 against Golden State and San Antonio, the top two teams in the West. At 28-11, their record is 8.5 games worse than the Warriors. Half of the season is left, so surprises are obviously possible.
But it seems pretty clear, even now, that the Warriors or Spurs will get the home court advantage in the Finals and that will give either a big edge.
So the possibility that the season will suddenly become fascinating seems remote. We will be watching, of course, to see if someone gets hurt, or if their might be a major deal at the trade deadline, or if the Warriors and Spurs suddenly begin stumbling, or the Thunder or Clippers somehow mount a sustained charge. We welcome surprises.
But when a healthy Cavaliers team can’t be competitive on its home court against any team, defending champion or not, well, there are not a lot of reasons to get excited other than to see if what seems so obvious – the Warriors and Spurs in the West finals with the winner the easy champion – actually occurs.
If there is one bright spot for James, is that he got plenty of motivational material from Twitter after the game. If he felt insulted by Curry’s innocuous comment, how did he feel when others rubbed it in?
Golden State with the lopsided win, let Cleveland know that even if the Cavs were at full strength, they still would’ve won the championship
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 19, 2016
— Rick Barry (@Rick24Barry) January 19, 2016
— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) January 19, 2016
Perhaps the most interesting situation to observe the rest of the season will be how James handles the frightening reality that the Cavaliers may be overmatched. His five consecutive appearances in the Finals – and six in the last nine years – have been impressive, but he has just two titles and he has not created the legacy that is so important to him.
It’s easy for him to dismiss his first loss in the Finals since the 2007 Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs. It’s much more difficult when he looks back at 2011. He knows the Heat had more talent than the Mavericks and should have won, but did not.
He seems to be honest with himself so although he knows the Heat were deserving champions when they defeated the Thunder in 2012, he also knows they needed a miracle shot by Ray Allen and a miracle collapse by the Spurs in 2013. They could have easily lost.
His situation in the 2014 Finals was similar to the Warriors game Monday night. The Spurs literally ran circles around the Heat in winning the title in only five games. It was no contest.
If James had thoughts that the 2015 Finals would have been different if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love had been healthy, like Magic said, they were probably dismissed Monday night.
If they can maintain their health, the Cavs seem like a lock in the East. Much can happen in an off-season, but even now, it’s hard to imagine an Eastern team beating them even next year. So it would not be surprising to see LeBron in as many as seven consecutive Finals, and eight overall.
But it’s also possible that he still ends up with only two titles. Hard to believe it could be more frustrating than that, but it has been. The great Jerry West was in the Finals nine times and won only one.
That’s not to suggest it is a certainty that LeBron won’t win one or two more rings. But at age 31, the time to build his legacy is getting shorter. And no one knows better than him how frustrating it is to carry a team that, in terms of winning a title, appears to be overmatched.
At least that will be worth watching the rest of the season.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.