- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Someone in this space wrote, inexplicably, that the NBA Finals “won’t have anything on this,” referring to “Babyface vs. The Beard” — aka the Stephen Curry-James Harden MVP runoff that overshadowed the Western Conference Finals.

That proclamation was premature, issued before Harden ran out of gas and decision-making ability in Game 5, scoring just 14 points and setting a single-game postseason record with 13 turnovers as Houston was eliminated.

“Baby face vs. Bron-Bron” won’t have as many ankle-breaking crossovers, yo-yo dribbling moves and step-back 3-pointers from way behind the arc.

But Curry and LeBron James have something else that makes this Golden State-Cleveland match-up intriguing: They play for teams and cities that are top contenders for the All-Time Hard-Luck Award.

If two TV shows merged into the NBA Finals, it could be called “The Biggest Losers’ Amazing Race,” a contest to see which perennially downtrodden franchise can out-underdog the other.

Considering either squad as a have-not seems bizarre. The Warriors won a league-high 67 games and boast the MVP in Curry; his all-NBA backcourt mate in Klay Thompson; and two NBA all-defensive team members in Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut. With four more wins, Golden State would finish with the third-most victories ever, trailing only the Chicago Bulls’ 87 in 1995-96 and 84 the following season.

Likewise, the Cavaliers don’t appear needy at first glance.

With the game’s best player, the Cavs are unqualified guests of honor at a pity party. James is averaging 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists in the playoffs, up in every category after leading Cleveland to the playoffs for the first time since his departure five years ago. Teammates include all-NBA guard Kyrie Irving, emerging power forward Tristan Thompson and streaky J.R. Smith. But James represents the engine, tires and steering wheel.

However, whether we’re talking Golden State (i.e., Oakland) or Cleveland, the past trumps the present. And the misery will continue for one city.

The Warriors’ lone NBA title came 40 years ago. The Cavs, in their 45th season, have never won a championship.

The Raiders’ last Super Bowl victory was in 1980, while the Browns have never reached the Super Bowl and last won an NFL championship in 1964.

The Athletics’ last World Series victory was in 1980, while the Indians’ most recent triumph was 1948.

Rooting for the city of Cleveland should be a no-brainer under most circumstances. But James gives the Cavs a Goliath-feel, and pulling for David is much more fun. Besides, the fans and the owner were so ugly when James exercised his right to leave via free agency, they don’t deserve gratification — at least not instantly in his first year back.

Thankfully, drama should be more plentiful than the respective conference finals, which Cleveland swept and Golden State won in five games. And even with James making his fifth consecutive appearance in the Finals, there’s an air of freshness with no Spurs, Lakers or Heat in sight … unless you count Dwyane Wade’s presence on select pregame and halftime shows.

Curry’s emergence to rival James as the league’s biggest star is a delectable storyline. The latter might’ve seen it coming several years ago when Curry lifted tiny Davidson to an NCAA shining moment.

James made his way to Detroit and watched Curry score 33 points in a Sweet 16 upset against Wisconsin in 2008. The following season, it was off to North Carolina to see Curry drop 44 points against N.C. State. He earned James‘ respect and never lost it after giving everyone a sneak peak of MVP bona fides.

“I saw a kid who didn’t care how big someone was, how fast someone else was, how strong someone else was,” James told reporters this week. “He just went out and played. He wasn’t going to let anything, as far as the analytics when it comes to size, power, strength, speed, stop him from what he was able to do.

“It was great to see someone like that who doesn’t get caught up in people going after guys who can jump higher and run faster and run through a wall harder and things like that.”

I still think Harden should’ve won the MVP because he did as much as Curry with much less help. And their duel in the Western Conference Finals through four games provided an amazing display of ball-handling, slick passing and shot-making.

But it was a mistake to conclude the Finals won’t be able to match it.

Cleveland vs. Golden State — Curry vs. James — should do just fine.

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