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NBA Finals take center stage

Documenting history is a wonderful thing if you keep an open mind and you have a passion for it. We are almost six months into this 2017 year, and so far it’s been amazing.

January saw the NCAA National Championship rematch between unbeaten defending champion Alabama vs. Clemson. In February’s Super Bowl 51, Atlanta vs. New England, the Falcons led 28-3, remember, and yet did not win.

In college basketball in April, Gonzaga met North Carolina with great expectations in the title game and outstanding results that were not predictable. Now it’s June and the NBA Finals are here, having gone where they never have gone been before — a trifecta rematch between defending champion Cleveland and Golden State.

For years the NBA was built on East vs. West rivalry, Boston vs. Los Angeles, 17 NBA titles for the Celtics and 16 for the Lakers. Many times this rivalry delivered for the NBA and its fans. The Warriors kind of remind us of the old Lakers with the gold uniforms and spectacular, explosive scoring.

This is the first time two teams have met in the NBA Finals three years in a row. Cleveland snatched the title from the grasp of the Warriors 93-89 last year in Oakland in an epic game seven. The Warriors had already been ordained as the greatest single-season team in NBA history with 73 wins and defending champs.

However, to finish first you must first finish. As LeBron James reminded us, Cleveland, this one is for you — the first title of any kind for Cleveland in 54 years.

Both teams are back, and both teams believe they will win the title. The Warriors have achieved the best three-year win total in the regular season in NBA history (67-73-67) with 207 wins. History can be kind to you; it also can beat you up.

In the playoffs this year they have been perfect: 12-0, winning by a 17.5 point margin, only the second team ever to reach the Finals undefeated after the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers. They’re also the first ever to sweep three teams 4-0.

Cleveland finished second in the Eastern Conference, yet dominated 12-1 in the playoffs to return to the Finals as Champions.

It does not get better than this. Cleveland has won 15 of their last 16 playoff games. The Warriors have won 27 of their last 28 games. The Finals have never had a 12-1 team vs. a 12-0 team on this stage. It’s the last two NBA champions in the rubber match, you might say.

James has just passed NBA icon Michael Jordan as the playoffs’ all-time leading scorer with 6,000 career playoff points in 213 games. Jordan with 5,987 is number two in 179 games. This is the seventh straight trip to the NBA Finals for James. He is the only player to lead two teams, Miami and Cleveland, to four NBA Finals. He’s won three titles.

James is a four-time MVP. Stephen Curry has been MVP the last two years, and new Warriors addition Kevin Durant is a four-time scoring champion and once an MVP.

Pardon me if you can sense I’m excited after all these years to cover another championship. Warrior’s Head Coach Steve Kerr again has battled back issues and has not been court side. Mike Brown has masterfully guided this team. Remember, he was fired by Cleveland twice.

Tyrone Lue has not missed a beat with Cleveland. For the third straight year the Warriors have the home court advantage. It’s their final season in Oakland before going across the bay bridge to San Francisco and their new arena in 2018.

The fun starts Thursday, June 1, Cavaliers vs. Warriors III. I can’t wait.

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

Major League Baseball is competitive

In the NBA, 16 of the 30 teams qualify for the playoffs; same thing in the National Hockey League. In the NFL just 12 of the 32 teams reach the playoffs.

Major League Baseball has long refused to qualify half of its league for post-season play. They do play a lot, 162 games in the regular season from April to October, but just 10 of 30 teams get playoff spots.

Thirty teams, and just five from each league, the American and National, qualify for the playoffs. The American League has the designated hitter rule — the pitcher does not bat. The National League allows the pitcher to hit for himself. In the NFL, everybody plays by the same set of rules, as in the NBA.

The NHL has a strange overtime rule where each game has a value of two points for regulation, unless the game goes to overtime when an extra point is added if the teams tie after 60 minutes of regulation time. The winner in overtime or the shootout gets two points; the loser gets one.

Since scoring in hockey is more difficult than in all the other sports because of the speed, in my view, the playoffs seem to be more unpredictable because the value of each team’s total points can be misleading depending on how many regular-season overtime games a team plays. Usually it’s 10-15 games per team.

Last season, of the 16 playoff teams in the NHL, nine teams had 100 points or more. With four teams remaining in the battle for the Stanley Cup, only Pittsburgh and Anaheim remain that have accumulated 100 points or more. I believe the extra point for overtime games over an 82-game season distorts the true strength of a team.

MLB, like the NFL in my view, gets it right — the fewer playoff qualifiers the better. That’s why the NFL and MLB are both financially way ahead of the NBA and the NHL. Qualifying fewer teams for the playoffs helps strengthen your regular season and places greater value on each game. That identifies the stronger teams and improves your post-season competition.

So far, MLB is off to a great 2017 start despite some awful weather across the country. Eighteen of the 30 teams are .500 or better percentage-wise. The Cubs are the defending World Series Champions and are being challenged by Milwaukee and St. Louis in their division. The Twins are tied for first with heavily favored Cleveland in the AL Central, even though last year they lost 103 games.

It’s good to see the overall improvement across MLB. The teams appear to be stronger fundamentally, and that’s a good thing for baseball.

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

Golden State and Cleveland on collision course

LeBron James says there is no rivalry between him and Stephen Curry of Golden State. They are not Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird, Los Angeles vs. Boston. I disagree, and every playoff game played this post season by these two superstars has proven my point.

James is chasing another championship. He has three already to go with four NBA MVP trophies. Curry wants the championship back.

Stephen Curry wants this Trophy back.

These two greats are different in terms of what they bring to the game. Their size and styles are miles apart, but their passion and fire and desire to win is as clear as day. And their teams win. Curry has two NBA MVP Awards back to back, including last year when he was a unanimous selection.

Curry scored 40 points in game one of the Western Conference Finals Sunday. The Warriors rallied from 25 points down and took advantage of a bad ankle sprain to San Antonio’s star Kawhi Leonard, who had 26 points when he left the game in the third quarter. The final score was 113-111 Warriors.

It was one of the mothers of all comebacks in NBA playoff history. Previously, when San Antonio led by 25 points or more in the regular season and playoffs under 20-year Head Coach Gregg Popovich, five-time NBA Championship coach of the Spurs, they were 316-0!

Golden State is now 9-0 in the playoffs; Cleveland is 8-0. Golden State and Cleveland have played the last two years in the NBA Finals. Two years ago the Warriors beat Cleveland four games to two in the NBA Finals.

Last year, the Cavaliers rallied from down 3-1 to win a dramatic game seven at Golden State to snatch the crown, Cleveland’s first title of any kind in 54 years. Cleveland will play the game-seven winner between Boston and Washington Monday in the Eastern Conference Finals starting Wednesday.

LeBron James leads the way.

Golden State rallied to beat the Spurs in game one. However, the Spurs were 2-1 vs. Golden State in the regular season. The Warriors are the winningest team in NBA regular season history over three years with one title to show for it so far: 67-73 and 67 wins, that’s 207 wins total.

Spurs have beaten the Warriors five times more than any other NBA team and had them down by 25 points Sunday until Leonard’s untimely injury. So it might be a bit premature to think the Spurs can’t slow down the Warriors and stop a potential Cleveland vs. Golden State three-peat in the NBA Finals.

But it appears James and Curry are on a winner-take-all third-straight NBA Finals showdown.

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.