NBA: Cavs, Warriors tipped to repeat showdown

Cleveland forward LeBron James passing the ball as Orlando Magic's Nikola Vucevic tries to intercept him during a pre-season game.
Cleveland forward LeBron James passing the ball as Orlando Magic's Nikola Vucevic tries to intercept him during a pre-season game.PHOTO: REUTERS

CLEVELAND (Ohio) • LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will celebrate their city's first sports crown in 52 years today, raising their championship banner as the 2016-17 National Basketball Association (NBA) campaign opens.

The Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, will welcome superstar forward Kevin Durant to the fold, as they set out to avenge their loss to Cleveland in June's NBA Finals after finishing one game shy of back-to-back titles.

The Cavaliers and Warriors open the season as favourites to play each other in the Finals for the third campaign in a row, an unprecedented feat, even as 28 rivals try to fight their way into next June's title showdown.

Both franchises have made themselves the teams to beat, based on their past two seasons of success - Golden State with a record 73 regular-season wins last season and Cleveland making the best NBA Finals comeback by winning the last three games.

"Our mindset going into this year is knowing that the hunter has now become the hunted," Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said.

  • Key dates of the 2016-17 NBA season

  • Today

    The season opens with the reigning champions Cleveland Cavaliers hosting the New York Knicks. The Golden State Warriors face the San Antonio Spurs at home.

    Dec 25

    A rematch of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Cavaliers and the Warriors highlights a five-game Christmas Day slate.

    Jan 12

    The NBA goes global with the Denver Nuggets up against the Indiana Pacers in London and the Phoenix Suns fighting it out with the Dallas Mavericks in Mexico City.

    Jan 16

    Cleveland and Golden State square off for the second time in the regular season.

    Feb 11

    Former NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant returns to Oklahoma City when his new club, the Warriors, visit the Thunder.

    Feb 19

    NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans.

    April 12

    The regular season concludes.

    April 15

    The first round of the play-offs begins.

    June 1

    The NBA Finals start.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

James averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.3 blocked shots and 2.6 steals a game, leading the NBA Finals in each category to earn unanimous NBA Finals MVP honours. "We're not satisfied with just winning one championship. We're not satisfied with just being successful. We want to continue to get better," he said.

James has played in seven NBA Finals and the past six in a row. He lost his first with Cleveland, then split four with the Miami Heat. After returning to Cleveland he lost one more before the Cavaliers captured their first to give the city a first sporting title in 52 years.

"I came back to bring a championship to our city," he said.

"I knew what I was capable of doing. I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get to a place that we've never been. That's what it was all about."

Today, four-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) James will begin the quest to repeat his team's success as the Cavaliers open against the New York Knicks. "It will not be easy, and it shouldn't be easy," he said. "In my 13-year career, so far nothing has been easy. So I look forward to the journey and the work that lies ahead."

Other opening-night games find Utah at Portland and San Antonio at Golden State, who added 2014 NBA MVP Durant after coming up short in the play-offs.

Stephen Curry, the 2015 and 2016 NBA MVP, and fellow three-point sharpshooter Klay Thompson will have Durant, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala up front.

With the Cavaliers making a deal earlier this month to keep guard J.R. Smith, owner Dan Gilbert will spend a king's ransom of about US$100 million (S$139.2 million) on the Cleveland starting five of James, Smith, Love, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.

It is an amount that is about US$6 million above the NBA salary cap. Even Golden State with Durant will only have a payroll at about 75 per cent of the Cavaliers.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CLEVELAND V NEW YORK

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'Cavs, Warriors tipped to repeat showdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe