Warriors Vs Cavs — an Endangered Rivalry

Sexy once upon a time, filled with chunks of drama that metastasized into two years of rage and conflict, the rivalry between the Warriors at the Cavaliers ends its 30th month Monday in need of resuscitation.

The surest way, perhaps the only way, to revive it is if the Cavaliers somehow beat the odds Monday and take down the Warriors in Cleveland.

And even if that happens, can the friction really be as robust as it was at this time last season, when the teams were on a collision course to meet in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season?

The rivalry at that time had been refreshed. The Warriors won the free agent lottery in July 2016 and brought in Kevin Durant as the antidote to LeBron James. Voila! KD did not so much neutralize LeBron's presence in The Finals as cook him.

The Warriors won the first three games of the series by an average margin of 12 points. They lost Game 4 by 21 in Cleveland and then returned to Oakland to win Game 5 by nine for the gentleman's sweep.

When the Warriors won -- without Stephen Curry -- on Christmas Day in Oakland last month it was their sixth victory in the last seven times, including The Finals, against Cleveland.

A Warriors win on Martin Luther King Day would give them five wins in the last six regular-season games against the Cavs. It would give Steve Kerr a 16-8 overall record against Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue and his predecessor, David Blatt.

Granted, the Durant acquisition surely pushed this once-great rivalry toward its current fragile state. Though he lacks LeBron's deep postseason resume and has not been his equal at tilting the balance of power in the NBA, Durant is that one forward who holds his own, if not better, when they share the court.

Given that the two superstars are at different stages of their careers, the future is brighter for Durant, at 29, than for James at 33.

Anybody seriously believe the remaining Cavs can take the Warriors?

The Warriors, have created separation that, by logic and reason, will only grow wider. While the average age of their roster is 28.2 years, the Cavaliers are the oldest team in the league, averaging a little more than 30 years of age. Kyle Korver and Jose Calderon are each 36, and Dwyane Wade turns 36 on Wednesday. Channing Frye is 34.

LeBron is "only" 33, but counting his 217 postseason games he has played more NBA minutes than every active player except Nowitzki.

To watch LeBron these days is to see a player pushing himself on offense, admirably so, but coasting on defense. Older teams don't defend well because they can't, at least not consistently. Takes too much energy.

While the Warriors, players and coaches, groan about their defensive lapses, they're still very much an elite defensive team. The Cavs? They're 29th in defensive rating, 28th in blocks and adjusted field-goal percentage defense, 24th in deflections and loose balls recovered and field-goal percentage defense. These numbers are, for the most part, appreciably worse than they were last season.

And Cleveland's D is not going to improve as Isaiah Thomas -- a sieve on defense -- gets more minutes. Should Monday's game remain close in the fourth quarter, how on earth will the Cavs respond when Stephen Curry and Durant play pick-and-roll?

It's common to dismiss Cleveland's 26-16 record and the causes for it by saying the Cavs don't worry about the regular season because when the whether warms, so will they. That's what happened last season.

Until they ran into the Warriors.

With the Cavs alternately breezing and wheezing through this season -- they were 30-12 after 42 games last season -- there is no reason to believe a fourth consecutive matchup in The Finals would be any closer than it was last time.

If the Warriors sweep the season series, as they are favored to do, a reunion in June would be almost unfair to the good folks of northeastern Ohio.

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