Massarotti: NBA’s Long Preseason May End Tonight

By Tony Massarotti

Tonight, presumably, the longest preseason in NBA history will come to an inglorious end. And one week from now — exactly one week, in fact — the 2016-17 NBA season will open in earnest when the Cleveland Cavaliers travel to Golden State to take on the Warriors.

Finally, as if it were some old Japanese monster movie, Kevin Durant meets LeBron James. The winner gets to be the indisputable Godzilla of the basketball world.

Before we get to Durant vs. LeBron — this is the second time they will have met in the Finals — let’s simply reaffirm the obvious: this NBA season has been one of the great wastes of time in the history of organized sports. For all of the talk of how the Cavaliers were “vulnerable” during the regular season, the postseason has proven that everything to this point has been nothing more than a preliminary heat. Should the Cavs defeat the Celtics tonight in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Cleveland will finish the Eastern Conference playoffs with a record of 12-1. In their only defeat, the Cavs held a 21-point lead in the third quarter before, well, falling asleep at the wheel.

In retrospect, can you blame them? So far in these playoffs, the Cavs have average 115.3 points per game, more than any club but — you guess it — Golden State (118.3). Cleveland (like Golden State) has shot a sterling 50.2 on all field goals, including a preposterous 43.2 percent from 3-point distance. (The Warriors are at 38.9 percent.) Like the Warriors, the Cavs haven’t had to play any real defense because nobody can stop them.

Unless, of course, the Cavs stop themselves, which is precisely what happened in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the plucky Boston Celtics. (For now, let’s call this Godzilla Meets Bambi.)

Oh, right. Almost forgot. While the Cavs were going 12-1, the Warriors were going 12-0 in an allegedly deeper Western Conference. The San Antonio Spurs, indisputably the third-best team in the NBA, got absolutely vaporized by the Warriors, albeit without star player Kawhi Leonard, who sprained his ankle in Game 1 of the series and was lost for the remainder of the postseason.

Would Leonard’s presence have made a difference? No. Certainly, the Spurs might have won a game or two. But San Antonio wasn’t getting by Golden State, one of the two clear superpowers in an NBA that ultimately has only two.

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Is this good for the game, for the league? In one sense, no. The playoffs have been nothing more than a formality. But there is now the chance for a huge payoff given the clash of the titans that will take place, pitting Durant against James and the Warriors against the Cavs in what could prove to be a landmark NBA Finals.

Consider: at the moment, the same teams have never met in three consecutive Finals. Not the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s. Not the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz of the 1990s. Never. Further, Golden State and Cleveland have each won one of the last two titles, with LeBron and the Cavs overcoming a 3-1 series deficit last season in the process.

For what it’s worth, over the last three seasons, the Cavs and Warriors have played 19 times in the regular season and postseason, the Warriors vaporizing the Cavs, 126-91, in their most recent affair, at Golden State, on January 16. Prior to that, the Cavs had won four straight and 5-of-6, including the last three games of the 2016 Finals. Prior to that, Golden State had won seven in a row, including the last three games of the 2015 Finals.

Overall, in the 19 meetings, the Warriors have won 11. But in the playoffs, the score is Golden State 7, Cleveland 6. And while each team has won on the other’s floor, it should be noted that Golden State has had an advantage in home games by an equal 7-6 score.

In these Finals, once again, the Warriors own home court. Given that Cleveland won both Games 5 and 7 at Golden State last year, that may or may not be a factor. In any event, here we are now, on the brink of an NBA Finals that should be an absolute barnburner. And truth be told, the NBA had better hope that the Finals live up to the hype.

As we know, after all, everything until now has been a colossal waste of time.

Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.

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