Le­Bron’s Cavs, Du­rant led War­riors fa­vored

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

CLEVE­LAND: 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 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 last June’s NBA Fi­nals af­ter com­ing one game shy of back-to-back ti­tles. The Cava­liers and War­riors open the sea­son as fa­vorites 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. Chris Paul and Blake Grif­fin spark the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers while LaMar­cus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard join guard Tony Parker and big man Pau Ga­sol to ig­nite San An­to­nio.

Dwyane Wade, Jimmy But­ler and Ra­jon Rondo unite in Chicago, Toronto will try to im­prove on its run to the last four last sea­son and Rus­sell West­brook will try to lift Ok­la­homa City af­ter Du­rant’s de­par­ture. But the War­riors and Cava­liers have made them­selves the teams to beat based on their past two sea­sons of suc­cess, Golden State with a record 73 wins last sea­son and the Cava­liers making the best NBA Fi­nals rally ever 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. “So we have to ap­proach ev­ery game a lot like the last two years, know­ing we’re go­ing to get every­body’s best shot.”

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 hon­ors.

“We’re not sat­is­fied with just win­ning one cham­pi­onship. We’re not sat­is­fied with just be­ing suc­cess­ful. We want to con­tinue to get bet­ter,” James said.

JAMES 3-4 IN NBA FI­NALS

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. Upon re­turn­ing to Cleve­land he lost one more be­fore the Cava­liers cap­tured their first to give Cleve­land a first sport­ing ti­tle in 52 years.

“I came back to bring a cham­pi­onship to our city,” James 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 James will be­gin the quest to re­peat as the Cava­liers open against the New York Knicks. “It will not be easy, and it shouldn’t be easy,” James 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 play­offs. Stephen Curry, the 2015 and 2016 NBA MVP, and fel­low 3-point sharp­shooter Klay Thomp­son will have Du­rant, Dray­mond Green and An­dre Iguo­dala up front.

CAVS SPEND KING’S RAN­SOM

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 $100 mil­lion — $6 mil­lion above the NBA salary cap-on the Cleve­land start­ing five of James, Smith, Love, Kyrie Irv­ing and Tris­tan Thomp­son.

Gil­bert, who spent $54 mil­lion in lux­ury tax for go­ing over the salary cap, will spend more for the starters than about half of the league’s teams will spend on en­tire ros­ters. Even Golden State with Du­rant will only have a pay­roll at about 75 per­cent of the Cava­liers. Aus­tralia’s An­drew Bogut was sent from the War­riors to Dal­las and sev­eral top re­serves were re­leased to make salary room for Du­rant.

Other clubs have made moves to try and join the elite. At­lanta signed vet­eran cen­ter Dwight Howard. Wade and Rondo moved to Chicago but the Bulls lost Ga­sol to the Spurs and Joakim Noah and Der­rick Rose to the Knicks.— AFP

Le­Bron James (left).

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