By Nick Hickman
Once again it seems that the NBA has assumed the roll of Ol’ Saint Nick this holiday season. The league is scheduled to deliver five premier matchups split between ESPN and ABC. Highlighting the showcase this year will be the game at Oakland’s Oracle Arena in which LeBron James and his finally healthy squad seek revenge.
The game at 5 p.m. ET on ABC is the first rematch of the Cavaliers and Warriors since last year’s NBA Finals, a series that ended in a 4-2 Warriors victory.
WATCH: A recap of the 2015 NBA finals
It was also a series heavily plagued with injuries. The ‘Big 3’ that was formed only months earlier first lost Kevin Love in a series against the Celtics and then Kyrie Irving in Game 1 of the Finals. The blows only served to heighten the workload for LeBron James, a factor that became increasingly apparent as the series wore on. LeBron averaged 35.8 points and 8.8 assists but it wasn’t enough against the high-powered and fast paced Golden State Warriors.
This year’s matchup promises dynamics far different. While Kevin Love has steadily averaged 23 points per game this season, last Sunday marked the highly anticipated return of Kyrie Irving in a 108-86 win against the 76ers- which is nothing really to boast about. Still, it would appear that the Cavalier machine that we’ve all been waiting for is finally back, oiled up and ready to go.
Eagerly awaiting them at Oracle Arena will be the team that hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy last year, the Golden State Warriors, a 26-1 team who also wields the leagues reigning MVP in Steph Curry. While the Cavaliers have been focused on getting healthy and restoring their roster, Curry hasn’t missed a beat.
Instead, the sharp shooter is making an enticing argument for this year’s MVP while leading the league in scoring at 31.8 per game. Additionally, the Warriors have watched as forward Draymond Green has propelled himself into the conversations of the league’s elite. Green is averaging a near triple double this season with 14.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game.
However, while Cleveland has illustrated the types of struggles associated with injuries, this time around it may actually be Golden State who is burdened by the injury bug. Warriors forward Harrison Barnes has been out with a sprained ankle since November 27 and will not play on Christmas.
Golden State will miss Barnes who up until his injury had been averaging 13.4 points and 5 rebounds a game. More importantly, however, is the reality that Barnes averaged 30.1 minuets for the Warriors and was a key staple on the defensive side of the floor. The injury will force Golden State to make adjustments, in turn exposing potential opportunities to the Cavaliers.
Regardless of whatever circumstances are at play, the Warriors and Cavaliers are sure to offer up a Christmas treat. Despite injuries, the Warriors have eleven players that have played in at least twenty games already this season and will have no problem with mixing and matching to find the right formula.
On the other side sits James and a Cavalier team that wants nothing more than to assert their dominance on the hottest team in sports. The result will be a showdown appropriate for next year’s wish list.
Cover Photo Credit: Keith Allison/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)