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For the third straight year, it's Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions. The first "threematch" — rematch of a rematch — in league history. It's the matchup most expected, the matchup most...

'Threematch' at hand for Cavaliers and Warriors

For the third straight year, it's Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions. The first "threematch" — rematch of a rematch — in league history. It's the matchup most expected, the matchup most...

'Threematch' at hand for Cavaliers and Warriors

For the third straight year, it's Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions. The first "threematch" — rematch of a rematch — in league history. It's the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn't until Thursday.

"I've been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage," said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time — including each of the last seven years. "But we're going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west."

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games — including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

"Playing in this league, you can't take anything for granted," Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. "Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. ... We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship."

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston's offense was "harder to defend" than Golden State's. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: "That's his opinion. It's cute."

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with "3-1 Lead" — a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year's Finals — prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there's also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

"The best team in our league the last three years," James said of the Warriors. "And they've added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They're going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge."

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant's only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant — telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

They'll collide again, starting next week.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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