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MVP Stephen Curry of Warriors and Cavs' LeBron James face off with teams starving for a championship

This composite image shows Golden State Warriors guard

This composite image shows Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, left, and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James. Credit: Getty Images / Ronald Martinez, Gregory Shamus

LeBron James went home to try to help deliver Cleveland's first professional sports championship in more than 50 years. Few expected it would happen in the first year, but some shrewd in-season moves have the Cavaliers four wins from ending the city's drought.

It's been 40 years since the Golden State Warriors won an NBA championship. But after a historic regular season that included Stephen Curry being named MVP and Steve Kerr setting a record for wins by a rookie coach (67), the Bay Area hopes for one more momentous celebration.

The NBA Finals start Thursday in Oakland for two championship-starved teams and areas, and one all-time great player who wants to add leading Cleveland to its first title since the Cleveland Browns in 1964 to his legacy.

Top story line

The league MVP versus its biggest star and best player; which one will lead his team to the ultimate victory?

Curry had the magical season, is a wizard with the basketball and hits some eyebrow-raising shots. He also has the deeper and better overall team.

James, appearing in his fifth straight Finals and seeking his third ring, just continues to prove his greatness and looks as hungry as ever.

The Cavaliers lost forward Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) in the first round, and guard Kyrie Irving has been slowed by ankle and knee injuries. Yet the Cavaliers have lost only twice this postseason with James nearly averaging a triple-double in what might be his best stretch ever.

"If you put everything together, yeah," James said this week. "As far as my mind, my body, my game, you put everything in one bottle, it's probably the best I've been."

The local angle

There are many former Knicks and almost-were Knicks in this series. The two most talked about are J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, who were with the Knicks until January and have looked like different players in Cleveland.

That reflects well on James' leadership and ability to make his teammates better. Another former Knick, center Timofey Mozgov, has flourished since his midseason trade from Denver.

Kerr was ready to become the Knicks' coach last year until the Golden State job opened up. Turning down Knicks president Phil Jackson has worked out well for Kerr.

Curry is another what-if: The Knicks were set to take him eighth in the 2008 draft, but the Warriors snatched him up at seven. The Knicks selected Jordan Hill, who is now with the Lakers after playing just 24 games for the Knicks in 2009-10. David Lee signed with Golden State after the Knicks locked up Amar'e Stoudemire in 2010.

Key matchups

Not many teams have figured out how to slow down James. The Warriors have strong defenders they can throw at him and hope they're successful. Harrison Barnes may start on James, but the physical Draymond Green, who finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, and Andre Iguodala could get the bulk of the time.

On the other side, the Cavaliers could use Irving, Shumpert -- remember when he was considered a defensive stopper with the Knicks? -- Smith and James on Curry. Good luck.


Green could prove huge for the Warriors. They need someone who can limit James, but also keep Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson off the boards.

Thompson, starting for the injured Love, has averaged 11.1 rebounds in the playoffs and given Cleveland a lot of extra possessions the last two series.

The mercurial Smith, if he stays hot with his three-point shot, could have a big impact.

Prediction: As great as James is, with Irving limited and no Love, the Cavaliers don't have enough against the loaded Warriors. All-Star Klay Thompson is a solid two-way guard and Andrew Bogut an underrated rim protector. Plus, it is hard to win at Oracle Arena, the NBA's loudest building. Warriors in 6

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