CLEVELAND (AP) — The odds are longer than a Stephen Curry 3-pointer, Kevin Durant‘s wingspan or Draymond Green‘s catalog of technical fouls.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers are being given little — or no — chance of winning their fourth straight NBA Finals matchup against the Golden State Warriors, who have been installed by Las Vegas bookmakers as the heaviest favorites in the past 16 years.
The Warriors are 12-point favorites to win Thursday’s Game 1, the largest spread in a Finals game since 1991, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue isn’t blinking.
“We’re all focused on winning a championship,” Lue said Tuesday before the team flew to California. “We played our best basketball going into the playoffs. We’ve gotten better and better throughout the course of the playoffs. Our main focus and our main objective is to win a championship, so we can’t worry about what the outside guys are saying and who’s being picked. We know what we have here and what we’re trying to do.”
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Lue said All-Star forward Kevin Love remains in concussion protocol and his status for the series opener is in question. Love sat out Cleveland’s Game 7 win at Boston on Sunday after suffering a head injury when he and Celtics rookie forward Jayson Tatum accidentally banged heads during the opening minutes of Game 6.
Love was replaced in the starting lineup by veteran Jeff Green, who stepped up and scored 19 points as the Cavs completed their comeback after trailing 2-0 and 3-2 in the series.
Love is expected back for the Finals, and Lue needs his experience against the Warriors, who like the Cavs rallied to win the Western Conference finals by taking Game 7 on the road.
There was a moment when it looked as if both Cleveland and Golden State could miss the Finals.
It disappeared quickly,
“They’ve been tested. We’ve been tested,” Lue said. “They’ve been to Game 7s. We’ve been to Game 7s. We’ve won championships and they’ve won championships, so they understand what it takes and they knew what it took.”
Since the playoffs opened, Cleveland has embraced the “Whatever It Takes” mantra that began as a catchy organizational slogan and morphed into a way of survival.
The Cavs have twice been pushed to seven games, overcome injuries and gotten much-needed contributions to ease the burden on James from role players Green, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
However, in this series when every possession will be magnified, Lue will count on four players who have been around since the Cavs first met the Warriors in the 2015 Finals.
And because they won a championship in 2016 together, the core four of James, Love, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson share something special.
“Just having these guys here who have been through it, been through the tough times, been through the great times as well, this is a bond that can’t be broken,” Lue said. “Just reminds me a lot of guys I played with back in the day when you see Horace Grant, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, just something about winning a championship with those guys that you will never forget, and it’s a bond that can’t be broken.”
While Love has been solid, Smith and Thompson haven’t always come through this season for Cleveland.
One of the streakiest shooters in the league, Smith has had prolonged slumps. Thompson, who missed time with a severe calf injury, wasn’t a factor until Lue started him in Game 7 of the Indiana series.
Lue never lost faith in either player. It’s a trust that can’t be measured.
“I’m always going to stick behind my guys,” Lue said. “Even when they’re struggling, I just have confidence and a belief that when we need those guys, and we call on those guys, they’ll be ready and they’ll produce. You’ve seen that throughout the course of the playoffs this year and you’ve seen it the last three years, that those guys are up for the challenge. They rise to the occasion. And just because a guy is not playing well, you can’t give up on a guy.
“You gotta give those guys a chance, especially when you’ve been there before with them and you know who they are.”
Unlike the past three Finals, Lue won’t have Kyrie Irving, traded to Boston last summer.
The All-Star point guard was Cleveland’s not-so-secret weapon, the one the Cavs turned to in order to spell James and keep the Warriors off-balance.
“He allowed us to go one on one against the mismatches and can’t nobody stop him one on one,” Lue said. “We’re gonna miss that, but we’re just going to have to play a different style of basketball without him being here.”
Now that’s a safe bet.