Is round four of Warriors vs. Cavaliers one too many for fans?

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When the dust settled from the rare two Game 7s in the conference finals, we were right back where we were last year.

And the year before that.

And the year before that.

This will be the fourth consecutive season the NBA Finals will feature the Golden State Warriors vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers. While this matchup pits the best team of this era against the best player of this generation, there was a collective groan about seeing this matchup again. Still, it did lead to some good comedy from CBS:

Despite the laughs, round four does lead to a couple of questions.

Is it good for the NBA to have the same teams in four years in a row?

Will there be viewer fatigue and will ratings drop?

History suggests probably not.

The NBA has always been its most popular when it gets its biggest stars on its biggest stages, and this will be the fourth year in a row the league will have just that. LeBron James is the best player of this generation and one of the best players of any generation. Stephen Curry will go down as the best pure shooter the game has ever seen. Draymond Green is polarizing (and that’s good for ratings). The past two years, Kevin Durant has joined this mix.

With that group to sell and good storylines — plus a growing general popularity of the sport, ratings this season were up both nationally and overall in local broadcasts — more people have tuned in to watch these past three Finals than any since the Jordan era. There has not yet been fatigue.

And there wasn’t in the Jordan era, either.

Michael Jordan went to six finals in eight seasons, ratings and the popularity of the sport have never been higher. Before him (and slightly overlapping), Magic Johnson took the Lakers to nine NBA in 12 years, and people were hoping to see him go up against Larry Bird’s Celtics one more time. Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers’ three-peated and that was good for the league.

The reason is that more and more “casual” NBA fans tune into the Finals. The hard-core NBA fan may be weary of the Cavs vs. Warriors matchup and vent their frustrations on Twitter, but at this point in the season the audience is much broader. Those increased fans don’t seem to mind.

In 2017, the overall ratings and viewership were basically even with 2016 (20.4 million average viewers on ABC for games in 2017, vs. 20.3 million in 2016). However, while Game 1 of 2016 was higher, the ratings for Games 2-5 were higher in 2017. The only reason the overall ratings did as well in 2016 is it had the massive draws of Games 6 and 7 (viewership always goes up the deeper we get into a series).

Maybe this year it’s different, maybe year four is the tipping point when people start to tune out of this series.

However, there is nothing the NBA can do about it — this was earned. Both the Cavaliers and Warriors were pushed hard in the conference finals (and all season) and had to earn their trip back to the big dance with Game 7 wins on the road. Both teams also caught some breaks — nobody, not even Jordan, won rings without some luck (with health and other aspects).

Who knows what the landscape of the NBA will look like a year from now — the only thing more popular in the NBA than the Finals lately is the summer free agency/trade season. This year is shaping up to see some league-changing movement. Plus in the East, Boston and Philadelphia are on the rise and will try to assert themselves at the top of the food chain. It’s the cycle of things.

For now, it is round four of Cavaliers vs. Warriors.

We’ll see if the fans are still into this.

Watch Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic dunk all over Bol Bol

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Bol Bol had some impressive blocked shots during exhibition games at the NBA’s restart, but he hadn’t gotten one in his 16 limited minutes since the seeding games started. He wanted one.

So Bol tried to get in front of Jusuf Nurkic of Denver on Thursday and… that did not go well.

Bol did later get a blocked shot on Hassan Whiteside.

Nurkic, however, ended the night with 22 points, seven rebounds, and the Trail Blazers got a 125-115 win that has Portland comfortably as the ninth seed, just half-a-game back of eight-seed Memphis. Portland is setting itself up with a better-than-average chance make the playoffs

Kawhi Leonard’s 29 leads Clippers past Mavericks in potential first-round preview

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points to help the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks 126-111 on Thursday night in a possible playoff preview.

Paul George scored 24 points and Ivica Zubac added 21 points on 10-for-10 shooting and 15 rebounds for the Clippers, who strengthened their hold on the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference standings.

The Clippers entered the night a just half game ahead of Denver, but they shot 54% against the Mavericks to improve to 2-2 in the restart.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 30 points and Luka Doncic added 29 for Dallas, which fell to 1-3 in the restart.

Dallas likely will finish as the No. 7 seed, making a first-round matchup with the Clippers a strong possibility.

“That’s obviously going to be a tough matchup,” Porzingis said. “They’re one of the favorites to win it all. They have multiple guys that have been there already. But we’re looking forward to the challenge and getting experience in that.”

Doncic was coming off a monster game — 34 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. He made 10 of 21 shots against the Clippers, including 6 of 13 3-pointers.

“Luka’s just a handful,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “It takes a whole team to guard him. I thought our guys did a pretty good job overall. We lost him a couple times, which you can never do. So there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

The Clippers led Dallas by 12 in the third quarter before the Mavericks rallied and tied the game at 101 midway through the fourth. Los Angeles responded with a 9-0 run to regain control. The Clippers shot 62% in the fourth quarter to pull away.

“I just liked how we played overall,” Rivers said. “We played like a team tonight, on both ends.”

Though the Mavericks fell to 1-3 in the restart, Doncic remained confident.

“We’re a great team,” he said. “We’ve always got chances, no matter what. I think some people count us out, but we’re not out. We’ll give our max.”

Devin Booker says after latest Suns’ win ‘Kobe’s with me every day’

Devin Booker Kobe
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Devin Booker grew up a huge Kobe Bryant fan. When Booker made the league in 2016 he got to play against his idol and threw up 28 points on the night. Kobe was impressed. The two talked after the game and Kobe gave him an autographed pair of shoes with an inspirational message:

“Be Legendary.”

Booker took that to heart. He got the phrase as a tattoo. He’s been writing “Be Legendary” on his Nike’s before every game in the bubble. And after he scored 20 against the Pacers Thursday, helping the Suns remain undefeated for the restart, he said Kobe is still inspiring him every day.

“Kobe’s with me every day. You guys see what I put on my shoes with the ‘Be Legendary.’ It’s a reminder.”

Whatever he’s doing, it is working. Booker hit a Kobe-like turnaround game-winner to beat the Clippers. He’s averaging 28 points and 6.5 assists a game for the restart, and shooting 40% from three. Defenses are keying on him, but with a healthy Deandre Ayton and other players stepping up — Cameron Johnson has been a surprise standout in Orlando — the Suns look sharp and keep on winning.

Kobe would be proud.

Giannis Antetokounmpo drops 33 on Heat, Bucks secure No. 1 seed

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton scored 33 points each, and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a huge early deficit to get a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat led by as many as 23 points in a first half where the team piled up 73 points despite playing without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. Miami cooled off after the break and the Bucks took the lead in the third quarter but were down by 6 to start the fourth.

Antetokounmpo, the favorite to win his second MVP award, sat out about five minutes of the fourth quarter after collecting his fifth foul with 11 minutes to go. Milwaukee trailed by 1 with about five minutes remaining before using a 20-0 run, with three dunks from Antetokounmpo, to make it 130-111 with less than a minute to go and cruise to the victory.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton played 30 and 34 minutes respectively after the stars both sat out the entire second half of their last game on Tuesday.

Duncan Robinson had 21 points for the Heat, who lost to Milwaukee for the first time this season after winning the first two meetings.

The Heat led by 6 with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Antetokounmpo picked up his fifth foul on a charge and headed to the bench. Andre Iguodala made a 3 for Miami before the Bucks scored the next 13 points, capped by a 3 from Bledsoe, to take a 107-103 lead with about seven minutes remaining.

Robinson made a 3-pointer to end a scoring drought of almost four minutes for Miami with about 6 ½ minutes to go and Antetokounmpo re-entered the game soon after that.

The Heat led by 12 with about 10 minutes left in third quarter before Milwaukee used a 16-3 run to take an 82-81 lead with five minutes left in the quarter. Antetokounmpo and Wesley Matthews each had five points each in that span to help close the gap.

The Bucks cut the lead to 3 with a dunk by Antetokounmpo late in the third. But the Heat wrapped up the quarter with a 5-2 spurt to take a 98-92 lead into the fourth.