OAKLAND, Calif. — The weeks between Christmas and the All-Star break in mid February feel like some of the longest of the season. The excitement of the start of a new year has faded, the postseason is still too far away and the drudgery of playing roughly a game every other day for the next few months begins to take its toll.
It's tough for any team to get through the dog days of January. For the Cavaliers and Warriors, however, there's an additional problem: sheer boredom. With seven All-Stars between them, and both squads nearly universally considered to be a level apart from the 28 other teams, the Cavs and Warriors know they don't have to put out maximum effort on a nightly basis to churn out wins in the regular season.
That won't be the case tonight at Oracle Arena, however, when the league's best square off for the second time in three weeks — and final time this regular season — before likely facing off in the NBA Finals for an unprecedented third straight season. "We'd be lying if we didn't say that it wasn't a great, competitive game that we're looking forward to," Cavs guard Kyrie Irving said. "Who doesn't want to see that?"
While it's true that most would like to see these heavyweights square off as many times as possible, it's hard to argue the two teams don't feel the same way. After spending days leading up to the Christmas showdown in Cleveland downplaying the importance of it, both teams played as if it were the eighth game of the prior season's Finals, ferociously battling at a level normally not seen in December.
Despite both teams sitting comfortably atop their conferences — Cleveland is three games ahead of Toronto in the loss column in the East; Golden State is just as far ahead of San Antonio in the West — efforts like that have been few and far between this season.
There's plenty of bad blood between the teams after two epic Finals, and that was before the Warriors added Kevin Durant to a matchup that already featured LeBron James and Stephen Curry. "They're even more dangerous," the Cavs' James said. "They're even more dangerous than they were last year, and that's pretty hard to say because they were a damn great team last year, and they're even better this year."
GAME HIGHLIGHTS: DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the host Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the Knicks 116-101. … Kent Bazemore scored 24, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the host Hawks beat the Bucks 111-98, their eighth win in nine games. … James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple double of the season as the Rockets beat the host Nets 137-112.