Sports Basketball

NBA and NHL finals predictions

By Torben Rolfsen

Stephen Curry, left, of Golden State Warriors, with the ball against LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 2, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Stephen Curry, left, of Golden State Warriors, with the ball against LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 2, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Eight months to the day since Toronto and Golden State opened the preseason in Rogers Arena, the NBA Finals will begin Thursday in Oakland with the rubber match series between the two teams everyone has expected to meet all season long.

After a seemingly interminable season, why does the league take a week-long break before its final and lose momentum?

Mostly because it is locked into unflexible TV schedules which are spaced to allow for six-or-seven-game conference finals, which didn’t happen.

In the poster child league for top-heavy imbalance, the Warriors are 12-0 in the playoffs, having swept Portland, Utah and San Antonio like they were G-League cannon fodder.

Their opponent, the defending champ Cleveland Cavaliers, are 12-1, having powered past Indiana, Toronto and Boston, with only the one inexplicable blip at home against the Celtics tarnishing their otherwise clean slate.

The spotlight will shine brightest on Kevin Durant and LeBron James, for if Cleveland can pull off a (slight) upset and win the title, it will scream volumes about each star’s place in the sport’s history.

Meanwhile, in the NHL, the focus will be on Conn Smythe Trophy frontrunners Sidney Crosby and Pekka Rinne.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have had just three days to catch their breath after their grueling seven-game series against the Ottawa Senators was settled in double-overtime.

The Penguins are missing top defenceman Kris Letang, while the Nashville Predators are without their leading playoff scorer, Vancouver native Ryan Johansen.

What remains is the league’s top set of offensive forwards (Pens) versus what has emerged as the premiere top-four group of defencemen (Preds).

There is a solid chance the NHL and NBA could both have repeat champions for the first time in awhile, but whether wounded survivors on ice or well-rested on the hardcourt, both series should make for close games and compelling viewing.

The feeling here is that Rinne in net may be the difference-maker against Crosby and crew.

And Durant’s superior supporting cast should be enough to overcome the current world’s greatest player.

Predictions

PREDATORS in 6

WARRIORS in 7