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Warriors coach Kerr says no guarantees for potential third summer showdown

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

CLEVELAND – For all the reasons people anticipated and likely paid attention to the Golden State-Cleveland game Sunday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena, one did not register for Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

Yes, Kerr acknowledged prior to tipoff of the headliner among the league’s Yuletide slate of five games, it is Christmas.

Yes, Kerr said, it’s one of only two meetings we’re assured of getting between the reigning champion Cavaliers and their 2015 counterparts, the Warriors.

Yes, it was a matinee and yes, the limited schedule meant that a majority of the NBA’s players, coaches, staff and fans were available to view the game.

But no – a big no, in Kerr’s view – nothing guarantees that Sunday’s game will get revisited when the 2017 Finals begin in early June.

It almost seems like heresy to suggest, but there is a possibility that Golden State or Cleveland or maybe even both no longer will be standing by then.

“Both teams will be competing like crazy and trying to win,” Kerr said, “with the idea and knowledge it probably won’t mean anything later on in the season. There’s so much basketball to be played, so people shouldn’t draw too many conclusions out of this.

“Mainly because, just to get back here and for them to get back to our place, a lot of things have to go right. For both teams. You’ve got to stay healthy. You’ve got to stand up to huge challenges in the playoffs. So I think people are going to make a big deal out of this but it’s a regular season game and there’s a ton of work ahead.”

As formidable as the Warriors (27-4) and the Cavaliers (22-6) look in their respective conferences, what with all those All-Stars and seven of the last eight NBA MVP winners (LeBron James 4, Steph Curry 2, Kevin Durant 1), the prospect of aligning as Finals opponents for three consecutive championships remains an historical longshot. As in, it never has happened in NBA annals.

The Cavs still have that trio of weapons – James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love – that dwarfs anything they’re likely to see in the East. But they haven’t found a comparable replacement to back up Irving at point guard – Kerr said Matthew Dellavedova’s absence since signing as a free agent with Milwaukee “jumps out” when viewing Cleveland game footage. And now that shooting guard J.R. Smith will be out until late March or early April rehabbing after surgery on his broken right thumb, journeyman DeAndre Liggins is a starter for his defense, not for anything resembling Smith’s streaky scoring.

Golden State is still adapting to the luxury of adding Durant and filling gaps from the role players – Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa – no longer around. Also, the Warriors can expect a more rigorous route back to the Finals, vying with the likes of San Antonio (24-6), the Clippers (22-9) and Houston (22-9).

Of course. It’s Christmas. One of only two games where they will play Cleveland this year. Everybody’s home watching. It’s a day game. It’s a different feel, for sure, and it’s exciting. But we also know it’s one game. Both teams will be competing like crazy and trying to win, the idea and knowledge it probably won’t mean anything later on in the season. There’s so much basketball to be played, so people shouldn’t draw too many conclusions out of this.

Mainly because, just to get back here and for them to get back to our place, a lot of things have to go right. For both teams. You’ve got to stay healthy. You’ve got to stand up to huge challenges in the playoffs. So I think people are going to make a big deal out of this but it’s a regular season game and there’s a ton of work ahead.

So it’s all Kerr can do to steer one team back there, never mind two. Asked if he would like to face Cleveland for what inevitably be a “rubber match,” the Golden State coach said: “I don’t go down that path. We just want to be in the Finals. We don’t care who we end up with, we just want to get there.

“That’s the goal. We know how hard it is to do. We’ve got a lot of challenges in the West that are coming after us. A lot of great teams. That’s a long ways off.”

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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