NBA: 7 of the most highly anticipated finals matchups in recent memory

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As long as LeBron James and the Cavaliers contending for the title, the NBA finals are a must-see for fans and haters alike. Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports/Reuters

The latest — and hopefully, not the last — finals installment in the rivalry between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers has all the ingredients of a classic series: a solid cast of stars led by two of the most polarizing players of this era (LeBron James and Steph Curry), a handful of individual and team narratives, and a deep-seated disdain for one another.

With some 48 hours to go before Dubs-Cavs tips off, ABS-CBN News looks back at other juicy finals matchups in the NBA’s recent past, series that every fan had dreamed of seeing from Day 1 of the new season. 

1. Spurs vs Heat, 2014

Similarly to Golden State this season, San Antonio wanted to return to the finals so badly in 2014 after a gut-wrenching, self-inflicted loss to Miami in 2013. The Spurs played with a chip on their shoulder for 7 months before getting their preseason wish — a rematch with LeBron James and the Heat. The encore wasn’t close, as the Spurs obliterated the Heat in five games, emphatically ending James and the Big 3’s time with the Heat.

2. Mavericks vs Heat, 2011

No team in recent NBA history was overwhelmingly disliked than the “Big 3” era in Miami, and the reason many fans tuned in to watch the Heat play Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks was to see and root for the South Beach super team to fail. Dallas didn’t disappoint the multitude of haters, winning the series in six, cementing Nowitzki’s place among the all-time greats and further fueling undeserved schadenfreude toward James.

3. Lakers vs Celtics, 2010

Kobe Bryant waited two years to get another crack at the Purple and Gold’s archnemesis. The last time the rivals met in the finals, Bryant and the Lakers were shredded by 39 points en route to losing the series, 4-2, in 2008. Featuring a more experienced group in 2010, an injury-free Los Angeles squad exacted revenge, winning the rematch, 4-3, and adding another dramatic chapter to Lakers-Celtics lore.

4. Bulls vs Jazz, 1998

The sentiment heading into the season was that, regardless of the outcome of its campaign, Chicago would dismantle its team composed of five-time champions Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson. With the “Last Dance” theme as a backdrop, fans followed the Bulls and the league closely for an entire season as the end of an era, and possibly Jordan’s reign, loomed. In true Jordan fashion, “His Airness” wrapped up his last finals appearance with one of the most iconic images in league history and a sixth title that guaranteed his GOAT status.

5. Bulls vs Suns, 1993

After solidifying their friendship in the 1992 Olympics, Jordan and Charles Barkley headed for a finals collision course in a series that guaranteed ratings would go through the roof. Disgruntled in Philadelphia, Barkley was traded to Phoenix in the preseason, a move that parlayed into a league- and franchise-best 62-20 record, as well as an MVP trophy for Barkley. Meanwhile, Chicago was looking to become the first team since the 1960s Celtics to win three straight championships. Averaging a finals-record 41 points, Jordan carried the Bulls to a 4-2 win and proved without a doubt who the best player in the game was.

6. Bulls vs Blazers, 1992

Even though Jordan had had more individual accolades at that point, taking on Clyde Drexler and beating him in the finals would decisively end any debate as to who the best wing player was in the league. Drexler and Portland were emerging as the next Western Conference powerhouse as the Magic Johnson-era Lakers declined. With Jordan in peak form, the Blazers lost the series, 4-2, their last appearance in the finals.

7. Bulls vs Lakers, 1991

The marquee said it all, “Michael vs Magic,” the new guy vs the old guard, the upstart franchise vs the dynasty. Jordan and the Bulls finally got over the hump when they eliminated their long-time tormentors, the Detroit Pistons, in the East finals. Johnson and the Lakers were hoping to recapture greatness that helped them win five championships in the 1980s. In a symbolic passing of the torch, Jordan assumed the status as the unquestionable face of the league when Chicago defeated Los Angeles 4-1 and ushered in a new era.

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