NBA Finals

LeBron James is gift that keeps on giving for Warriors on Christmas

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AP

LeBron James is gift that keeps on giving for Warriors on Christmas

When you think about it, the Warriors and LeBron James are a lot like family.

They see each other at the same "family" gatherings, year after year: once on Christmas, once on MLK Day, once for a weekend in February, and finally, for a two-week long reunion every June.

That’s how it’s been the last three years, anyway.

That cycle begins to repeat itself for a fourth time when the Warriors and the Lakers meet in the NBA’s primetime Christmas Day matchup Tuesday. They’ll play each other on MLK Day as well, and all the usual suspects likely will be at All-Star Weekend. But with James now in the Western Conference, we know it can’t end the same way this time around.

Sure, some variance will be a welcome change to many. But for both LeBron and the Warriors, their sibling rivalry has only made each other better.

And from a Golden State perspective, there’s no non-Warrior more responsible for the historic levels of success they’ve reached over the last four years than LeBron.

In the beginning, he gave them something to which to aspire. Even the very attempt to get a free agency meeting with him in the summer of 2014 was a tangible step toward improvement for the franchise.

When LeBron led the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals, he forced the Warriors to look in the mirror. On July 4, 2016, their new and improved reflection -- and Kevin Durant -- smiled back.

When LeBron publicly goaded the Splash Brothers with cookies mocking their June failure, he made the Warriors angry. They’ve won back-to-back titles in the two years since.

And when James signed with the Lakers as a free agent this past July, he refocused the Warriors’ attention. King James is even more front and center now, if that’s even possible.

In rivalries, it’s easy to let the moments of animosity drown out the admiration. But make no mistake: For every setback the Warriors have endured as a result of James, they’ve come back stronger. He pushes them. He prods them. He’s a supreme villain and motivator, all in one.

You don’t have to like him. You can be sure the Warriors don’t always, either. They’re a lot like family, after all.

But for the Warriors to reach the heights they have and for LeBron to become who he is, where he is today, one could not happen without the other.

Warriors 12.5-point favorites over Shaq's Lakers, according to oddsmaker

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AP

Warriors 12.5-point favorites over Shaq's Lakers, according to oddsmaker

If only NBA 2K19 was real life.

As everyone loves to compare eras with a "Who Would Win?" debate, the latest to do so was Steph Curry and Shaquille O'Neal. 

While we can't make video games real life, we do have Las Vegas, which is still mostly real. And sorry Shaq, Steph Better.

According to Jeff Sherman of SuperBookUSA, the Warriors would be 12.5-point favorites against Shaq's Lakers that had a three-peat from 2000 to 2002. 

The debate began with O'Neal telling USA Today on Wednesday that his Lakers would "easily win" against these Warriors who have won three out of the last four NBA Finals. Curry responded mostly sarcastically, but it certainly made the rounds with Warriors fans. 

"Oh, he's dead wrong," Curry said before the Warriors took on the Raptors on Wednesday night. "Of course. We'd beat them. We can go back-and-forth all day."

From 2000 to 2002, the Lakers went 12-3 during their three-peat, while the Warriors went 12-4 in their three titles and lost the 2016 NBA Finals to the Cavs in seven games.

Why Warriors might (and might not) still be favored to win NBA title

Why Warriors might (and might not) still be favored to win NBA title

Everyone loves you when you’re on top. Evidently, that goes for some advanced analytics, too.

The Warriors’ four-game losing streak has many wondering if the two-time defending NBA champions really have a three-peat in them. Discord between All-Stars Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, and a groin injury that has sidelined Steph Curry, haven’t helped, either.

So, is it time to call off the Warriors’ march through the Western Conference as a sure thing? According to FiveThirtyEight, maybe and maybe not.

Before the season, FiveThirtyEight’s well-known ELO forecast pegged the Warriors to go 58-24, with a 31 percent chance of making the NBA Finals and a 22 percent chance of winning the title. All three numbers were league highs.

Those forecasts wavered throughout the next four weeks, but Wednesday’s crushing home loss to the Thunder really caused the numbers to drop. Now, the ELO forecast has the Warriors going 51-31, with an 87 percent chance of making the playoffs, a 15 percent chance of making the NBA Finals and just 9 percent chance of pulling off the three-peat.

The Bucks, Raptors, Thunder and Rockets all have better odds than the Warriors. Not good.

[RELATED: Ratto: Only good health can fix what ails the Warriors]

But, as FiveThirtyEight explains, “Elo ratings — which power the pure Elo forecast — are a measure of team strength based on head-to-head results, margin of victory and quality of opponent.” So, let’s check out the new CARMELO (huh?) forecast, which “… is more complex, using team depth charts and constantly updating player ratings to track just how much talent is on each team (after accounting for trades, injuries and disgruntled teammates).”

Ooh, that sounds more like the Warriors’ style.

Before the season, the CARMELO forecast was much kinder than the ELO, predicting the Warriors would go 63-19, with a 61 percent chance of making the NBA Finals and a 49 percent chance of winning the title. And while the 28-point loss to the Thunder dropped that forecast some, it wasn’t as severe as the ELO’s, with the Warriors now finishing 59-23 with a 56 percent chance of making the NBA Finals and a 42 percent chance of winning it all.

That sounds much more reasonable. And right now, panicking Warriors fans need a little reason.