Warriors, Cavaliers battling on Xmas Day once again

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors are hoping home cooking on Christmas Day helps make a difference for the third consecutive year when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday afternoon.

The Cavaliers and Warriors have met in the NBA Finals in each of the last three seasons, with Golden State winning twice.

The Cavaliers followed up on their upset in the 2016 Finals with a 109-108 home win over the Warriors last Christmas, overcoming a 14-point deficit behind LeBron James’ 31 points.

That came one year after the Warriors, as the reigning champs, tightened the defensive screws on the Cavaliers in an 89-83 victory in front of the home fans during the 2015 holidays.

While a national audience will be focused on the 48 minutes of game action in the NBA’s marquee matchup, the Cavaliers and Warriors also have a lot of interest in what transpires before the game.

Cavaliers point guard Isaiah Thomas suited up for the first time this season and participated in the warmups before Cleveland’s 115-112 home win over Chicago on Thursday.

That raised speculation that Thomas, acquired in the Kyrie Irving trade to Boston over the summer, might make his Cavaliers debut in the Finals rematch. But despite saying, “I felt like a basketball player again,” after his cameo before the home crowd, Thomas noted Christmas Day was never really a possibility.

“No, that was a target for my kids,” he insisted. “So they’re mad, but I’m fine with it. I have no rhythm, so there is no way I can play in an actual game right now and be very effective like I’m used to being. Slowly that will come back and I’ll get a feel for it.”

With Derrick Rose (sprained left ankle) also injured, the Cavaliers have been starting veteran Jose Calderon at the point.

Interestingly, Calderon, after receiving an in-season buyout from the Los Angeles Lakers, was an emergency signing by the Warriors in their championship run last March.

But before Calderon could even meet his teammates, Kevin Durant injured his knee, requiring the Warriors to snatch a forward from the scrap heap. When Matt Barnes was signed, Calderon was released, having been a Warrior for just 24 hours.

The Warriors have made no such addition following Stephen Curry’s ankle injury earlier this month, and perhaps they are starting to regret it.

They won their first seven games without Curry, but were held to a season-low 81 points and 3-for-27 3-point shooting by Denver in a home loss Saturday night.

Curry’s replacement, Patrick McCaw, had no assists for the second straight game, truly a rarity among NBA starting guards.

Like Thomas, Curry does not appear to be far from playing. He will share the floor with his rival during Monday’s pregame, hoping to convince management he can be activated before the current homestand ends on Saturday.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr got a little disturbed Saturday by another in a long line of questions about whether Curry might face the Cavaliers.

“If this were not the Christmas game versus Cleveland, I don’t think any of you would even be asking me about it,” Kerr snapped. “He hasn’t even had a three-on-three game. If we weren’t playing Cleveland on Christmas and I told you Steph hasn’t even played in a three-on-three game, hasn’t had any contact at all and the game was 48 hours from now, you would say that Steph’s not going to play. But because it’s the magnitude of the game and everybody wants to know …

“But we can’t let that affect our judgment. He can’t play. It would be completely irresponsible if he did.”