Balls: Fearless Livingston: Bring it on, LeBron 

Shaun Livingston has the skill set and mindset to play a key role in the NBA Finals beginning Thursday. - RONALD MARTINEZ/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Ronald Martinez/AP File Photo
  • Shaun Livingston has the skill set and mindset to play a key role in the NBA Finals beginning Thursday.

If the Warriors have a weakness, it's that they play too nice. And nice doesn't play well against LeBron James, one of the greatest all-around players in this or any other generation.

What the Warriors desperately need in the NBA Finals is a long, athletic type who can get in the King's grille — legally, of course — maybe even get under his skin once in awhile.

Yeah, Shaun Livingston, that means you.

"Absolutely. Absolutely," Livingston told Balls when asked if he prepared for the challenge of the life. "And it's in the Finals, too. It's all there. It's the pinnacle. It's what we all play for. And to play against LeBron James ... What better matchup?"

You don't hear Livingston's name mentioned prominently in the game plan, but he has the skill set and the mindset to play a key role in the series. He also has a history with James, who doesn't much like him, and that's not bad, either.

In a game against James and the Miami Heat four years ago, Livingston scored on a monster slam that was punctuated by an brief two-hander on the rim. James was a bit perturbed by it all and shoved Livingston aside when the two crossed paths downcourt.

Since then, Livingston has added a chip on his shoulder, courtesy of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, his former Brooklyn Nets teammates. It showed last season when Livingston coaxed James into a sixth foul in 19-point, 11-rebound, 51-minute performance, easily one of the highlights of his career.

"Garnett and Pierce were experienced," Livingston said. "They won championships. Their confidence rubbed off on me. Playing with those guys, I have even more of a chip. I give [James] respect, but at the same time, I'm not scared. I'm not fearful. I know we had the best record. I feel like we're the best team."

Yep, Livingston may be just the guy for the job.

CHUCK AND DUCK: TNT jokester Charles Barkley is about as accurate in his analysis as sidekick Shaquille O'Neal was at the free throw — 52.7 percent — but give him this much: At least the guy is consistent in his wrongness.

In case you haven't heard, Barkley has been a Warriors doubter since the start of the season. You know the drill by now — they rely too much on 3-pointers, they're soft inside, they don't get to the free throw line enough, blah, blah, blah...

Well, 79 victories later, Sir Chuckles was at it again this week. He praised the Warriors for their depth and their fans, then he picked the Cavaliers to beat them.

"That being said," Barkley said in a conference to promote a charity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe. "I still like Cleveland to win the series in six."

According to Barkley, the front line of Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson and the physical toughness of guards Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith will put the Cavaliers over the top.

"And I just think it's LeBron's time right now," Barkley said. "So as great a season as Golden State's had, I'm taking the Cavaliers in six."

And Balls is betting that Barkley doesn't know the Warriors rank second in 3-point field goal percentage and third in rebound percentage in the postseason.

ARE WE THERE YET?: The NBA should thank their lucky stars that James and Stephen Curry are in the Finals. Because without them, most fans would be in full NFL mode already.

The seven-day layoff between the conference finals and the showcase event is so long, Draymond Green has almost run out of Twitter material.

"Nobody really knows what to do," Kerr said. "You know, I had this with the [San Antonio] Spurs and the [Chicago] Bulls. You get an eight-day layoff, nine-day layoff ... You try to balance conditioning with not getting anybody hurt, preparation without going overboard. Guys' eyes glaze over if you talk too much, so nobody really knows [the solution]. There's no formula. You just try to do your best."

THIS JUST IN: The Warriors are so concerned about the rust factor, they've hired Ziebart as a consultant.

THE LIST: Fun facts about the Cavaliers:

n In their 45-year history, they've never won an NBA title.

n They once played home games at Cleveland Arena, which was so decrepit that Boston Celtics star John Havlicek refused to take a shower there out of fear that he would contract an incurable disease.

n NBA teams are not allowed to trade first-round draft picks in consecutive years, also known as the Ted Stepien Rule, which is named after the former Cavaliers owner who dispensed first-rounders like they were Pez candy.

n They selected Vitaly Potapenko one pick ahead of some kid named Kobe Bryant in the 1996 draft.

n Anderson Varejao isn't related to Dwight Howard, but he did break the jaw of of a Greek player at the FIBA Championships last summer.

n Owner Dan Gilbert made his fortunes off Quicken Loans, which recently was sued by the United States Department of Justice for "improperly originating and underwriting mortgages insured by the Federal Houston Administration" over a four-year period.

n They had a 22.5 percent chance to land James in the 2003 draft, not that NBA ever would rig a draft lottery or anything.

n wIn James, they have the only player-coach-part owner in the league.


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