The third chapter of the greatest rivalry in sports today will be written with the 2017 NBA Finals. The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers are set to take on the Golden State Warriors in the rubber match of their three-year saga.

The first six weeks of the 2017 NBA Playoffs were nothing more than a formality for the inevitable rematch. Both Golden State and Cleveland entered the postseason as heavy favorites to win their respective conferences, and just about every NBA Finals prediction had LeBron James and Stephen Curry squaring off, once again.

READ: Complete 2017 NBA Finals Schedule

Cruising through the Western Conference playoffs seemed only fitting for the Warriors, who are in the midst of a historic stretch. They’ve led the NBA in wins in each of the last three years, and no franchise has ever won more total games over the course of three consecutive seasons.

Cleveland was beaten just once in the Eastern Conference playoffs, continuing James’ historic dominance. Over the last seven years, the only sure thing in the world of sports has been James’ spot in the NBA Finals.

As exciting as the first two matchups were, this year might top them both. Unlike in 2015 and 2016, both sides are completely healthy.

Kevin Love missed the entirety of the 2015 NBA Finals, and Kyrie Irving didn’t play after Game 1. Stephen Curry didn’t miss any time in the 2016 NBA Finals, but he was never the same player after hurting his knee in the first round. Draymond Green was never injured, though he did miss Game 5 of last year’s finals with a suspension.

The only question mark heading into this year’s series is Steve Kerr. The head coach has missed most of the postseason because of migraines and nausea relating to his back surgery from two years ago. It’s unknown if he’ll return to the bench in time, though the Warriors haven’t missed a beat with Mike Brown as his replacement.

After weeks of one-sided playoff games, the series that everyone’s been waiting for is finally here. How will it all play out?

There are a few key things to keep in mind when looking at the 2017 NBA Finals.

The Warriors are overwhelming favorites

Kevin Durant Stephen Curry The NBA Finals 2017 betting odds indicate that Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, pictured at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2017 in Oakland, California, will beat LeBron James the Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo: Getty Images

This comes as no surprise. Golden State has been the odds-on favorite to win the title ever since last summer when they signed Kevin Durant. They went from having -150 championship odds on July 5 to -300 odds at the start of the playoffs. When the finals matchup became official Thursday night, Golden State opened as a -260 favorite at the Las Vegas Westgate SuperBook and Cleveland was given +220 odds. The Cavs’ odds have since moved to +200 (Warriors +-240), but they will remain the decided underdog until the series begins.

By just about every metric or advanced stat, the Warriors are the better team. Golden State has the better offense (113.2 offensive rating to 110.9) and the better defense (101.1 defensive rating to 108). They led the NBA with 67 wins in the regular season and did so with four All-Stars. Cleveland was the No.2 seed in the East with 51 victories and three players on the All-Star team.

Most importantly, the Warriors are better than last year’s team that set a record with 73 regular-season wins. They might have won fewer games in the regular season, but they are playing their best basketball heading into the finals.

Golden State is the only team in NBA history to go 12-0 before the finals, sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs. They’ve won 27 of their last 28 games dating back to the regular season, doing so in absolutely dominant fashion. Eleven of those 15 regular-season victories came by double-digits, and only two of their postseason wins were by fewer than 11 points.

Never before has a team been assembled with this kind of shooting ability. Averaging 28.6 points per game in the playoffs, Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter of all time. Durant is making 55.6 percent of his shots, and he’s still the second-best player on the planet. Klay Thompson is a 42 percent career three-point shooter, and he’s probably one of the 10 best shooters in NBA history. Add in Draymond Green, who’s made 47.2 percent of his shots from behind the arc this postseason, and you’ve got a team that can take a 20-point lead in the blink of an eye.

Curry and Durant are the winners of the last three MVP awards, and they might be the NBA’s best players not named LeBron James. Green has finished second for Defensive Player of the Year for two straight seasons, and he’ll probably get the nod for the 2016-2017 season. He can guard all five positions and was seventh in MVP voting last year.

The Cavaliers can score, but they struggled down the stretch of the regular season with one of the NBA’s worst defenses, ranking 22nd in points allowed per possession. Golden State was first in points per possession and second in points allowed per possession.

How in the world can that same Cavs team beat the Warriors?

The playoffs are a different ball game 

Kevin Love Klay Thompson Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives around Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on Dec. 25, 2016 in Cleveland. Photo: Getty Images

It’s become clear over the last several years that the regular season is insignificant to LeBron James and his team. The forward continues to put up terrific numbers and his team always has one of the East’s top two records, but even getting the No.1 seed isn’t all that important. James and Co. seem to flip a switch in the postseason, and 2017 has been no different.

James isn't among the top three vote-getters for the 2017 NBA MVP award, but no one would argue that he hasn’t been the league’s most valuable player this postseason. He no longer has any need to conserve his energy, and with substantial rest in between games, James can play 45 minutes a night and not wear down in the fourth quarter.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have also raised their games in the postseason. They benefit from having James on the floor for most of the game, and Golden State will be hard-pressed to keep them in check.

It’s easy to forget how much Love struggled with the Cavs in 2015 and 2016 because they won a championship, but the power forward didn’t nearly have the same impact that he does now. Struggling to find his place as the team’s No.3 scoring option, Love played more than 25 minutes just three times in last year’s finals, averaging 7.3 points per game. He’s scoring 17.2 points on just 11.6 shots per game this postseason, making 47.5 percent of his three-pointers. Along with Tristan Thompson, Cleveland’s starting big men have combined for nearly 20 rebounds per game in the playoffs.

Irving came to life against the Celtics, averaging 25.8 points on 62.2 percent shooting. He’s good enough to be the best scorer on the court, and he even outplayed Curry a year ago. That might not happen again now that the two-time MVP isn’t recovering from a knee injury, but Cleveland’s point guard will be a problem for the Warriors.

As good as Golden State’s offense has been in the playoffs, Cleveland’s has been better. They’ve scored 120.7 points per 100 possessions, compared to the Warriors’ 115.8, and the Cavs are even shooting better from behind the arc. Hitting 14.6 three-pointers per game, Cleveland has made 43.5 percent of their attempts. Golden State has averaged 12.1 threes on 38.9 percent shooting.

Part of that is because the Warriors faced the NBA’s two best defensive teams in the semifinals and conference finals, and they might ultimately be more deadly from three-point range than the Cavs. But the struggles of Golden State’s second Splash Brother can’t be overlooked as a potential major factor against Cleveland.

It’s gone largely unnoticed because of Golden State’s dominance, but Klay Thompson has simply been bad in the playoffs. Averaging 14.4 points on 13.9 shots per game, the shooting guard has shot 40 percent or worse from the field in more than half of the team’s games. His playoff shooting woes go back even further, considering he had three games in the 2016 NBA Finals in which he scored 14 points or fewer and totaled more shot attempts than points.

Maybe he’s out of rhythm because he’s taken a backseat to Curry and Durant, or perhaps it’s just a simple shooting slump. Whatever the reason, it’s fair to say that Thompson is no guarantee to be effective against the Cavs.  

Defensively, the gap between Golden State and Cleveland has shrunk in the playoffs. Facing three top-15 offensive teams and two that ranked in the top eight, the Cavs allowed 104.6 points per 100 possessions in 13 games, much improved from their 108 defensive rating in the regular season. The Warriors raised their game as well, improving their defensive rating to 99.1.

Golden State is the better overall team, but the difference isn’t nearly as great as it appeared to be a month ago.

LeBron James is in the GOAT conversation

The comparisons between James and Michael Jordan have been everywhere throughout the playoffs, and the debate will get even stronger during the finals. James, himself, has even admitted to chasing the ghost of the former Chicago Bulls star, striving to be the greatest of all time.

James was an all-time great before the 2016 NBA Finals, but what he’s done since then has been truly remarkable. He averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 9.7 assists over three games in the greatest comeback in NBA history, and James has picked up where he left off.

Despite his poor performance in Game 3, James averaged 29.6 points on 58 percent shooting, 6.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the Eastern Conference Finals. His 2017 playoff stat line of 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.2 steals, 1.4 blocks, 56.6 percent field-goal shooting and 42.1 percent three-point shooting is unlike anything the league has ever seen.

James vs. Jordan will be talked about for years to come, and a consensus opinion regarding the best player ever will probably never be reached. Jordan and his six rings have still accomplished more than James has in 2017, and the debate has no bearing on the series’ outcome. What does matter is that no one in league history has ever reached a higher level than the one James is currently at.

One simple question has to be asked when looking at this series—would the Cavaliers beat the Warriors if they had Michael Jordan instead of LeBron James?

For some, the answer would still be no. Jordan never had to face anyone as good as the Warriors, and he might not have had what it takes to beat a team with four of the league’s top 20 players.

But ask that question to plenty of people picking Golden State, and they will admit that Jordan’s Cavaliers would have a shot to win a second straight title. If that’s the case, how can James be counted out, especially when he won Game 7 at Oracle Arena just one year ago?

Golden State was truly tested one time this postseason. They trailed by 23 points in the third quarter of the conference finals opener, only able to storm back when Kawhi Leonard left the court for good with an injury. The Spurs’ small forward was the best player on the court that day, proving that the Warriors can be beaten when an opposing player performs at an elite level.

James is playing the best basketball of his career, and, at worst, he’ll go down as the second-greatest player of all time. Betting against him might not be the smartest idea.

NBA Finals Prediction

Cavaliers in seven