NEW YORK — Sunday marks the first time since June’s epic seven-game showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finals that the league’s two heavyweights will face one another.

In many ways, not much has changed. Both the Warriors and Cavaliers remain massive favorites to win their conferences this season, setting up what would be an unprecedented third straight meeting in the finals, and a rubber match after the two split the championship round the past two seasons.

But in one very important way, the impending meeting couldn’t be more different: the introduction of Kevin Durant into the most significant head-to-head NBA battle since Larry Bird of the Celtics and Magic Johnson of the Lakers were trading championships in the 1980s.

“It should be fun,” Durant said after Thursday’s 117-101 win over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “It should be fun. They’re the champions. They’re the defending champions and they’re defending their crown, so we have to go in there and do what we do and play our game.

“It’s going to be an electric atmosphere. I’m looking forward to it.”

So is virtually every basketball fan alive, as this game has been circled on everyone’s calendars since the schedule came out in August. Who could resist the first meeting between these two since the Cavaliers came back from a three-games-to-one deficit to knock off the Warriors and deliver Cleveland its first championship in a half-century?

But in many ways, it’s exactly the way that series played out that will, for everyone involved, downplay the importance of both this game and the return leg in Oakland next month.

Last year the Warriors comfortably beat the Cavaliers in both regular-season meetings, winning a game they controlled the whole way at home on Christmas before going to Cleveland and winning in an utter rout a few weeks later.

The combination of how those games and the opening four games of the finals went, compared with the final three, is a constant reminder to the Warriors that no matter what happens this weekend, the thing that truly matters is what happens in June.

“I think our guys are excited, for sure,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s Christmas Day and the Cavs, and all that. So it’s an exciting game.

“But these guys have been around for too long. What happens on Christmas has nothing to do with what happens in June. We proved that, unfortunately.”

And for large stretches of this season, that’s how the Warriors have played. Yes, they are 26-4 heading into Friday night’s game in Detroit, but their season has mostly been defined by turning things on when they must.

Take Thursday night, for example. At times it looked like the Warriors were headed for a performance similar to the one they had against the Lakers in Los Angeles last month – a 117-97 loss. That game came the night after they smashed Durant’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in Oakland – and then flew down the coast with the rapper Drake, who was at the Thunder game, on the team plane.

On Thursday, the Warriors went into halftime trailing by 16 against the bottom-feeding Nets after having a late practice due to arriving in New York the night before and not having a morning shootaround the day of the game.

But then, just as they have many times this season, the Warriors burst to life in the third quarter, outscoring the Nets 39-19 to retake the lead and cruising to yet another win after playing less than their best for all 48 minutes. It’s the latest evidence that the grand experiment the team created by signing Durant is working out the way everyone hoped – though that won’t matter if the result next June is no different from the one this past spring.

“Whenever you get a chance to play the best team in the Eastern Conference, it’s always exciting,” Klay Thompson of the Warriors said. “It’s a good game to see where we’re at. I’m going to be excited … it should be a game with a lot of fireworks.”

Some of those fireworks will be tempered by Cleveland’s loss of J.R. Smith, after the mercurial shooting guard fractured his right thumb, an injury that required surgery and likely means Smith will miss both regular-season meetings between these teams.

Still, if any team is going to be able to make up for the loss of a scorer other than Golden State, it’s Cleveland, with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love all off to excellent starts this season, and looking more comfortable than ever in their third season together with the Cavaliers.

That familiarity is something the Warriors are still trying to master. They have been relatively injury-free – though Draymond Green was absent from Thursday’s game after flying back to the Bay Area for the birth of his son, Draymond Jr. – but have naturally needed some time to adjust to the loss of longtime fixtures Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, even if they’d swap them for Durant and Zaza Pachulia, their replacements, 10 times out of 10.

Given their success thus far – posting the best record in the NBA by a healthy margin and having the second-best offense and defense in the league entering Friday’s action – it could be scary if this team still has another level or two to go from here, as it certainly seems it should.

But no one can test this squad quite the way that Cleveland – and specifically James – can, which is why Sunday’s game carries significance no other regular-season game musters.

“It’s one (regular-) season game,” Pachulia said, “but it’s a special game. You’re playing on Christmas Day, on TV, different jerseys, all that. It’s a rematch of last year’s finals, those two teams playing against each other.

“It’s not just a regular game. It’s a special game.”

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