Cavaliers, Warriors clear leaders on NBA Conference odds boards

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While oddsmakers have an expectation that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are on a collision course for a third consecutive NBA Finals clash, there is some interesting movement among the challengers.

Just more than a week out from the start of the playoffs, the Cavaliers are the -300 betting favorites on the Eastern Conference futures while the Warriors’ odds are -250 atop the Western Conference board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

While LeBron James and the defending champion Cavaliers had a losing record (6-10 straight-up) in March, their victory against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday put them in a good position to finish first overall in the East and have home-court advantage for the first three rounds.

The Celtics (+425), led by PG Isaiah Thomas, draw in as the biggest challenger on the Eastern side. Boston is 20-10 SU over its last 30 games, slightly better than Cleveland’s 18-12 SU mark over the same number of games.

The Cavaliers clearly do have issues, particularly with tightening up their defensive play. An opponent could pounce early in the playoffs before James and Kyrie Irving find a groove.

Both the Washington Wizards (+900) and Toronto Raptors (+1200) are neck-and-neck to earn the No. 3 seed, which might mean playing Boston in the second round. The Wizards have great leadership from PG John Wall. The Raptors will have to rely on their defense – that’s why they got PF Serge Ibaka at the deadline – until PG Kyle Lowry, who’s just back from wrist surgery, is 100 percent.

On the Western Conference board, the Warriors’ odds are slightly better than the -333 they were listed at in late February. The absence of Kevin Durant (sprained MCL), who’s expected back just prior to the playoffs, has enabled SG Klay Thompson to rediscover his all-star form, while two-time MVP Steph Curry has also gone a hot streak.

Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs (+325) are seen as posing the biggest challenge to Golden State, as their price has come down from +500. The red-hot second half that MVP candidate James Harden and the Houston Rockets (+750) have put together has led to their odds dropping from +900.

Oddsmakers see the Western Conference as a three-team race, at most, with the Los Angeles Clippers (+2500) and Utah Jazz (+2500) each drawing very long odds on the NBA betting futures at the sportsbooks.

The Cavs have been here before, but the Warriors are a different team

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CLEVELAND — LeBron James is stressed out.

Two years in a row, James’ Cavaliers have fallen into a big hole in the NBA Finals against the Warriors. Last year, it was a 3-1 deficit. This time, it was a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 hole. For the second year in a row, the Cavs must make an improbable comeback if it wants to hoist the trophy.

“It causes too much stress, man,” James said after a 137-116 victory in Game 4 to stave off a sweep. “I’m stressed out. Keep doing this every year.”

The win on Friday, though, may have done more than stress out LeBron. It might have pushed some stress to the other side. After all, “blowing a 3-1 lead” has become a widely circulated joke. And these two teams are in the same situation again, with the Cavaliers down 3-1, heading to Oakland for Game 5.

“Man, different team,” Stephen Curry said, shooting down a question about the familiarity of the situation.

He’s right. The Warriors suiting up on Monday will be much different from the team at the same point in 2016. For one, instead of Harrison Barnes, who averaged less than 10 points per game in last year’s Finals, the Warriors upgraded to Kevin Durant, whose 34.3 points per game average might have him in line for Finals MVP.

In addition, Draymond Green, who was suspended for Game 5 last year, will be playing. With all of the Warriors’ big guns healthy, the Cavaliers understand where they stand.

“They got us where they want us,” James said.

Kyrie Irving added: “We understand how special that team is down there. We don’t knock them off of taking one loss or us getting one win.”

A lot was said before these Finals about the non-competitiveness of the NBA playoffs – the Warriors became the first team in history to start the playoffs 15-0 and sport a point differential of 13.8 points, while the Cavaliers lost just once before the Finals. Before Game 4, there were grumbles as the Warriors breezed through Games 1 and 2 at home and stole Game 3 on the road to take a 3-0 lead.

Still, the series could easily be tied 2-2. The Cavaliers brought their A-game in Game 3, which they could have won if not for an open missed corner 3-pointer by Kyle Korver and Durant’s heroics. At the very least, the near-win gave Cleveland some life.

“We know we’re down 3-0, but we thought we gave a game away in Game 3,” head coach Tyronn Lue said. “So we knew this team was beatable, we knew we can play better, and [Game 4] is the result you get when we play at our best.”

Irving said that the Cavaliers “finally settled in.”

“It was about damn time, for all of us to really see what playing well as a group looks like against a great team like the Warriors,” he said.

But there’s no indication that the 3-1 talk is going to get to the Warriors. This is a different year, a different situation, and, as Curry said, a different team – one with more experience, and with Kevin Durant.

“I love the vibe we had in the locker room after the game, understanding what we need to do differently to play better,” he said.

And on the other side?

“We’re a resilient team,” Love said. “We have been in this situation before. We never count ourselves out.”

If the Cavaliers want to prove their resilience, they’ll have to win three more stress-induced games like the last one, starting Monday.

NBA Finals Odds: Warriors enter series as favorites against Cavaliers

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Now that they are a year wiser and a Kevin Durant better, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are favored against the Cleveland Cavaliers in their NBA Finals rubber match.

In series prices, the Warriors are a -240 favorite against the +200 underdog Cavaliers at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. While the matchup is the same, much has changed with both teams. Golden State is coming off a run of 27-1 straight-up and 19-7-2 against the spread across its last 28 games.

For Game 1 on Thursday, the Warriors are listed as seven-point favorites over the Cavaliers with a 225.5 point total. The Warriors are 0-5-1 ATS in their last six home games after back-to-back road games, but over the longer term they are 14-5-1 ATS in their last 20 home games when they were favored by 6.0 to 9.0 points. The Cavaliers are 1-6 SU and 2-5 ATS in their last seven games as an underdog of 7.0 or fewer points.

Cleveland, which is 3-12 SU as an underdog this season, certainly didn’t see an offense of the Warriors’ caliber during their easy trip through the Eastern Conference bracket. Having to account for Durant’s shooting likely means Cleveland’s forwards, including James, won’t be able to cheat to play help defense against three-point threats such as Curry, Draymond Green or Klay Thompson, like they did last season.

Offensively, the Cavaliers’ chances rest on James and Kyrie Irving attacking the basket and reducing the impact of Green, the NBA’s best defensive player. If Cleveland has an edge in any phase, it’s in rebounding.

For Golden State, the key is making sure Green – who was suspended for the momentum-turning Game 5 defeat in 2016 – stays on task. The Cavaliers don’t particularly excel at forcing defensive turnovers, and Green has been the best playmaking forward the NBA has seen since Larry Bird. As long as Golden State limits turnovers, they should be able to stay productive offensively.

There are a couple areas of concern with the Warriors. Both Thompson and Andre Iguodola have been in shooting slumps during the playoffs. Golden State will also have to make sure Curry doesn’t expend excessive energy guarding Irving.

As far as totals go, it has gone under in six of these teams’ last 10 games, according to the OddsShark NBA Database. The total has gone over in 15 of the Cavaliers’ last 21 games. The Warriors were a pretty consistent under team (53 of 94 games overall) most of the season, but oddsmakers have adapted and the total has gone over in the Warriors’ last five games.