Kevin Durant

Cavaliers begin playoff run behind Warriors on NBA championship odds

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For all the hand-wringing about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ slump, LeBron James and company enter the NBA playoffs in pretty much the same state as they did before winning it all in 2016.

Having weathered a 19-game absence from Kevin Durant, the Golden State Warriors are the -160 favorite on the odds to win the NBA championship, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Stephen Curry and the Warriors’ price will only drop farther as the playoff field gets whittled down, assuming they don’t have an epic collapse.

James and Cleveland are listed at +333 after going just 9-11 straight-up and 8-12 against the spread in their final 20 games against the Eastern Conference. However, the Cavs had a so-so stretch run last year, when they were listed at +400 going into the playoffs.

Thirty of the league’s last 35 champions were either a No. 1 or 2 seed, and the last four were No. 1. Based on their championship experience, the No. 2 seed in the West, the San Antonio Spurs, are third on the board at +600. The No. 1 Eastern seed, the Boston Celtics, are a distant +1600, level with the Houston Rockets. That’s not surprising, considering Boston’s per-game point differential (2.7) is the lowest of a No. 1 seed since 1979.

The Cavaliers are a -275 favorite on the Eastern Conference champion odds, which reflects that James’ team has made the last six NBA Finals. The Celtics are at +425. The Toronto Raptors, whose seeding puts them on course to meet Cleveland in the second round, are listed at +900.

The Western Conference board is very similar, with the Warriors at -250 followed by the Spurs (+300) and Rockets (+750).

Among the four major pro leagues and March Madness, the chalk prevails most often in the NBA. Some general trends to be mindful of is that home teams who lose Game 1 – looking in your direction, Toronto – are 49-10 SU in Game 2 since 2003. Higher-seeded teams who win the first two games are also 40-111 SU in Game 3 (on the road) during that span.

Historically, No. 5 seeds win about a quarter of the time and No. 6 seeds win about 20 per cent of the time. In terms of first-round series prices, the Atlanta Hawks (+175) do stand a decent chance of knocking out John Wall and the Washington Wizards (-205), since Washington might struggle to find a defensive matchup for Hawks big man Dwight Howard.

The No. 8 seed Chicago Bulls (+405), with their savviness at point guard with ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo and former champion Dwyane Wade (who’ll have more recovery time for his 35-year-old legs), could be capable of taking out the Celtics (-500). Eighth seeds have a much better success rate than No. 7 seeds.

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.

Team USA strong favorite against Spain in Olympic basketball semifinals

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A Spain-USA matchup is expected in Olympic men’s basketball after gold-medal games in 2008 and 2012, but this time it’s taking place in the semifinal in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.

After coming under fire for showing a lack of killer instinct in the group stage, Team USA and Kevin Durant kicked their game up a notch on Wednesday with an 105-78 quarter-final blowout against Argentina, although it took until the last minute to secure a cover.

Team USA is now at -1200 (wager $1200 to win $100) on the odds to win the gold medal in men’s basketball at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, with Spain listed at +1200. Fellow semifinalists Australia and Serbia respectively stack up at +1300 and +1800.

Team USA is favored by 15.5 points against Spain for Friday, and the total is set at 187.5 points. In those two Olympic finals, their winning margins were 11 and seven points.

The teams’ shooting percentages are near-identical, but the approaches differ. Team USA, which had Durant and Paul George take over the scoring against Argentina, counts on breaking teams down with their athleticism. Spain is more about execution in the half-court, and anyone from Pau Gasol to Rudy Fernandez to Nikola Mirotic can become the go-to scorer.

The game could likely boil down to who does the better job covering their defensive liabilities without overcompensating. Spain, with slow-footed Gasol at center, has suspect low-post defense that the USA guards can attack. The Americans’ defensive intensity has often been lacking, and good passing teams such as Spain tend to take advantage of that.

In those gold-medal games, both teams scored at least 100 points.

Meanwhile, Australia is a four-point favorite against Serbia, with a total of 164.5 points. Through a backcourt combo of Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova and a commitment to rugged defense, Australia has been the second-best team in Rio, and also won 95-80 when it played Serbia in the round-robin.

It is often tough to beat a good team twice in a row, but the Boomers are fully capable. Dellavedova and PG Damian Martin are defensive stoppers who can take a team out of rhythm, and Serbia will need to show a primary scoring option beyond Bogdan Bogdanovic.

The familiarity factor, and the high stakes, might keep the score down. Ultimately, Australia should be the fresher team, since Serbia’s Bogdanovic has carried his team’s offense and it’s fair to wonder how much energy they have left after a grueling quarter-final against central Europe arch rival Croatia.