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.

Golden State Warriors heavy favorites on 2019 NBA title odds

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Oddsmakers are tabbing the Golden State Warriors as the favorite to win their third NBA championship in a row, while the rest of the field is pegged to where LeBron James decides to play next season.

The Warriors are +125 favorites on the 2019 NBA championship odds at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Golden State’s latest title was capped off by sweeping the James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, but getting to that stage was by no means a sure thing as it had to defeat the Houston Rockets in Game 7 on the road in the Western Conference Finals.

Nevertheless, with the star quartet of guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and forwards Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson locked into place, the Warriors look as unsurpassable as ever. Despite Curry and Durant missing chunks of last season with injuries, the Warriors have still averaged 66 regular-season wins over the last four years.

James is expected to leave the Cavaliers by opting out of his contract, which for futures betting purposes at this point means that one team is significantly undervalued. One other scenario that is floating around involves James foregoing free agency and setting up a trade to the Houston Rockets (+500), where he could team up with guards Chris Paul and James Harden to join the team that had the NBA’s best regular-season record.

However, the Los Angeles Lakers (+700) are considered the front-runner to sign James as a free agent. Going to California offers him a chance to consolidate basketball and business interests, while the Lakers also have the salary-cap flexibility to add other stars and give James a strong enough supporting cast to challenge Golden State.

The Philadelphia 76ers (+500), with their young nucleus that includes center Joel Embiid and forward Ben Simmons, are also expected to make a pitch to James. As an Eastern Conference team, the 76ers also offer the benefit of not having to see the Warriors before the NBA Finals. There has been scant report of James having interest in the Boston Celtics (+600), whose betting value likely rests in Eastern Conference champion betting futures.

As the NBA Finals, and even the previous playoff rounds revealed, the Cavaliers (+2500) don’t have the pieces to win another championship, so it’s probably best to fade them. Other longer shots on the odds to win the NBA championship in the season ahead include the San Antonio Spurs (+2500), Miami Heat (+4000) and Toronto Raptors (+6600).

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Warriors double-digit betting favorites for Game 1 of NBA Finals

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The Golden State Warriors, led by Stephen Curry, have one of the largest lines they have seen in their long-running rivalry with the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.

The Warriors are 12.5-point NBA betting favorites against the Cavaliers with 214.5-point total for the opener of the NBA Finals on Thursday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Since James rejoined Cleveland in 2014 the largest closing line that the Warriors have faced against Cleveland was 13.5 during a January 2015 game, according to the OddsShark NBA Database. In that time, the Warriors are 11-3 straight-up and 9-4-1 against the spread in home games against the Cavaliers, and nine of those 14 matchups have seen the total finish under, with two pushes.

Thanks to a signature dominant postseason performance from James, the Cavaliers are back in the NBA Finals, although they are just 4-7 SU and 4-6-1 ATS in their 11 most recent road games during the playoffs (including a portion of the 2017 NBA Finals against the Warriors)

For this Game 1, and possibly longer, James will not see his regular defensive shadow on the Warriors, Andre Iguodala. Kevin Love (concussion), the only other Cleveland player averaging more than 10 points per game in the playoffs, is questionable for Thursday night.

It’s always hard to pick against King James, but it is worth noting the Cavaliers are 8-22 SU and 9-20-1 ATS in their last 30 road games against Western Conference teams.

The Warriors, for all the scoring punch and defensive prowess of the big four of Curry, guard Klay Thompson and forwards Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, can get in their own way with turnovers, averaging 13.7 during their three losses against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals..

That issue is probably why Golden State is 1-6 ATS in its last seven games against Eastern teams, but the law of averages would suggest a team as good as Golden State is more apt to reverse such an outlying trend.

Cleveland got away with giving up an abundance of clean looks on three-point shots during its last series against the Boston Celtics and, of course, the Warriors shoot from deep early and often. That will probably be the determinant in whether the Warriors, who are 17-1 SU and 6-12 ATS in their last 18 home games during the playoffs as a favorite of 10 or more points, can cover the huge spread.

The total has gone under in the Cavaliers’ last four road games. The total has gone under in 11 of the Warriors’ last 18 home games during the playoffs as a favorite of at least 10.5 points. The total has gone under in eight of the Warriors’ last 10 games against Eastern Conference teams.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.