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.

Lakers move up NBA championship odds after LeBron James’ decision

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It’s important to remember the Golden State Warriors’ toughest challenge is just getting out of the Western Conference.

While four-time all-star forward DeMarcus (Boogie) Cousins likely won’t suit up for Golden State until late in the regular season as he rebuilds strength in a surgically repaired Achilles tendon, his signing has moved the Warriors into minus money on the NBA futures.

The two-time defending champion Warriors are a -175 favorite on the NBA championship odds for 2019 at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. However, the balance of power in the NBA has moved even farther westward with LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers, so it’s not a sure thing that the Warriors will be able to run a gauntlet through the conference to play in the NBA Finals for the fifth season in a row.

In both 2016 and 2018, the Warriors went the full seven games in the Western Conference Finals, going a combined 5-0 when facing elimination. That’s a tough margin to live on, even for a dynasty that will soon trot out five all-stars with Cousins, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant.

James’ decision has led to the Lakers (+650) having the fourth-best odds, although Los Angeles will have to make further acquisitions – Kawhi Leonard, perhaps – in order to transform from a 35-win also-ran into a serious challenge to Golden State.

Unlike the Eastern Conference that James dominated for nearly a decade, there are more good teams to scale over on the climb to the top. The upshot of the Lakers drawing action is that it might protect the value on challengers that came almost sadistically close to making the 2018 NBA Finals.

The Boston Celtics (+550) were minutes away from the NBA Finals last season and are looking forward to a full season from small forward Gordon Hayward and point guard Kyrie Irving, who were out much of the season while their supporting cast gained valuable on-the-job experience.

The Houston Rockets (+600) also came close to dethroning the Warriors and their current odds to win the 2019 NBA championship are enticing since they have yet to make a major offseason move, as they still have to come to terms with center-forward Clint Capela, while also hoping to add veteran small forward Carmelo Anthony.

The Philadelphia 76ers (+1600) round out the top five and could be worth a flier in conference championship futures, where the Celtics will be favorites.

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.

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.