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.