Cavs early struggles might be an understatement as Celtics already lead conference by four games

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To suggest the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers have gotten off to a shaky start might be one of the biggest understatements of recent times.

Considered the overwhelming favorite to make a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals, Cleveland lost for the fifth time in six games on Sunday, falling at home to the team that starts this week with the worst record in the East, the 2-8 Atlanta Hawks.

The loss was Cleveland’s third straight home loss and dropped the Cavs to 4-6 SU and an even worse 2-8 ATS not quite three full weeks into the new season. They are now a full four games behind Boston, which owns the best record in the East at 8-2 after starting out 0-2.

What might be even more troubling for the Cavs, their fans and perhaps even their ownership is that four of the six losses have not just been by double digits but those losses have been by between 17 and 22 points.

In reaching the past three NBA Finals the Cavaliers have played a total of 59 Playoff games. That equates to an additional 72 percent of a regular season’s 82-game schedule and all those extra games look to have taken not just a physical toll but also a mental one given the importance of Playoff games.

Over the last three seasons Golden State, also having made three straight trips to the NBA Finals (winning twice), has played 62 Playoff games, three more than the Cavs. And since the Warriors have made the Playoffs in each of the past five seasons they’ve played a total of 81 Playoff games in those five seasons, the equivalent of one game less than an extra regular season.

The Warriors started this season 1-2 SU but through Sunday had won six of its last seven games, the last three of which were on the road, with each resulting in double digit margins of victory. Those wins were at the Clippers, San Antonio and Denver and both the Clippers and Spurs have winning records while Saturday’s loss at Denver dropped the Nuggets to .500. After starting 1-6 ATS Golden State has improved to 4-6 ATS and their 7-3 SU record has the defending NBA Champions tied with Minnesota a half-game behind 8-3 Houston atop the Western Conference standings.

Perhaps the Warriors’ 1-2 start can be attributed to wiping away the rust following the off season and they are looking like the team we all expect them to be throughout the season.

The same cannot be said of the Cavaliers’ rough start. Cleveland may be relying too much on an aging roster for the bulk of their production. LeBron James turns 33 at the end of next month. Dwyane Wade turns 36 in mid-January. J R Smith turned 32 in September. Kevin Love and Derrick Rose, each of whom has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons, turned 29 within the past two months.

Two key guys off the bench, Jeff Green and Kyle Korver, are also over 30. Green turned 31 this past summer and Korver will turn 37 in March. Jae Crowder, acquired from Boston along with Isaiah Thomas in the Kyrie Irving trade, is the baby of the bunch, having turned 27 back in July. Thomas started the season injured and may return by January while another key cog, Tristan Thompson, is expected to miss the next month.

The Cavs will have their stretches of success during the regular season but their age and all those extra Playoff games played will also result in stretches of lethargic play. Cleveland is still a quality team and remains favorite to win the Eastern Conference at -125 (Boston is next at 5-1 followed by Toronto and Washington, each at 8-1).

But there should be many more spots to play against Cleveland than to play on them. And those spots may only increase if the injuries to their key players continue.

Here are preview of three games to be played this weekend.

LA Clippers at Oklahoma City (Friday): Both teams have different looks from last season due to turnover in key personnel but the Clippers have gotten off to a slightly better start. Sort of. OKC’s loss Sunday night at Portland dropped the Thunder below .500 (4-5) while increasing their Totals results to 7 UNDERs and 2 OVERs.

The Clippers started the season playing five straight UNDERs but have since gone 3-1 to the OVER. It is also worth noting the pointspread has not mattered in any of the 18 games played by these teams – the game winner has covered each pointspread. The situation favors the Clippers who have been off since Tuesday while the Thunder return home from a Thursday night game in Denver. LA CLIPPERS

Philadelphia at Golden State (Saturday): This will be a nice test for the up and coming 76ers who, following a 1-4 start, had won four in a row through Sunday, including a revenge win at Houston after losing a tough one-point game to the Rockets at home five nights earlier. Philly had covered six straight through Sunday. The Warriors are also red hot and have won three straight and six of seven following a 1-2 start.

Philly’s youth has resulted in an entertaining, up-tempo style of play that has resulted in six of their nine games going OVER the Total, including their most recent four games totaling at least 222 points. The Warriors are in their comfort zone in such games. OVER

Toronto at Boston (Sunday): Following losses in their first two games, including the loss to injury of newly acquired Gordon Hayward five minutes into the season, Boston has won eight in a row – each by 6 points or more – to stand 8-2 through last Sunday. Even more impressive, the Celtics are a stellar 9-1 ATS. Their best wins have been at home over San Antonio and on the road at Oklahoma City. Toronto has started 5-4 (6-3 ATS).

The Raptors’ lone win over a quality team was a nice 14-point win at Portland and they were very competitive in a 5-point loss at Golden State. They returned home on Sunday and lost to Washington despite the Wizards playing without John Wall. Even without Hayward the Celtics are meshing nicely as Kyrie is keying the offense. BOSTON

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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