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As the second half of the NBA season continues to unfold there is understandable concern in Cleveland.

The three time defending Eastern Conference Champions have slipped to the third seed, a half-game behind No. 2 Toronto and 6.5 games behind top seeded Boston.

The Cavaliers at 27-18 through Sunday are still seventh best in the league but they are a woeful 12-32-1 against the spread, hitting at just 27 percent. They have cost flat unit bettors a whopping 23.2 net units.

The next costliest team has been Oklahoma City whose ATS record of 18-27-1 is a full 13 percentage points better than Cleveland’s, representing a huge gap between the worst and second worst teams in terms of pointspread performance. In comparison to the Cavs, the Thunder has cost their backers “only” 11.7 net units, half the amount lost by Cleveland backers.

With about a month left until the trade deadline Cleveland will be the subject of many rumors as the Cavs attempt to bolster their roster for yet another run at a Championship. In what could be LeBron’s final season in Cleveland the approach taken by management should go a long way toward “The Decision II” come summertime. Their relatively aging roster is and will continue to be in need of overhaul if James is to stay in Cleveland.

Playing in the NBA Finals over the past three seasons has taken its toll on the heart of the roster. Over the past three seasons the Cavs have played a total of 59 Playoff games, the equivalent of 70 percent of a full NBA season. And with James having played in 146 Playoff games, nearly two full seasons, during his personal streak of having made seven straight NBA Finals the accumulated wear and tear is taking its toll, not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well.

Hints of self-doubt are starting to creep into his post game comments and more direct comments have pointed to the urgency at home to make key moves to save this season.

Make no mistake about it, LeBron James is still one of the top 5, perhaps even 2 or 3 players in the game. But even the greats can see their careers wind down rapidly. Most likely he still has several highly productive seasons ahead of him. But, given all those extra games played, there is also the possibility the skills could decline rapidly. Most recently we saw it in the NFL with the rapid decline of QB Peyton Manning.

It will be interesting to see how the situation unfolds over the next month and whether this might be Cleveland’s last stand in their current run of success.

A few issues ago we looked at teams that were at the top or the bottom of the list of teams on pace to exceed or fall short of their preseason expectations as measured by Season Win Totals. With more than half of the season having been played, two teams – both in the Eastern Conference – are on pace to exceed their Totals by at least 10 games. One team is currently seeded sixth and the other is likely to miss the Playoffs.

The Indiana Pacers were projected to win just 31.5 games this season. But at 25-22 through Sunday the Pacers, pardon the pun, are on pace to win 44 games. The other team is Chicago. Projected to win just 22 games, the Bulls are 18-28 and need just four more wins over their final 36 games to PUSH their Total and five more wins would make OVER bettors winners.

At 18-26 Charlotte is the biggest underachieving team to date, on pace to win just 33.5 games, nine games below their projection of 42.5 wins.

This stage of the NBA season is akin to “the dog days of summer” in major league baseball. The grind of the long regular season has started to take a noticeable toll with players and teams picking their spots to go all out or play at less than their maximum capabilities.

Momentum and streaks are useful in handicapping this stretch of the season, looking for matchups involving teams showing good current form on an ATS basis facing teams at the other end of the cycle. Often we will find good opportunities to play against the better teams in the league while playing on some of the weakest.

Here are thoughts on three games to be played this weekend.

Houston at New Orleans (Friday): These teams met in Houston in mid-December with the Rockets, favored by 14, winning 130-123. Houston should be favored by a couple of buckets or so and both teams are in similar scheduling spots with no game the night before or after. New Orleans’ Anthony Davis continues to play at an elite level and he’s been getting more support from his surrounding cast. This might also make for a nice money-line play. NEW ORLEANS

Boston at Golden State (Saturday): This is a rare revenge game for the hosts who lost at Boston, 92-88, in mid-November. Boston appears to be in the start of a slump following three straight losses, all at home, through Sunday that followed a seven-game winning streak. The Celtics still have the best record in the East and a two-game lead over second seeded Toronto. The Warriors will be solidly favored and considering the nature of the opponent will be worth backing. GOLDEN STATE

Philadelphia at Oklahoma City (Sunday): Through Sunday the 76ers had won three straight and four of five on the road, including a solid 9-point win at Boston that avenged a blown double digit lead to the Celtics in their game in London a few weeks earlier. The Sixers are playing with more confidence with each passing game. PHILADELPHIA

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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