When the NBA Playoffs began nearly a month and a half ago Cleveland was favored to win the Eastern Conference Championship despite being second seeded behind Atlanta. Golden State, with the best record in the NBA’s regular season, was also favored to win the Western Conference Championship.
And both of those events occurred with the Cavaliers and Warriors each winning a dozen playoff games to meet in the NBA Finals, needing just four more wins to be crowned NBA Champions of the 2014-2015 season.
Both teams will be well rested for the series opener this Thursday. The Cavs ended their series last Tuesday and the Warriors did the same the following night. Thus both teams will have had more than a full week of rest since last taking the court for a competitive contest.
Cleveland needed just 14 games to advance to the Finals. Their 12-2 straight up (SU) record was accompanied by a slightly profitable 8-6 record against the spread (ATS). Six of their games went OVER the Total while 8 stayed UNDER. In reaching the NBA Finals, Cleveland defeated Boston, Chicago and Atlanta with the wins over both Boston and Atlanta completed in four game sweeps.
Cleveland is 9-1 SU as a playoffs favorite, 3-1 SU when an underdog. Their ATS record is just 5-5 as a favorite and 3-1 as a dog. Similarly, when favored 5 of their games went OVER the Total while 5 stayed UNDER. As underdogs the Cavs played 1 OVER and 3 UNDERS.
Interestingly of their first 7 playoff games only one showed a variance from the closing total of at least 9 points. Those generally well lined totals produced 3 OVERS and 4 UNDERS. But over their last 7 playoff games all of them varied from the closing total by double digits and only one by less than 13 points. Of those 7 most recent games 4 stayed UNDER and 3 went OVER, including the Cavs’ lone overtime game – Game 3 of the Eastern Finals against Atlanta.
Cleveland is 6-1 SU both at home and on the road but has fared better on the road (5-2 ATS) than at home (3-4 ATS).
Against arguably a tougher field and stronger individual teams in the Western Conference Golden State needed one more game to make it this far, going 12-3 SU in getting past New Orleans, Memphis and Houston.
Unlike Cleveland, the Warriors have a losing playoff point spread record entering the NBA Finals, 7-8 ATS. Golden State has been a pronounced UNDER team with 12 UNDERs and just 3 OVERS. Note that the Warriors did play an overtime game in their opening series against New Orleans but that game had already gone OVER the total by the end of regulation play.
After going 39-2 SU at home in the regular season, the Warriors are 7-1 SU at home in the playoffs. But they are 3-5 ATS on their home court. All eight home playoff games have stayed UNDER the total, including four by more than 20 points!
On the road the Warriors are 5-2 SU and 4-3 ATS. Each of their last 6 road playoff games have been decided by at least 10 points with Golden State winning 4 of the 6.
Both teams have first year coaches. Golden State’s Steve Kerr inherited a very talented team coached last season by Mark Jackson and led the Warriors to a league best 67 regular season wins. Cleveland’s David Blatt got his first NBA gig after a successful lengthy coaching career overseas.
Blatt inherited a team that had gone through massive personnel changes since last season, the most noteworthy of which being the return to Cleveland of the prodigal son, LeBron James. His return also led to the acquisition of Kevin Love prior to the start of the season and additional key moves were made during the season that have paid huge dividends in enabling the Cavs to get to this point.
After standing just 19-20 in January, the Cavs made personnel moves which led to their tremendous run over the final three months of the season that led to them securing the second seed in the East.
The teams split their regular season meetings. On January 9, while they were still in a period of finding their true identity and comfort level, Cleveland lost at Golden State 112-94. James did not play in that game. By the time the teams met again, in Cleveland on February 26, the Cavs had started to really gel and they exacted revenge in a 110-99 win, despite being 3 point home underdogs! Both games stayed UNDER the total.
Golden State opened in the vicinity of 5 to 2 favorites to win the NBA Finals (-250) at most of the major Las Vegas Sports Books. Books will set their odds on the eve of significant events such as the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals to attract money on one of the two sides to better limit their liability from futures wagers that had been accumulating for the better part of the prior 12 months.
On the surface the odds favoring Golden State seem too high but the books may be looking to draw Cleveland money to offset their liability on Golden State. As James was announcing his return to Cleveland the odds dropped very quickly from about 30-1 to the neighborhood of 6-1 in just a couple of days.
The Warriors were held at much higher odds before dropping as the season unfolded. The odds drop on Golden State was much more spread out so that the liability might be greater overall than on Cleveland.
The “value” in the NBA Finals is with Cleveland, especially at a price of better than 2-1. Both teams have injury issues.
Cleveland has been without Love since the end of the Boston series but has adjusted well to his absence. Both James and Kyrie Irving were banged up in their series against Atlanta with Irving missing a couple of games.
Golden State is essentially at full strength although both Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were also banged up in their series against Houston with Thompson having suffered a concussion. Thompson is expected to be cleared to play in time for the Finals opener on Thursday.
Golden State has been the team to beat since the first month of the season and have had very few lapses in their play. Their ATS results have been shaky since the All Star break but that has been more a case of inflated lines than on the court results.
Over their last 60 games, including the playoffs, the Cavs and Warriors are separated by just 2 wins (48 for Golden State, 46 for the Cavs).
A case can be made that these teams’ performances have been virtually even for more than half a season. Of course, Golden State, playing in the West, generally faced a better caliber of opposition. But these are still NBA players – the best of the best in the world.
James is in the NBA Finals for a fifth straight season after going 2-2 with the Miami Heat in his four seasons on South Beach. He has emerged as a team leader with these Cavaliers and is considered by many to be the best player on the planet. That is to take nothing away from Curry and his MVP season.
LeBron is intent on bringing a championship to Cleveland and nothing is guaranteed as to making future NBA Finals. Cleveland has not had a major professional sports title since the Cleveland Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship, which predates the advent of the Super Bowl.
My prediction is Cleveland to upset Golden State in 6. Doing so would mean winning on the road as the NBA Finals have returned to the 2-3-2 format used for many years.
In playing the individual games throughout the Finals a common strategy employed is to look for the road team to win at least one of the first two games. That would lead to a play on Cleveland in Game 1 on Thursday. Should the Cavs lose Game 1, even if they cover the spread, the Game 2 play would again be on Cleveland.
If the Cavs pull the Game 1 upset, the Game 2 play would be on Golden State. In this scenario the point spread may be a point higher than the closing spread for Game 1. Currently the Warriors are pretty solid 6 point favorites at most books with occasional dips to 5.5 before bouncing back up to 6.
Game 3 will be played in Cleveland and the Cavs would be the play unless they swept both games at Golden State in which case the Warriors would be the play to avoid falling down three games to none. If the series is tied at a game apiece or the Warriors swept both games at home the Cavs would be a solid play back home barring unusual circumstances such as key injuries.
The total, which opened widely at 204, is down to 202.5 at most books. The UNDER is still preferred until we see adjustments that bring the total to 200 or less.
Next week the Finals will be reassessed based on how things stand through the first two games.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]