2015 NBA Playoffs Picks: Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Kevin Stott

Sunday, May 17, 2015 12:34 AM GMT

The Eastern Conference Finals tip off on Wednesday night when the Atlanta Hawks welcome LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to Phillips Arena for Game 1 of their Best-of-7 series. With Cleveland having injury concerns, is it worth taking a shot on the underdog Hawks in a series wager here? Let’s take a look and provide a couple of picks. 

Introduction
The Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs tip off in Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia on Wednesday night (May 20) when the No. 1-seeded Atlanta Hawks from the NBA’s Southeast Division play host to the LeBron James and the Central Division-winning and conference’s No. 2-seed, the Cleveland Cavaliers (TNT, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT) begin their best-of-7 (2-2-1-1-1) series to see who get to advance the NBA Finals (June 4). Despite the Hawks having the homecourt advantage here, NBA odds makers here in Las Vegas have made the Cavaliers -220 favorites in this Eastern Conference Finals with Atlanta priced as +190 underdogs on the takeback (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook). The current (Saturday) odds for Wednesday’s pivotal Game 1 see the Hawks lined as slight 1-point favorites on all four of the five sportsbooks (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Station Casinos, Pinnacle, SIA) on the Don Best odds sports screen, with the Mirage (here in Sin City) moving from Hawks -1 to Pick since the start of this story. The game’s Total set at 197½ (points).

Game 2 in this Eastern Conference Finals series will be played on Friday (May 22), also in Atlanta, while the series will shift to Cleveland and Quicken Loans Arena for Game 3 (Sunday, May 24) and Game 4 (Tuesday, May 26). If necessary, Game 5 will be played back in Atlanta (Thursday, May 28); a potential Game 6 will be played in Cleveland (Saturday, May 30); and, if it all comes down to it, a thrilling Game 7 would be in Atlanta (Monday, June 1). All games will be televised on TNT and will tip off at 8:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. CT/5:30 p.m PT).

 

#1 Atlanta Hawks vs. #2 Cleveland Cavaliers (Regular Season statistics)
Atlanta Hawks SU Records—60-22 ~ Home: 35-6 ~ Away: 25-16 ~ Conference: 38-14

Cleveland Cavaliers SU Records—53-29 ~ Home: 31-10 ~ Away: 22-19 ~ Conference: 35-17

Atlanta Hawks ATS Records—51-31 ~ Home: 26-15-1 ~ Away: 25-16 ~ Totals: 42-39-1

Cleveland Cavaliers ATS Record—35-42-2 ~ Home: 17-23-1 ~ Away: 19-21-1 ~ Totals: 32-47-3

Atlanta Hawks PF-PA: 102.5-97.1

Cleveland Cavaliers PF-PA: 103.1-98.7

SBR NBA Team Profile Links: Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers

Regular Season Season Series: Hawks 3-1 SU, Hawks 3-1 ATS, Over 3-1

Series Price: Cavaliers -220, Hawks +190 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)

Eastern Conference Finals Game #1 Odds: Hawks -1, 197½ (Pinnacle)

Eastern Conference Series Odds (Best): Cavaliers -225 (Ladbrokes), Hawks +200 (Coral, Betfred, Betfair, Betway)

NBA Championship Odds (Best): Cavaliers +225 (bet365, SkyBet, William Hill), Hawks +750 (William Hill, Bwin, Ladbrokes)

The Skinny: The Hawks and head coach Mike Budenholzer got by the upstart Washington Wizards in the conference Semis (4-2) after beating the 8th-seeded Brooklyn Nets in Round 1 (4-2), so, Atlanta has done what it’s had to, but beating the Nets and Wizards in the East isn’t really anything to hang your hat on, and most think this team still has much to prove, despite the impressive Starting 5 Atlanta that GM Danny Ferry has brought to Hotlanta. The Cavaliers swept the Boston Celtics in Round 1 (4-0) and then the Eastern Conference’s No. 3-seed Chicago Bulls in the Semis (4-2) to get to this point, so, two less games played (10-12) for Cleveland heading in and one day more rest (5-4), with the Cavaliers clinching on Thursday and the Hawks doing so on Friday. So, the slight overall Rest Edge goes to Cleveland.

 

Projected Starting Lineups Against Each Other—(Hawks vs. Cavaliers)
C—Al Horford (15.0 ppg. 7.4 rpg) vs. Timofey Mozgov (10.8 ppg. 6.9 rpg, 1.39 bpg)

PF—Paul Millsap (17.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg) vs. Tristan Thompson (8.7 ppg, 0.8 bpg)

SF—DeMarre Carroll (12.1 ppg, 5.2 apg) vs. LeBron James ?(25.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 7.3 apg)

SG—Kyle Korver (12.3 ppg, 50.3% 3-Pointers) vs. JR Smith (12.7 ppg, 38.3% 3-Pointers)

PG—Jeff Teague (16.3 ppg, 7.0 apg) vs. Kyrie Irving (21.9 ppg, 5.2 apg)

 

Regular Season Meetings and ATS-Totals Results
Game 1—@ Cleveland (November 15): Cavaliers 127 Hawks 94 (Cavs -7, Total: 208½)

Game 2—@ Cleveland (December 17): Hawks 127 Cavaliers 98 (Cavs -6½, Total: 201)

Game 3—@ Atlanta (December 30): Hawks 109 Cavaliers 101 (Cavs -6½, Total: 202)

Game 4—@ Atlanta (March 6): Hawks 106 Cavaliers 97 (Cavs -1½, Total: 206½)

Season Series: Atlanta Hawks 3-1 SU, Atlanta Hawks 3-1 ATS, Overs 3-1

 

Injury Realities, Perceived Positional and Bench Edges
The season-ending Injury to starting PF Kevin Love (16.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.3 apg) is devastating to the Cavaliers, but luckily for Cleveland, Findlay Prep and University of Texas product Tristan Thompson stepped in to fill the void left by Love and helped his team rally to defeat the Chicago Bulls in their Semi series (4-2). But as if having Love out isn’t enough, Cleveland and Head Coach David Blatt are also dealing with starting PG Kyrie Irving (right knee) being injured and listed as ‘Day-to-Day,’ but ‘Hopeful’ for Wednesday’s Game 1 according to Blatt (AP). But sheer Logic says that Irving will definitely start in Game 1. He missed Cavs practice on Saturday, but said he could have played the 2nd Half of Game 6 vs. Chicago on Thursday, so it seems more of a precautionary measure, and with Game 1 so crucial, expect Irving to be in there without a doubt. Thompson (left shoulder) is also a little banged up, but he’ll be good to go and the Hawks only real injury of note is to second-team SG Thabo Sefolosha (ankle) who is out for the season (Rotoworld). So, the absence of Love and the lingering questions surrounding Irving means definite advantage Atlanta in the Injury category for this series as the oft-unheralded Kevin Love is one of the best and most consistent presences in the paint when he’s healthy and him not being there is a little Talent Vacuum, not matter how well the 24-year-old Canadian Thompson continues to play.

As far as the Benches go, the slight edge here goes to the Cavaliers. Atlanta has PF Pero Antic (5.7 ppg), PF Elton Brand (2.6 ppg), SF Austin Daye (1.5 ppg), SG Kent Bazemore (5.0 ppg), PG Dennis Schröder (9.7 ppg), PF Mike Muscala (3.5 ppg), PF Mike Scott (7.5 ppg), SG John Jenkins (4.9 ppg) and PG Shelvin Mack (5.2 pgg) on its bench, while Cleveland works with C Brendan Haywood (1.48 ppg), SF Shawn Marion (4.9 ppg), SG Iman Shumpert (6.3 ppg), PG Matthew Dellavedova (4.5 pgg), C Kendrick Perkins (2.3 ppg), SF Mike Miller (2.1 ppg), SG Joe Harris (2.5 ppg) and SG James Jones (4.4 ppg) on its second- and third-string teams. So simply because of the solid play of Dellavedova and Shumpert, the Cavaliers get the edge in the Bench department. And with Mozgov (over Horford) at Center, James over Carroll at SF and a healthy Irving (slightly) over Teague at the Point, Cleveland gets the perceived edge in Starting 5s heading into Wednesday’s Game 1 in Atlanta, the first game this season in which the Hawks will be favored (-1, Pinnacle) over the Cavaliers in odds that have decreased since the beginning of the regular season (Cavs -7, -6½,- 6½, -1½) up to this point, which is something to keep in mind when placing your NBA picks.

 

Eastern Conference Finals Conclusions
This series could be much closer than most people think, simply because of the results in the Season Series, (3-1 SU), ATS (3-1) and the Homecourt Advantage edges all actually go to the Hawks heading in here, as does the Injury realities. But Atlanta doesn’t have on LeBron James, now part-Player, part-Head Coach, part-Professional Basketball Cyborg on their roster and Cleveland does, so that pretty much erases all that stuff to a degree—not having Love and Irving at 100% could ultimately be devastating to the Cavaliers—except for maybe the Homecourt part which can easily (and probably will) be stolen away from the Hawks in Atlanta either in Game 1 on Wednesday night or in Game 2 on Friday (TNT, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT), One seemingly invisible thing here not found in the statistics or box scores is the fact that the Cavaliers are expecting to win this series, whereas the Hawks are just hoping to. And that little mental thing may end up being the big difference in a series which would probably seem a little bit clearer if Love and Irving were both 100% healthy and in Blatt’s Starting 5 for Cleveland. Game 1 will be big in my mind, especially for Atlanta in terms of trying to set the tone, protect that aforementioned Homecourt Advantage, and, to prove that the 3-1 Regular Season semi-dominance of King James and the Cavaliers was no fluke.

Like Michael Jordan before him, LeBron James seems to get the best out of role teammates so expect guys like Thompson, Shumpert and Dellavedova to continue to shine at the perfect time and to help this game Cavaliers team get back to the NBA Finals for the first (and only) time since 2007 in likely a 6-game series. To say that this city and organization is Hungry would be a massive understatement. With the Indians (MLB), Browns (NFL) and no NHL team, Cleveland has all of its eggs in the LeBron Jame Basket and the metropolitan area and state of Ohio were waiting for the 30-year-old Akron native to return to the Buckeye State since he left five years ago (2010)— so this is exactly what everyone involved wanted and where they wanted to be. Now the trick is to win it with a beat-up roster against the conference’s top-seeded team. It will be no easy feat, but with the super-athletic and constantly evolving James, anything is possible.

Eastern Conference Series Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers -225 (Ladbrokes)

Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers +1 (Pinnacle)