With a solid and productive group of starters, the Atlanta Hawks definitely have a shot at ousting the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, the Cleveland Cavaliers in their Finals series—which begins Wednesday night in Atlanta—but they’ll need to find a way to somehow stop Superman LeBron James to do so. With NBA odds a little shy of 2-to-1, are the underdog Hawks worth a pick in this Best-of-7 series?
The NBA’s Eastern Conference’s No. 1-seeded Atlanta Hawks and No. 2-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers tip off their Eastern Conference Finals best-of-7 series their best-of-7 (2-2-1-1-1) in Philips Arena in Atlanta on Wednesday night (TNT, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT), and although superstar LeBron James and the Cavaliers have been favored to win the Eastern Conference most of the season, now may be right time for someone—specifically these Atlanta Hawks—to derail this team, which swept the Boston Celtics in Round 1 (4-0) and then sent the Chicago Bulls home in Round 2 (4-2) on Thursday, after rallying from a 2-1 series deficit. The NBA odds in some sportsbooks (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Mirage, SIA, Station Casinos) have the host Hawks slight -1 favorites (Pinnacle: Hawks -1½) in this Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 with the Total (Points) set at 197 (Pinnacle) and the moneyline odds for the game seeing Atlanta priced as -113 favorites with the Central Division-champion Cavaliers the slightest +102 underdogs (Pinnacle) for the game. Before thinking about some potential ways that the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks—who do hold the precious Homecourt Advantage heading into Game 1—can upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in these Eastern Conference Finals and make it to the NBA Finals (June 4), let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference Series odds for this matchup as well as the best NBA Finals, NBA Finals MVP and and Series Final Scores (Games W to Games L) marketplace numbers from each team’s perspective with Wednesday’s series opener still two days out.
Eastern Conference Finals Series, NBA Finals and Finals MVP Odds (Monday)
Best Series Price for Cavaliers (Oddschecker): Cavaliers -200 (William Hill)
Best Series Price for Hawks: Hawks +190 (BetVictor)
Correct Series Final Odds (bet365): Cavaliers 4-0 +700, Cavaliers 4-1 +400, Cavaliers 4-2 +800, Cavaliers 4-3 +800; Hawks 4-0 +2500 (25/1), Hawks 4-1 +1000, Hawks 4-2 +800, Hawks 4-3 +500.
Best NBA Finals Odds for Cavaliers: Cavaliers +250 (bet365, BetVictor)
Best NBA Finals Odds for Hawks: Hawks +900 (SkySports, Totesport, Boylesports, Sportingbet, William Hill, Stan James)
Best NBA Finals MVP Odds Cavaliers: LeBron James +300 (Paddy Power), Kyrie Irving +2000 (Ladbrokes, 888sport); JR Smith +10,000 (Paddy Power, Ladbrokes), Timofey Mozgov +50,000, (Ladbrokes).
Best NBA Finals MVP Odds Hawks: Paul Millsap +4000 (Ladbrokes), Jeff Teague +4000 (Ladbrokes), Al Horford +5000 (Ladbrokes), Kyle Korver +10,000 (Ladbrokes), DeMarre Carroll +15,000 (Paddy Power).
>Regular Season Season Series: Hawks 3-1 SU, Hawks 3-1 ATS, Overs 3-1.
How to Try to Slow Down the Cleveland Cavaliers
Atlanta Hawks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer has had the extremely Enviable Route of getting to face the Brooklyn Nets in Round 1 (Hawks won, 4-2) and the still rebuilding Washington Wizards in Round 2 (Atlanta won, 4-2) so far in their half of the Eastern Conference Playoffs bracket, but here in the Eastern Conference Finals, the rubber will meet the proverbial road for this team which features an extremely productive and talented Starting 5—Al Horford (15.0 ppg. 7.4 rpg), Paul Millsap (17.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg), DeMarre Carroll (12.1 ppg, 5.2 apg), Kyle Korver (12.3 ppg, 50.3% 3’s) and Jeff Teague (16.3 ppg, 7.0 apg)—the only team in the NBA Finals MVP marketplace (for sportsbooks listed on Oddschecker) which can boast all five of its starters with odds posted to win. (Why none chose to post odds on Golden State Warriors PF and Demi-God Draymond Green is beyond me but we’ll (not) get to that Conspiracy in another story at another Time.) Anyway, this story is about slowing down, and trying to find a way or ways to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, which means trying to find ways to slow down that Football Player Basically Playing Basketball, future HOFer LeBron James (25.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg. 7.3 apg in Regular Season). Doing that means having to have an athletic and big enough NBA player on your current roster to stick on King James, and there honestly aren’t many who truly that fit the bill. A player in the (former Chicago Bulls) Scottie Pippen-mold would be the best Rx to get to this means, but for Atlanta it means that DeMarre Carroll or maybe even Hawks PF Paul Millsap will have to stop James from getting to the rim, while Atlanta guards Korver and Teague will also have to help out on double teams as much as possible. Not letting the 6-8 LeBron get a head of steam up, room to maneuver on the court and clear looks at the entire court will be the keys, but all easier said than done. He has magic Johnson size and brains (now) running an Offense with Michael Jordan’s skill, will to win and get the best out of his teammates. Rare qualities indeed.
With starting PF Kevin Love out for Cleveland and starting PG Kyrie Irving still not at 100%—expect him to start though on Wednesday night—another way to beat Cleveland is to attempt to Make It A Really Physical Affair, by specifically pushing the hobbled Irving to his limits to the point where he may re-aggravate his Knee Injury, forcing Lebron to possibly switch up his initial role. And, Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson has been wonderful so far filling in for Love at the PF spot, so Atlanta’s veterans need put the pressure on the 24-year-old University of Texas and Findlay Prep product and make him prove he can carry his weight in a conference finals series. And, hoping Head Coach David Blatt has to go to his Wealth of NBA Experience (he has little) by frustrating the Cavaliers real Head Coach—superstar SF James—into not being able to make Wise on-the-court decisions and making Blatt have to out-coach Budenholzer—a sentence that reveals how few really quality Head Coaches there are in the NBA and how weak this Eastern Conference really is this NBA season. And you want a simple one Mike? How about trying to get the Golden Goose into some early foul trouble? Drawing a charge or two seems like a good way to try to make that potential a reality. But standing (and not moving) when that 250-pound Freight Train Numbered ‘23’ comes headed your way down the lane is easier thought about, talked about and coached then actually done.
This series one should be a much closer one than the Western Conference Finals series—which features two other No. 1 (Golden State Warriors) and No. 2 (Houston Rockets) seeds battling in their conference Finals series in the 2015 NBA Playoffs—with Atlanta here actually having distinct advantages over Cleveland in the Regular Season series (3-1 SU and 3-1 ATS); having proved it can win at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland this season and the Confidence from that seemingly small but significant reality from a handicapping POV; the Homecourt Advantage (for now) by way of being the Eastern Conference’s top seed after compiling a surprising and dominating Regular Season (60-22, 35-6 Home); and, being theoretically healthier than Cleveland, which, as mentioned, has starting PF Kevin Love out for the season and Irving a bit banged up (Knee, Foot) heading in. This one could actually be a great deal of Fun, with Atlanta possibly surprising, but ultimately succumbing to LeBron and the Cavaliers in 6, possibly even 7 games likely because the Cavaliers and Team Brass were savvy enough to take a gamble and trade for starting Center Mozgov; get Shooting Guards JR Smith (11.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and Iman Shumpert (10.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg) from the crumbling New York Knicks at the perfect time; and, be smart enough to take a chance and sign an undrafted guy like guard Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary’s; 6.0 ppg, 2.7 apg) and take a chance a cou9ple years back and draft the aforementioned Thompson (Texas; 8.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg).
Under the microscope, this Cavaliers team is way more than just LeBron James, and stopping them may mean an awful lot of guys like James, Kyrie Irving, Smith, Shumpert, Dellavedova, Thompson and Mozgov will have to be stopped and go Cold, and, despite Atlanta’s athleticism, it hasn’t faced anything close to the Cavaliers yet and could really be in above their heads. Those who place NBA picks know that winning both Game 1 (Wednesday) and Game 2 (Friday; TNT, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT) at Home at Philips Arena in Atlanta would do wonders for the Hawks’ collective heads, but it seems the city of Cleveland and state of Ohio are more intent on winning a professional basketball championship now than are the good folks of the metropolitan Atlanta area and the state of Georgia. One (Atlanta) is hungry with a lower case ‘h,’ while the other NBA market (Cleveland) is Hungry with a capital ‘H,’ and has loyally been waiting for the Hometown (Akron) Hero to return and put the team and city on his broad shoulders and get that Larry O’Brien Trophy. And preventing Superman from being Superman means finding a little Kryptonite and that funky Radioactive Green Material ain’t so easy to find these days, especially in Hotlanta where Real Housewives with real names like Porsha, Kandi, Phaedra and NeNe Leakes actually roam the environs, and who have been known to deplete Kryptonite and Louis Vuitton Stashes faster than Superman’s worst-ever enemy. Advantage Cavs.
Eastern Conference Finals Props Pick: Cavaliers 4-2 +800 (bet365)
Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 Pick: Cavaliers Moneyline +102 (Pinnacle)