It hasn’t been the greatest start for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the NBA odds say they’re the favorites to win the title. Atlanta Hawks supporters might have something to say about it, though.
Jason’s record as of Jan. 21: 25-24-2 ATS, 2-4 Totals
Here we are at the halfway point of the 2014-15 regular season, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are right back where they started: at the top of the NBA odds list. As we go to press, the Cavaliers are No. 1 on the championship futures market at 4-1. You’d think that nothing had gone wrong with Cleveland (23-20 SU, 17-26 ATS) during the first half of the season. But the Cavs do look pretty good right now after winning four in a row SU and ATS.
Atlanta Hawks fans aren’t impressed. Their team has won 14 straight games SU and ATS. Yes, 14. We hope you were able to grab some of that sweet, sweet cash; with any luck, this gravy train will continue all the way to the NBA Finals. If so, the Hawks (35-8 SU, 32-11 ATS) are a bargain at 7-1 on the futures market. But what about the Chicago Bulls (27-16 SU, 18-25 ATS) at 8-1? Decisions, decisions.
Iman for All Seasons
It seems like every day, we’re bombarded with stories about how the Cavaliers are falling apart, and how deep head coach David Blatt is in over his head. Funny what a full roster of players can do for a team, though. The Cavaliers are playing much better now that they have Timofey Mozgov (15.5 PER) at center and J.R. Smith (13.6 PER) hitting 39.2 percent of his trey attempts. And Iman Shumpert (12.1 PER with the New York Knicks) should make his Cleveland debut Friday against the Charlotte Hornets.
Let’s see if Shumpert can inject some defense into this lineup. Only two Cleveland players have a positive defensive Box Plus-Minus this year: Shawn Marion (plus-0.7 DBPM) and Anderson Varejao (plus-0.6 DBPM). And Varejao is probably out for the rest of the season after having surgery on his Achilles. Shumpert will reportedly start at shooting guard on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET), sliding Smith into a sixth-man role. Finally, some bench strength.
The Hawks don’t have any issues with defense or with depth. They rank No. 5 in defensive efficiency at 99.5 points allowed per 100 possessions – Cleveland is No. 27 (106.7) in that department. This team is gifted down low with the tandem of Al Horford (20.7 PER, plus-2.1 DBPM) and Paul Millsap (19.6 PER, plus-2.7 DBPM). And while the perimeter is manned mostly by Jeff Teague (plus-3.6 OBPM) and Kyle Korver (plus-3.7 OBPM), Atlanta can also throw defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha (plus-3.1 DBPM) into the mix when required.
We need to talk about Korver for a second. He could end up being the first member of the 50-50-90 Club: 50 percent on field goals (51.5 percent), 50 percent on 3-pointers (53.6 percent, which is insane) and 90 percent on free throws (92.2 percent). By the way, the current NBA single-season record for 3-point shooting is 52.4 percent, held by Steve Kerr of the 1994-95 Chicago Bulls.
What a segue~! The Bulls are doing all right from long range this year, ranking eighth overall at 36.5 percent. But they’ve fallen all the way to 12th in defensive efficiency at 102.7 points allowed per 100 possessions, down from second place last year (97.8). We’ve come to expect better from Tom Thibodeau’s teams. Chicago is 1-4 SU and ATS in its past five games, and 3-11 ATS since the holidays. This is not the NBA pick you’re looking for.
Having Joakim Noah (14.6 PER, plus-3.1 DBPM) miss the past three games with a sprained right ankle hasn’t helped matters. Noah is listed as doubtful to play Thursday night (8:00 p.m. ET, TNT) against the San Antonio Spurs. Mike Dunleavy (41.7 percent from downtown) is also questionable with a sprained ankle, although he did put in a full practice Wednesday. Chicago needs all the help it can get to keep this championship train moving.