The UNDER has been the sharp basketball pick for both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks this postseason. Will Wednesday's series opener be any different?
Jason’s record as of May 18: 76-78-5 ATS, 14-19 Totals, plus-0.15 units ML, 6-2 Series (plus-4.0 units)
If it's the Eastern Conference, then the UNDER must be doing well. This has been a reasonable default NBA pick through the first two rounds of the playoffs at 34-31, but if you focus squarely on the East, that mark improves to 18-14, or 56.25 percent. Shazam, instant profit. For the most part, these Eastern series have been exactly what you'd expect: Tough defense, dubious offense. The top four teams in defensive efficiency are all from the East. Six the top seven teams in offense are from the West.
The seventh team? That happens to be the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lead the 16 playoff teams at 108.2 points per 100 possessions. Maybe the UNDER isn't such a great bet after all for Wednesday's matchup (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) with the Atlanta Hawks. Then again, the UNDER is 6-4 for Cleveland and 7-5 for Atlanta. And there's a manageable total of 197 points on the NBA odds board as we go to press. Our early consensus reports show 57 percent of bettors on the UNDER, taking the total down from 197.5 points at the open.
Let's take a second look at Cleveland's offensive efficiency stats. They do seem a bit inflated, given the way we've been talking about how inefficient LeBron James has been in these playoffs – his PER is down from 25.9 to 22.9, and his OBPM has been cut in half from plus-6.2 to plus-3.1. Maybe the season-ending injury to Kevin Love (18.8 PER) has had something to do with it.
Maybe. The UNDER was 2-1 in the three full games Love played before getting his shoulder yanked out of its socket. But let's go ahead and take a look at Cleveland's Offensive Rating for each of its 10 games thus far.
Game 1: 123.1
Game 2: 110.0
Game 3: 109.5
Game 4: 104.4
Game 1: 109.0
Game 2: 122.4
Game 3: 109.1
Game 4: 95.9
Game 5: 119.4
Game 6: 118.7
We're no statisticians, but it doesn't look like Love's absence – or LeBron's high volume – have cost the Cavaliers at the offensive end thus far. That's because their teammates have picked up the slack. Against the Bulls, Cleveland's most efficient offensive player (among the regulars) was Tristan Thompson at 138 points per 100 possessions. Then it was Matthew Dellavedova at 126. That's up from 121 and 109 respectively during the regular season. Sustainable? We doubt it.
Defensive stats have a tendency to yo-yo in small sample sizes, but thus far in the playoffs, the Hawks are No. 2 in defensive efficiency at 98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions, with the Cavaliers in fourth at 98.8. Can we trust these numbers? Well, Atlanta played the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards, who ranked No. 18 and No. 19 in offensive efficiency during the regular season. And Cleveland played No. 20 Boston and No. 10 Chicago. Not the toughest defensive assignments.
Now the Hawks and Cavs have to face each other in the Eastern Conference Finals. Cleveland was fourth in offensive efficiency (107.7) during the regular season, although again, we have to take Love's absence into account. Atlanta was sixth (106.2) in offense; during the playoffs, the Hawks have fallen to ninth (102.0) in the face of strong defense from the Nets and especially the Wizards.
If Love were still involved, we'd be tempted to take the OVER. It went 3-1 during the four games the Cavs and Hawks played during the regular season. And that was with all four totals going north of 200 points. We're still tempted, but given the playoff results so far, and with Thompson and Dellavedova likely to regress offensively, we'll give the UNDER another shot with our NBA picks.
Free NBA Pick: Take UNDER 197 at Bovada