The NBA Finals tip off on Thursday at the ORACLE Arena when the Warriors host the Cavaliers. Will this series live up to the hype and are there any decent NBA picks to be made on or before Game 1?
Introduction, Game 1 Odds
Finally. The NBA Finals. LeBron vs. Steph. East versus West. A No. 1 seed playing a No. 2 seed. The Wounded against The Healthy. And for the eventual loser of this NBA Finals series, the Pain and Scrutiny will be much bigger than it will for the eventual winner. If the Golden State Warriors (67-15, 39-2 at Home) lose, it will be a big deal because one of the most balanced teams in NBA history with one of the best records, the loudest fans, one of the best shooters in NBA history (Stephen Curry, 29.2 ppg) who cruised through the Regular season on top, virtually injury-free will have lost. And if the Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29, 22-19 Away) lose, well you can bet many will simply ignore the fact that the Warriors may be one of the best all-around teams in NBA history and that the Cavaliers limped into this series pretty beat up with two talented guys like Center Anderson Varejao (Achilles) and starting Power Forward Kevin Love (shoulder) out for the season and starting Point Guard Kyrie Irving (knee) less than 100%. Poor LeBron. Poor, poor LeBron. As if his shoulders weren’t trying to carry enough weight for the Cavaliers. Send help.
Anyway, this should be a more competitive series than most think, but for Cleveland not to get too psychologically down in the dumps about this whole thing, the key will be to either win Game 1 on Thursday night (ABC, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) at the ORACLE Arena in scenic Oakland, California, or Game 2 on Sunday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT), and somehow steal the Home-court Advantage, the Momentum, and maybe the Warriors Mojo with a rejuvenating Road win. But with the mighty Warriors a combined 46-3 at Home this season in the NBA Regular Season and the Playoffs and the raucous crowd virtually acting as a constant Sixth Man, well, LeBron and the Cavaliers may need the help of the Pentagon or Spider-Man or someone equally as powerful in getting to that end.
The NBA odds themselves for the series and Game 1 don’t really cry songs of sadness for Cleveland though, with the Warriors listed as 6-point favorites in most major sportsbooks (bet365, SkyBet, William Hill, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Pinnacle) over the Cavaliers on Monday afternoon (Total: 202½, bet365) with the Moneyline odds seeing the host Warriors -225 (Cavaliers +187, Sky Bet), a little better than 2-to-1 favorites to win the this Thursday opener. The series prices have a slight range for these two teams, but right now the best series price on SBR's NBA Finals Prop Page if you want to bet on the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors is at Ladbrokes (-210), while the best takeback showing for the Cleveland Cavaliers (+210) was at many places, but most notably at William Hill.
Injury, Energy Level Realities and That ROARACLE Crowd
The long 7-day rest (May 28-June 3) between the end of the Conference Finals and the start of this NBA Finals probably did both teams some good, but more so probably for the Cavaliers who really needed the added time to make sure SG Kyrie Irving (knee) is closer to 100%. With PF Kevin Love (16.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.3 apg) and Center Anderson Varejao (achilles) already out for the season, Cavaliers Head Coach David Blatt really needs at least a 97% healthy Irving to help James out in this series. And one problem with Akron-native LeBron is that he is used to “carrying teams on his shoulders,” so he will be more inclined to try to do so again here versus Golden State, which could be a real detriment to his health, with the Warriors so healthy. But in terms of getting replacements and having backups for Varejao and Love, Cleveland has done an A+ job, trading for C Timofey Mozgov mid-season and having 24-year-old Canadian PF Tristan Thompson plugging in for Love and looking like he would be a starter for most other NBA teams. But still, this will be a much different series without Love’s presence, and who knows how serious Irving’s knee is, or if if will have an effect in this best-of-7 series. All of these things add up.
For Golden State, the health of starting SG Klay Thompson (concussion) is the only real; big question mark, four days out from Game 1 (Halftime Odds: Cavs -3, Sportingbet; Total: 102½, BetVictor). Thompson’s father said on Monday that his son Klay still hadn’t been cleared to play in Game 1 (yet) because of the NBA’s Concussion Protocol—meaning that Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr could turn to either Leandro Barbosa or Justin Holliday—but expect Thompson to definitely be in the Warriors starting lineup for Thursday night. And it may be his (Thompson’s) presence which may open up the door and give the underdog Cavaliers the chance to win this series and with it, the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Maybe.
In terms of Energy Levels, this Warriors team has the really big edge in my mind, coming off a dream Regular Season (67-15) and Playoffs (12-3). In terms of getting ahead in both games and in the Western Conference standings, creating much playing time for anyone who needed it often in stress-free, blowout affairs, Kerr and the Warriors played the game within the game perfectly, ala San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich—Rest and players’ Energy Levels matter and some games are more important than others, Bubba. For Warriors Head Coach Kerr and his talented team of hoopsters, earning the Homecourt Advantage through assembling the best overall record in the NBA Regular Season—one of the best in league history—created the reality for this fairly easy physical run through the NBA Playoffs so far, with Golden State’s almost hidden depth starting to shine through with guys like Barbosa, Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston, David Lee and Andre Iguodala getting some valuable minutes (and confidence) lately which will surely pay off against the Cavaliers.
Conclusions and The LeBron Factor
The simple intent of both teams here in this Game 1 is obvious: Golden State needs to win the retain that Homecourt Advantage it worked so hard all season, while Cleveland will be doing everything possible here in Game 1 to somehow steal this game, and with the Moneyline odds at Warriors -225 (Cavaliers +187, Sky Bet), giving a little precious Hope to the visitors from the Buckeye State, a case has to be made that Cleveland can somehow steal one of these two games at the ROARACLE, right? The two teams’ Benches are pretty even, but it can be said that the Cavaliers bench—primarily Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova—helped the Cavaliers get over those Eastern Conference Finals and Bulls’ humps and on here to these NBA Finals. But they almost had to, with Love and Varejao gone and Irving injured.
The Warriors and the Cavaliers split their Regular Season series, with both teams winning (and covering the point spreads) at Home. In the first meeting on January 9 here at the ORACLE Arena in Oakland, the Warriors won 112-94 as the hosts rallied for the win, outscoring the Cavaliers 28-18 in the 4th Quarter. And in the second meeting, on February 26 at Quicken Loan Arena in Cleveland, King James went off for 43 points in a 110-99 Cleveland victory. One thing’s for sure: No matter how beat up, the Cavaliers certainly won’t be scared of Golden State and all these foregone conclusions that the series is already over before it has even started can only fuel the Cavaliers’ competitive fire. Cleveland wasn’t a great Road team (22-19) in the Regular Season, but the Cavaliers have been stellar so far away from home in the NBA Playoff (6-1). But then again Cleveland was playing the Eastern Conference’s Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks in those 7 Road game (Bulls—May 8, only Loss), so we’ll all get to see how big the real disparity is between the two conferences here in early June. LeBron James always seems to get the best out of his teammates, so expect guys like Thompson, Shumpert, Dellavedova and J.R. Smith to continue to shine at the perfect time in this postseason. But even Superman himself can only carry so much weight on his muscular shoulders and Cleveland will need both Thompson and Draymond Green to have off series’ for Golden State to have a chance to pull off the big upset. And doing so against this team at this point in time might require the aid of some other, probably preoccupied, Superheroes, so keep that in mind when you place your NBA picks.
NBA Finals Game 1 Pick: Golden State Warriors Moneyline -225 (Sky Bet)
NBA Finals Series Pick: Golden State Warriors -210 (Ladbrokes)