Free NBA Picks: Back Cavaliers -1.5 as Short Favorite Against Hawks

Jason Lake

Friday, March 6, 2015 2:33 PM GMT

The Hawks have already clinched a playoff berth in the East. The Cleveland Cavaliers might not catch them in the standings, but they can beat the NBA odds when they visit Atlanta on Friday.

Jason’s record as of Mar. 4: 43-38-4 ATS, 3-7 Totals

According to the NBA standings, the Atlanta Hawks (48-12 SU, 39-20-1 ATS) are the best team in the Eastern Conference. The NBA odds beg to differ. The Cleveland Cavaliers (39-24 SU, 31-32 ATS) are the overwhelming 4-7 favorites to win the East on the futures market at Bovada, and they’re 1.5-point road faves to beat the Hawks this Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET), up from a pick ‘em at the open.

There was a time not too long ago when we would have told you about how casual fans are ignoring the Hawks and paying too much attention to LeBron James. That time has come and gone. After sending four (!) players to the All-Star Game, Atlanta is 5-1 SU and 2-3-1 ATS, not to mention 6-9-1 ATS over the past 16 games. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, are 20-4 SU and 18-6 ATS since mid-January. Guess who our basketball pick is going to be for this matchup?

 

No Mistake by the Lake
Okay, it’s the Cavaliers. How did you know? Is it the fact that James (26.3 PER) is playing like an MVP again? Let’s go ahead and break his season down month-by-month and see the progression:

November: plus-6.7

December: plus-6.1

January: plus-17.8

February: plus-20.4

Not coincidentally, James’ return to form began with the arrival of Timofey Mozgov (19.3 PER), J.R. Smith (14.3 PER) and Iman Shumpert (plus-0.7 DBPM). With them on board, and with Dion Waiters (12.3 PER) safely tucked away in Oklahoma City, James and the Cavs have been a much stronger, better-balanced team. Kyrie Irving (21.2 PER) and Kevin Love (19.4 PER) now have more purpose and definition to their roles. And nobody’s questioning “rookie” head coach David Blatt anymore. All is well.

 

No 3, No D
But what about the Hawks? Did they bleed out all their value for our NBA picks by going on that 15-0 SU and ATS miracle run? Is this regression to the mean, or has Atlanta forgotten how to play good basketball? As usual, it might be a bit of both. Let’s start by acknowledging the absence of Atlanta’s best defender, Thabo Sefolosha (plus-3.1 DBPM). He’s been out since Jan. 30 with a strained right calf, and isn’t expected back for another week or so.

Then we need to look at Kyle Korver (14.9 PER). He snuck into the All-Star Game as an alternate, thanks to his amazing 3-point shooting, but Korver hasn’t been quite as amazing of late. Here’s his accuracy from long range, broken down month-by-month.

November: 52.2%

December: 49.5%

January: 56.7%

February: 37.2%

Korver’s malaise has continued into March: He shot 1-of-5 from downtown in Tuesday’s 104-96 win over the Houston Rockets (+8.5 away). Between Sefolosha’s absence and Korver’s about-face, the Hawks just aren’t covering those inflated spreads like they used to.

 

Teague Makes Cowards of Us All
While we’re at it, we’re going to have to take a sideways look at Jeff Teague (21.6 PER). He’s improved in each of his six seasons in the NBA, to the point where he was a valid All-Star choice this year. But again, Teague hasn’t been able to maintain that elevated level of play. We’ll spare you the full monthly rundown; just know that Teague went from plus-16.8 in January to plus-2.1 in February.

There’s still plenty to love about the Hawks. Even without Sefolosha, this is as healthy as they’ve been in about forever, and they still play a marvelous style of basketball under coach Mike Budenholzer, who was an assistant for four championship teams with the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich. Maybe Korver and Teague will catch fire again, who knows. We’ll put the Cavs in our NBA picks in the meantime.

Free NBA Pick: Take the Cavaliers at Bovada

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