The Cleveland Cavaliers had one of their worst regular seasons with LeBron James in the Wine and Gold. If that was on purpose, they’re great NBA picks for the rest of the playoffs.
Two months ago, it looked like the Cleveland Cavaliers were melting down. Their defense was a mess, their bench was thin, and they went through the month of March at 7-10 SU and 6-10-1 ATS to lose their grip on first place in the Eastern Conference. Not good.
Is this the same team? The Cavaliers haven’t found another gear in these playoffs – they’ve traded in their ‘71 Vega for a fresh Bentley, winning 10 straight games at 7-2-1 ATS. It’s almost a lead-pipe cinch they’ll be back in the NBA Finals. Here at the ranch, we’ve been skeptical about Cleveland’s ability to maintain this high level of play, but let’s take a moment to reconsider how we’ve approached our NBA picks.
Here’s the basic process: First, make an educated guess which team has the betting value. Second, consult the advanced stats to see if they back up the hypothesis. Third, proceed with the pick or change it. That’s just science. The stats in question, though, are based in large part on what happened during the regular season – and during the regular season, Cleveland (+3.2 point differential) performed worse than the Toronto Raptors (+4.2). And the Los Angeles Clippers (+4.3) and the Utah Jazz (+3.9), even though all four teams finished 51-31 SU.
So much for baseline expectations. The Cavs have a +13.4 point differential in these playoffs, playing against a higher overall level of competition than they faced during the regular season. Were they holding out on us? Did they sandbag those games in order to be fresh for the postseason? If so, good on them. The league sets up perverse incentives that turn the regular season into 82 glorified exhibition games. Teams are openly exploiting this now, whether it’s tanking or resting stars or whatever. But the players who do play are still supposed to give it the proverbial 100 percent.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to willingly vie for the eighth seed in the East next season, just to further prove a point.— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) May 18, 2017
They don’t. And as a result, the regular-season stats are going to lose at least some of their predictive power when it comes to pounding the NBA odds during these playoffs. We can still point at Cleveland’s current 43.3-percent success rate from downtown and question their ability to maintain that level, but as they say, you can’t measure heart.