LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are off to a slow start against the NBA odds. So are Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. Looks like the Eastern Conference is wide open – at least for the moment.
Jason’s record as of Nov. 27: 11-9 ATS
Profit: plus-2.48 units
When the 2014-15 NBA season got underway, the Eastern Conference looked like it would be a two-horse race between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls. The Cavaliers somehow ended up with LeBron James (and Kevin Love), while the Bulls were looking forward to a full season from Derrick Rose (and Pau Gasol). That’s a lot of talent on the hoof. Here are the ranch, we had both teams going OVER their posted totals on the NBA odds board.
That could still happen. The Bulls (9-6 SU, 5-10 ATS) haven’t been quite as potent as they’d like; Rose has played just seven of Chicago’s 15 games, and other, less-publicized injuries have taken some starch out of the lineup. But it’s LeBron and the Cavaliers (7-7 SU, 6-7 ATS) that have everyone’s tongues wagging. The Cavs aren’t close to meeting their projections, and the locals are starting to get restless.
You’re not Crescent Fresh
King James warned that the Cavaliers wouldn’t be an instant hit – he issued the same proclamation before his first season with the Miami Heat, and James was spot on. After starting the 2010-11 campaign at 8-7, Miami had to settle for 58 wins in 2010-11, second to Rose and the Bulls at 62-20. The Heat also got mowed over by the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
Most Cleveland fans would take 58 wins and a trip to the Finals at this point (the Cavs need 59 wins to go OVER). But this roster might not have the horses to beat those basketball odds. We think of that 2010-11 Heat team as being very thin, but in reality, they were thick up the middle with plus defenders like Joel Anthony (plus-2.9 DBPM) and Erick Dampier (plus-2.8 DBPM). Cleveland doesn’t have nearly the same backbone, but hey, the season is still young. Dampier didn’t join the Heat until late November that year.
Perrier on the Knee
As for the Bulls, we’ve seen them deal with Rose’s absences before, and they always seem to find a way to survive. However, if they’re going to thrive this year, they need more from Rose (plus-1.1 BPM). At least he’s scoring when he does play: Rose leads the team with 22.8 points per 36 minutes.
Rose also has an established supporting cast to return to in the Windy City, something LeBron doesn’t enjoy in Cleveland. And you can always count on defensive intensity under head coach Tom Thibodeau. But that intensity is bound to dim somewhat if Joakim Noah (plus-3.1 DBPM) has to miss extended time with his left knee effusion. Taj Gibson (plus-0.9 DBPM) has also been bedeviled by sprained ankles. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
As it stands, we’ve got a power vacuum in the East, and some teams are responding better than others. The Milwaukee Bucks (9-7 SU, 11-5 ATS) have done very well with their replenished roster under new head coach Jason Kidd. Not so much for the New York Knicks (4-12 SU, 5-11 ATS) or the Detroit Pistons (3-12 SU, 5-10 ATS), who missed out on some of the great talent available in the 2014 NBA Draft.
But by far the top story of the Eastern Conference thus far – and perhaps the entire league – has been the Toronto Raptors (13-2 SU, 10-5 ATS). We thought they might regress a little and go UNDER 48.5 wins, but instead, the Raptors have tap-danced all over their opponents. Lou Williams (plus-4.4 OBPM) has been healthy and productive off the bench, and Jonas Valanciunas (22.5 PER) is on the verge of a breakout season in his third year in the NBA. If the Dinos aren’t already a regular fixture in your NBA picks, you’re missing out.