The Cleveland Cavaliers are 5-2 underdogs at press time to win the NBA title. The basketball odds aren't on their side, but the Cavaliers do have a path to victory.
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)
This isn't the quite the way LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers thought the 2015 NBA playoffs would go. Yes, the Cavaliers have reached the Eastern Conference Finals, where they'll face the Atlanta Hawks starting Wednesday night (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) at the Highlight Factory. But injuries to all of Cleveland's Big Three have taken the air out of their basketball odds. As we go to press, the Cavs are 5-2 at GT Bets to win the title, well behind the Golden State Warriors at 1-2.
The NBA odds may not be shining down on Cleveland, but that doesn't mean the Cavs can't win the title. While Kevin Love won't be back anytime soon, James is still out there doing amazing things, and Kyrie Irving is expected to play in Game 1 despite his injuries. Add a strong supporting cast, and who knows, maybe this will finally be the year James brings the Larry O'Brien Trophy home to the Buckeye State.
From Each According to His Ability
Before we get much further, yes, we have the Atlanta Hawks (+180) in our NBA picks for the Conference Finals. But most of us here at the home office expect the Cavaliers to win this series. Our decision to follow the Hawks was based more on market value. Obviously, Atlanta (68-26 SU, 55-37-2 ATS) will be a tough out in the Eastern final. But the Cavaliers have enough weapons to get the job done.
As always, it starts with James (25.9 PER). We've seen him put up some big numbers this spring, scoring at least 30 points in four of Cleveland's 10 playoff games. But with Love (18.8 PER) out of the lineup, LeBron has taken up more of the workload, and his efficiency has dropped as a result, down to 22.9 PER for the postseason. He and his sore back need more support if the Cavs (61-31 SU, 44-48 ATS) are going to advance.
Irving (21.5 PER) is the most obvious source for that support. He put in a full practice on Monday and should be ready to go for Game 1, although he won't be at 100 percent because of tendinitis in his left knee. Ideally, the Cavs will spread the workload around even further, using 3-point shooters like J.R. Smith (39.0 percent) and Matthew Dellavedova (40.7 percent) to create space, while big men Timofey Mozgov (10.0 rebounds per 36 minutes) and Tristan Thompson (10.8 boards/36) clean up the glass.
Majesty of Rock, The
We've discussed the Cavs-Hawks series in more depth elsewhere, and will continue to do so as the Eastern final rolls on, so let's skip ahead and get to the matchup nearly everyone wants to see. Do the Cavaliers have a prayer against the mighty Warriors (75-17 SU, 52-39-1 ATS)? Again, we're not taking the NBA odds into account here; we've already picked the Houston Rockets (+600) to win the West, even though we expect Golden State to advance.
This is where things should get really tricky for the Cavaliers. All the things they need to do right against Atlanta, the Dubs have an answer for. They had the top defense in the league during the regular season at 98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions. All their core players are healthy, both in the paint and on the perimeter. And the Warriors bench is deeper than their Royal Blue uniforms.
There's still a way through for the Cavs. If they can get some added 3-point magic from their old guard – not just James Jones (36.0 percent), but also Mike Miller (32.7 percent) and Shawn Marion (26.1 percent), that should put enough points on the board for Cleveland to win the title. While Miller doesn't seem to have anything left in the tank, we've seen him come to James' rescue before as a member of the Miami Heat. It could happen again.