The Golden State Warriors are the more talented team in the NBA Finals. But are the Cleveland Cavaliers the better basketball pick as 6-point road dogs in Game 1?
Any way you slice it, the Golden State Warriors are the team to beat in the NBA Finals. They won 67 games during the regular season at a mouthwatering 47-34-1 ATS. They have the league's MVP in Stephen Curry, supported by a deep, healthy and talented lineup. As we go to press, Bovada has the Warriors priced at –200 to win the Finals. It seems almost inevitable that they will.
Big whoop. When it comes to the spread for Thursday's series opener (9:00 p.m. ET, ABC), it's the Cleveland Cavaliers who are getting the early action as 6-point road dogs. Our consensus reports show 61 percent of bettors adding Cleveland to their NBA picks; the pressure has been great enough to move the line to +5.5 at a handful of our featured sportsbooks. Should we join the party?
Fading the Warriors in these playoffs has been a viable strategy for the most part. As the No. 1 seed in the West, they were far too chalky in their first-round matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans, who went 3-1 ATS while getting swept away. Then Golden State dropped two of three against the Memphis Grizzlies before injuries finally caught up to the Grizz. And the Houston Rockets “won” the Western Conference Finals at 3-2 ATS. All told, the Dubs are 7-8 ATS in the 2015 postseason.
Yet the Warriors have been playing at a very high level. Tougher competition has eaten into their profit margin, along with the increased emphasis on defense. The Warriors are scoring 107.3 points per 100 possessions, down from 109.7 points during the regular season, and the UNDER is 11-3-1 for Golden State thus far. If you've been pounding the standard underdog-UNDER combo, well done.
But do the Cavaliers bring the same betting value to the table as Golden State's Western foes? They've got inflated expectations of their own, with LeBron James (24.8 playoff PER) casting his long shadow over the rest of the NBA. His supporting cast has been whittled down with the loss of Kevin Love (18.8 PER) and the hobbling of Kyrie Irving (20.3 playoff PER), although the week off before the Finals should help Irving recover somewhat from the tendinitis in his left knee.
Somewhat. According to head coach David Blatt, Irving's recovery process has been slow, and Irving has been limited in practice this week. Meanwhile, Iman Shumpert (12.9 playoff PER) still isn't 100 percent because of a strained groin, and James reportedly has a sprained right wrist that has been dogging him all season. ESPN's Brian Windhorst says that Anderson Varejao (Achilles) could be activated in case of emergency, but that doesn't appear to be a concern for Game 1.
We've talked plenty about how these injuries have forced James to carry too much of the workload to be efficient. The Cavs were 2-4 ATS against the Chicago Bulls, the one team that had a real chance to put them away during the playoffs given the injury situation with the Atlanta Hawks. And the Bulls had their own injury problems with Pau Gasol (20.0 playoff PER) missing two of the last three games.
This is why we're going to throw our support behind Golden State for Game 1. It's almost laughable how the path to the championship has been opened up for the Warriors with all the injuries to their opponents. Curry (26.4 playoff PER) and Klay Thompson (15.9 playoff PER) both had their bells rung in the Western Finals, but they've both been cleared for action. Even Marreese Speights (19.5 PER) will be available on Thursday after missing most of the playoffs with a calf injury. When someone that good is an afterthought, you know the Cavs are in trouble.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Warriors