It’s open season on the Cleveland Cavaliers. They’re having trouble beating the NBA odds in these early days of LeBron’s return; unfortunately, so are their opponents this Friday, the Washington Wizards.
Jason’s record as of Nov. 19: 8-6 ATS
Profit: plus-3.43 units
Well, that was a short honeymoon. LeBron James is back in the public doghouse, his Cleveland Cavaliers struggling to find their feet at 5-5 (4-6 ATS). James even committed the decisive turnover in Wednesday’s 92-90 loss to the San Antonio Spurs (+1.5 away), the same team that bedeviled him during last year’s NBA Finals. It’s a disaster wrapped in a tragedy wrapped in a boondoggle.
Let’s try to make some money off their misfortune. We tried fading the Cavaliers two weeks ago against the Denver Nuggets, but Denver proved to be a poor dance partner, losing 110-101 as 5-point home dogs. Cleveland went on to win three more in a row, then the Nuggets came to town on Monday, and go figure, they beat the Cavs (–11.5) 106-97. If Denver can do it, so can the Washington Wizards. Our NBA odds board for Friday night’s matchup (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) have the Wizards getting 1.5 points at home.
That might seem like an overly generous gift to give the top team in the Southeast (7-3 SU, 4-6 ATS). Not so fast: According to the Simple Rating System at Basketball Reference, Cleveland (plus-2.36) has been outperforming the Wizards (plus-0.24) up to this point. As frustrating a start as this has been for LeBron and the Cavs, they’ve risen all the way to No. 5 in the league in offensive efficiency at 108.1 points per 100 possessions. That’s up from 100.5 points after their first four games.
So far, the new Big Three of James (24.2 PER), Kyrie Irving (22.2 PER) and Kevin Love (17.5 PER) is coming together much like the old Big Three, with Love playing the same third banana role that Chris Bosh played for the Miami Heat. James is putting up the kind of numbers he did in his first year with the Heat, and while Irving is still working his way into Dwyane Wade territory, he’s been good for 20.6 points and 4.7 assists every 36 minutes. No complaints there.
Click here for the Early Betting Odds on today's games.
Cleveland’s defense, on the other hand, remains a problem. Things have gotten a little bit better over the past two weeks; the Cavs are No. 26 in defensive efficiency at 107.6 points allowed/100, an improvement of 2.1 points. That’s still not nearly good enough. But they’re getting there, judging by their performance against the defending champions. Putting Shawn Marion (plus-1.0 DBPM) in the starting rotation ahead of Dion Waiters (minus-1.4 DBPM) has helped. Marion and Anderson Varejao (plus-0.8 DBPM) are the only plus defenders thus far among Cleveland’s regulars, at least until Matthew Dellavedova (knee) comes of the injured list next month.
Washington, by contrast, is chock-full of defensive goodness at No. 6 overall (100.3 points allowed/100), but the offense has failed to show up at No. 20 (102.8). The Washington Wizards have built their record thus far on the backs of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference; they’re 4-2 in their past six games, but only 1-5 ATS, with losses against the Toronto Raptors (–4 at home) two weeks ago and the Dallas Mavericks (–2.5 away) on Wednesday.
We don’t know how long it will take for the Cavaliers to get up to speed. And we’d rather fade them against a team that’s gotten off to a strong start against the basketball odds – like the Raptors (9-2 SU, 7-4 ATS), who will visit on Saturday. But like we said, if the Nuggets can do it, so can the Wizards, making them part of our NBA picks.
The Five Stars
Market Bias: WAS
Betting Line Value: CLE
Verdict: 2-star pick on WAS
Free NBA Pick: 3.5 units on the Wizards +1.5 (–103) at 5Dimes