The reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers are limping into the 2017 playoffs, looking from the outside in on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. What's at stake on the final day, and how will the Cavs stack up in the first round of the postseason?
LeBrom James is expected to sit in the Cavaliers’ regular-season finale against the Raptors on Wednesday, but head coach Tyronn Lue may see Kyrie Irving suit up. Both players missed Cleveland’s 124-121 overtime loss at Miami on Monday. James was listed out with a right calf strain, while Irving is battling tendonitis in his surgically repaired left knee. The defeat, the Cavs’ third straight, made their bid for the top playoff position in the Eastern Conference much murkier. With the help of a tiebreaker, they have to win out against Toronto and see the Bucks beat the Celtics to earn the No. 1 seed over Boston. This is a tough task with James out.
It’s no secret among bettors what James means to the Cavs. Since 2014, the franchise is 4-22 SU and 2-23-1 ATS when the King sits. The overtime loss to the Heat on Monday was the only time since January 2015 they covered a spread in his absence. Miami tipped off 4.5-point favorites. On average, Cleveland loses by 11.5 points per game in this situation, dropping to the number by 9.2 points per contest. James’ stats this season are unreal. He is the first player in NBA history to shoot better than 54 percent from the floor while averaging up to 25 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists per game. The latter are career highs.
If Cleveland remains in the two spot, it will most likely square off against the current No. 7 Pacers this weekend. The Bulls, however, sit one game out of Indiana and hold the tiebreaker between the two. They play the Nets on Wednesday, while the Pacers host the Hawks.
Cavs fans hope Indiana is the first-round opponent, as the team matches up poorly with Chicago. Since James’ return to Cleveland, the franchise is 8-1 SU and 3-5-1 ATS versus the Pacers when the King plays. His record against the Bulls is uglier. Since 2014, James and company are 8-9 SU and 5-11-1 ATS, losing six of their last seven outright despite tipping off chalk in all but one.
Then again, historically, it may not matter what seeding Cleveland holds, or what opponent they face in the first round. Playoff LeBron is otherworldly, as evident in last year’s championship run. Since his return, the Cavs are 12-0 SU and 8-4 ATS versus seeds four through eight in the playoffs. They are winning by 10.1 points per game with defense being the catalyst for most victories. It’s holding foes to 96.4 points per game, keeping seven of 12 below their projected team total.
The unit is struggling mightily headed into this postseason, however. Cleveland, 12-13 SU since the All-Star break, is allowing 107.9 points per 100 possessions in this span. This ranks in the bottom third of all NBA teams. Moreover, the Cavs haven’t beaten a Western Conference playoff team on the road all season. If Cleveland makes a run this year, then the King truly is the greatest player in league history. He needs the rest on Wednesday. The task in front of him is the most challenging in his career.
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