Cavs-Warriors: The Inevitable Has Arrived
Everyone knew this was going to happen. After the Cleveland Cavaliers claimed first-ever NBA title, the Cavs went into the 2016-17 season as –215 favorites to win the Eastern Conference for the third straight year since LeBron James came back home. And in the West, the Golden State Warriors were –250 favorites to return to the NBA Finals, also for the third year in a row. Their odds only got better as the season wore on. Now the prophecy has been fulfilled; Cleveland has eliminated the Boston Celtics, setting up the inevitable third chapter in the Cavs-Warriors rivalry.
The Cavaliers put the finishing touches on Boston Thursday night, scoring a franchise-record 43 points in the first quarter of Game 5 and cruising to a 135-102 victory as 11-point road favorites, up from –10 at the open. James did not appear limited in any way after possibly contracting a virus before Game 3 – he dumped 35 points on the Celtics to become the leading playoff scorer in NBA history. Kyrie Irving (24 points) and Kevin Love (15 points, 11 rebounds) were also in fine form after minor injury scares late in Game 4. They’ll have until June 1 to get ready for the Finals.
KD: It’s What’s for Dinner
But is it just as inevitable that the Warriors will win their title back? They were –275 favorites on the NBA futures market at Bovada just before the Cavaliers and Celtics played Thursday night; the Cavaliers were +190, and the undermanned Celtics were already a distant afterthought at +50000. Before the 2016-17 season began, Golden State was a –110 favorite over the field to win the title. Cleveland was +275.
That’s what having two MVPs on your team can do for you. After famously blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers in last year’s Finals, the Dubs signed a free-agent deal with Kevin Durant – and the basketball universe lost its mind, complaining how unfair it was that Golden State was hoarding all this talent. Not only has Durant been a significant improvement on Harrison Barnes (now with Dallas), he’s arguably been the best player on the team.
The Air Up There
Because there’s only one ball to go around, neither Durant nor Curry has the raw numbers to be named MVP again this year. More importantly, the Warriors (67-15 SU, 40-39-3 ATS) are a better team than last year; even if they didn’t win 73 games this time, Golden State improved their point differential from +10.8 to +11.6. Cleveland (51-31 SU, 36-43-3 ATS) posted a +3.2 point differential during the regular season.
The playoffs are a different animal, of course. But even if the Cavs have upped their game during these playoffs, when they arrive in Oakland for Game 1, they’ll be running into a team that’s performing at an incredible level. For comparison sake, of the six championships, Michael Jordan won with the Chicago Bulls, only one of those teams posted a higher point differential: the 1995-96 squad that went 72-10 and outscored opponents by an average of 12.2 points per game. Good luck with that.
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