Raptors vs. Cavaliers: The “Real” Eastern Finals
Nobody gave the Toronto Raptors much of a chance during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. They were playing the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers, and they were +650 underdogs at Bovada Sportsbook. But it turned out to be a fairly competitive series. Cleveland (–1000) won the first two games, Toronto won the next two, then the Cavaliers won Games 5 and 6 en route to the NBA Finals.
The Raptors should be even more competitive this time around. Except it won’t be in the Eastern Finals – they’re playing the Cavs this Monday (7 PM ET, TNT) in Game 1 of their second-round series. Toronto has some extra weapons to throw at LeBron James, and Cleveland doesn’t look quite as strong as the team that won the first title in franchise history last year.
Beasts of the East
From a statistical perspective, these are the best two teams in the East, but here’s the twist: Even though they finished with the same record at 51-31, the Raptors (plus-4.2) finished ahead of the Cavaliers (plus-3.2) in point differential during the regular season. Toronto supporters enjoyed another profitable season at 45-36-1 ATS; the Cavs were in the red at 36-43-3 ATS.
Cleveland (57-25 SU, 37-42-3 ATS) was a financial drain last year, too, while the Raptors (56-26 SU, 45-37 ATS) were printing money. But the 2016 Cavaliers had a healthy plus-6 point differential, well ahead of Toronto at plus-4.5. The 2017 Cavs just don’t have the same swagger. James is a year older, their bench is thinner, and Kyrie Irving’s defense is worse than it’s ever been.
Let Your Backbone Slide
Toronto, meanwhile, has two more defenders to throw at LeBron this year. Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker joined the Raptors at the trade deadline, giving them some much-needed backbone – especially during the first round against the Milwaukee Bucks when Ibaka became their starting center and the Raps won the last three games straight-up and against the spread.
Odds for this series and for Game 1 are pending at press time, but it’s likely that Toronto will have all the betting value. Then again, the Cavaliers will have home-court advantage, and they’ll be well-rested after sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the first round. Maybe this is the “real” Cavaliers showing up for the playoffs. If it isn’t, they’ll be in real trouble against the Raptors.
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