I updated last night’s pick to remind bettors that Jaylen Brown’s status could potentially make the Celtics a shakier pick than expected. I still like their experience and home court edge as they faced a +4 point spread, while the news that Brown eventually would be out understandably dropped their price.
That favored bettors and my pick, but as it turns out, you didn’t need any extra help. The home court edge and Philly’s long layoff ended up being more than enough, as Boston easily took game one at home.
The win got me back on track after getting burned by the Pacers on Sunday and pushed my NBA playoff picks record to 9-5-1. I’m still just 22-24-1 on the year, bit you can see my record here in the playoffs and since returning late in the regular season, I’m a strong 11-6-1 overall. That doesn’t completely erase a rough start to the NBA season, but it’s nice to see the turn around.
The hope is to have that continue tonight, as I try to gauge the best bet between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors in game one of their second round series at the Air Canada Centre.
Toronto is favored by most to win this entire series and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, while they also head into game one as -6.5 favorites per Bovada and most NBA betting sites.
That feels rather steep at first glance. I know the Cavs needed seven games to knock off the Indiana Pacers, but Toronto needed six games to take out the Washington Wizards as well.
There is also the lingering mental edge the Cavs have had over the Raptors, while bettors still can’t completely forget about how the Raptors have burned them in the playoffs in the past.
Should you be looking to back Toronto in a big statement game to get this series rolling, or is Vegas offering up too much value with the Cavs?
Let’s break this game down a bit further to see what the best wager might be for tonight’s showdown in Canada:
Cleveland Cavaliers (+6.5, -105) @ Toronto Raptors (-6.5, -115) Total: 215 (-110)
The three biggest issues for the Cavs are pretty obvious; LeBron James hasn’t been getting any help, they don’t have the home court advantage in this series and Toronto is a nightmare matchup at both ends of the floor.
I do think King James is dominant enough to make this a series all on his own. I also don’t believe his supporting cast will be dormant forever.
Kevin Love is better than he performed in the first round and I wonder if his hand was bothering him. Guys like Jeff Green, George Hill, Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood were not very helpful in the first round, but they’re all still plenty capable of showing up as the playoffs progress.
Kyle Korver has already proven he’s ready for the big time, while Tristan Thompson probably earned a bigger role going forward. Thompson helps Cleveland on the boards and defensively, while his offensive rebounding specifically can give them second and third chances they otherwise simply wouldn’t get.
None of this matters if the Cavs can’t find ways to cover Toronto’s outside shooters and penetrate their defense, though.
Offensively, the Raptors are just a lot more to handle than what Cleveland has seen in past years.
Instead of just pummeling isolation ball down your throat via Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, they (gulp*) actually share the rock. They penetrate like they always did, but instead of just always forcing the issue inside or pulling up for a mid-range jumper, they kick the ball out and trust their plethora of shooters.
It’s pretty arguable Toronto’s old ways could get them past this rendition of the Cavs, but this new Toronto team ranked 13th in pace and 3rd in offensive efficiency. They can change gears and they can rip you up, as evidenced by ranking 5th in the league in outside makes on the year.
Cleveland struggles to stop perimeter scoring consistently (20th), so that may be an issue.
The Cavs just haven’t been good in general defensively this year, as they came into the playoffs with the NBA’s 29th ranked defense in terms of efficiency.
On paper, all of this is true.
However, just like last night with Philly, bettors have to look at rest/rust versus fatigue. Toronto is well rested, at home and perceived to be the better team, but they also haven’t played since April 27th.
Cleveland could be a bit more worn down after a full seven-game series, but this young team around James could be learning on the fly and developing some confidence.
As shaky as the Cavs have been, too, they have a few things working in their favor.
For one, they’ve had the mental edge in this matchup. Toronto is just 2-8 against Cleveland in the playoffs, while the Cavs continued to own Toronto in the regular season as well. Even with the supposedly better team, Toronto went down 2-1 in the season series and has gone just 2-5 against the Cavs over the last two years.
Another thing to consider is Cleveland can still score the ball.
If their outside shooters can start showing up more consistently, the NBA’s 7th best three-point shooting squad could give the Raptors some issues. Kevin Love, Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith can all get hot and it really may only be a matter of time.
Of course, bigger than anything is the fact that the Cavs may not have anything to lose.
Cleveland hasn’t looked like a legit title contender all year. They made massive trades just to improve their roster and after it all, it still took insane performances from LeBron James to edge out the Pacers. They’re not projected to win this series and going into game one a +6.5 spread as the road underdogs could have them in a hole right out of the gates.
The only problem is the Cavs have responded well to doubt all year long.
Cleveland has been awful as a whole against the spread this year, but when Vegas goes against them they’ve been flat out elite. The Cavs were the second best team in the league (13-7) ATS as underdogs this year and just as good (11-5) when the top NBA sportsbooks bet against them on the road.
Here’s the skinny; the Raptors have looked like the better team all year and are at home. However, they haven’t really proven much. They needed six games to fend off the Wizards, they didn’t even win the regular season series against Cleveland and their playoff history with the Cavs is less than encouraging.
Maybe this is the year of the Raptors and maybe they do win game one (and this series). But a +6.5 spread? They’re going to have to prove it to me first. I’ll back King James to at least keep this thing close, while the Cavs at +215 are about as fun of a road dog as you’ll see.