The 2018 NBA Playoffs continue on Sunday. After a fun four-game slate got things rolling on Saturday, we turn our attention to an interesting showdown at the Quicken Loans Arena between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland is a much different team than they were a year ago. Aside from LeBron James and Kevin Love leading the way offensively, this team looks nothing like the team that nearly got swept by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Whether that’s good or bad, we can’t know yet.
All anyone knows is Kyrie Irving isn’t in Ohio anymore and the Cavs slid to the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference. They still secured the Central Division, but they only did so by two games with the pesky Indiana Pacers giving them a pretty good run for their money.
Indy was a thorn in Cleveland’s side all year, too. The Pacers started the year with three straight wins in this series and wrapped things up with a 3-1 record against Cleveland through four meetings.
The Cavaliers still feel like the better team on paper, but bettors get a fun +6.5 spread to work with via the Pacers. Is that enough to get you on Indy in game one of this first round playoff series? Let’s find out:
Indiana Pacers (+6.5, -110) @ Cleveland Cavaliers (-6.5, -110) Total: 214 (-105/-115)
The Pacers also look completely different than how they did a year ago. Some expected them to crater after the Paul George trade, but Victor Oladipo broke out and the rest of the Pacers pitched in to give him a solid supporting cast.
Obviously Indy owned this series this past season, which makes them a very interesting straight up pick here (+245 at Bovada). I’m not really willing to go there, though, seeing as LeBron James-led teams are pretty tough to beat in first round series.
Still, the Pacers improved defensively in the second half of the year and have a pretty dynamic offense. Considering the Cavs were one of the worst defenses in the NBA (29th in efficiency) during the regular season, this matchup tends to tilt in Indiana’s favor.
That is, if you’re to trust all of the data coming at you.
King James and co. are notorious for “flipping the switch” come playoff time, so it really wouldn’t shock me that much if they just came out and crushed everyone en route to the NBA Finals again.
Indiana isn’t a bad team to side with, though.
The Pacers were a strong 47-35 against the spread overall this year and they weren’t too shabby when Vegas vouched for the other team. Indy went 22-22 ATS as underdogs this past season and they were even better (16-13) as road dogs against the spread.
Cleveland, meanwhile, was a disaster against the spread. The Cavs had the worst ATS mark in the entire league (31-50-1) and were even worse (18-45-1) when favored. Cleveland was a good home team in general (29-12), but they did not get it done ATS (11-25-1).
Clearly, backing the Cavs to cover the spread was not a great choice this past season.
The big question you’ll have to ask yourself, then, is if the playoffs start a whole new season where Cleveland can actually be trusted.
I’m willing to bet things won’t go their way so quickly. Not only have the Pacers proven they can win in this matchup, but +6.5 is a pretty thick spread. Indiana has the defensive tools to combat Cleveland’s offense, while Cleveland’s defense has a lot to prove going into a big series opener.
Cleveland will probably win this game and this entire series, but I like the points here for the Pacers.