It’s Martin Luther King Day, and no league celebrates it better than the National Basketball Association. There are games all day long, including nice matchups between the Bulls and Pistons and Rockets and Clippers. But let’s face it – there’s one game that everyone has circled on their calendar, and has had circled for quite a while; the long-awaited rematch of the Cavaliers and Warriors, with a healthy Kyrie Irving, in Cleveland.
A little bit of the luster came off this matchup with the Warriors undressing by the Pistons over the weekend, but this is still a Finals rematch nonetheless. It’s a matchup of the top team in each conference (record wise – I’m not dismissing the Spurs legitimacy) and a matchup between the man who has long been easily regarded as “the best basketball player on the planet” against the one who has stolen some of the thunder and shine, not to mention the 2015 MVP Award, and can at least claim three interesting superlatives; Best Shooter, Most Exciting Player to Watch, and Most Popular Player. I imagine the first two are of little consequence, but don’t dismiss LeBron’s acute awareness of the last.
The game is at 8PM EST on TNT and is an absolute must-watch for even casual basketball fans. In short, this is ABOUT as good as the NBA gets before May.
So who comes out on top? Can the Warriors brush off some recent sluggishness, or will the highly-motivated and finally-healthy Cavaliers defend their home court?
Today’s Free Pick:
Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers -3
Don’t look now, but the best team in the NBA and the prior best-bet in the NBA has hit a legitimate stumble. They’ve lost games straight up to the Nuggets and Pistons and are just 1-4 ATS in their last five games overall. Things definitely don’t get any easier tonight against a team that can match talent with them and a team that is dead convinced they would have prevailed in the Finals if they were not missing their two best players, plus dealing with a rash of additional injuries.
They get their chance to begin proving it tonight.
Cleveland has begun to get some separation in the East, moving to four full games ahead of the Raptors and five and a half in front of the Bulls and Hawks thanks in large part to their 9-1 run over their last ten games. The Cavaliers have covered five straight games at home and are a sparkling 15-1 straight-up at The Q this season. Add in the fact that this team REALLY wants this game tonight, and a lot of things are stacking up in LeBron and the Cavs favor.
Look, losing two straight games and three of four happens to just about every NBA team in history. And it doesn’t mean the Warriors can’t still make a helluva run at 70 or more wins, even 73 and the Bulls. But I don’t think they get the win tonight. Cleveland is playing better basketball right now and are finally healthy. Even great NBA teams lose more often than not on the road when facing OTHER great NBA teams. The Spurs have dropped six on the road this season. The Dubs have dropped four.
I think tonight makes five. As good as the Warriors are defensively, they’ve shown in the past they lack the answer to containing LeBron. He averages over 30 points against the Warriors – more than against any other team in the NBA. And Matty Delavedova proved to be just pesky enough to disrupt some of the fun for Steph Curry. Steph will still get his tonight, but I think he’ll have to work for it. The Cavs have gotten away from the reliance on Mozgov that gave them trouble last year against the small Warriors lineup. Look for the Cavs to match small on small, quick on quick, and to defend well enough to slow down the well-oiled Warriors offense.
I like a good game tonight, and expect some fantastic entertainment. But I also expect the Cavs to do what looked impossible just a month ago; hand the Warriors a second consecutive loss.
Free Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers -3