After 2,460 regular-season games and 74 playoff games, the NBA Finals is set to (finally) tip off between the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. I fully understand why teams play 82 games per season and then have to win another 12 just to get to the Finals, but I think this would have been a great year to skip those meaningless 2,500+ games and just have the Cavs and Warriors play a best of 21 in order to determine this year's NBA Champion. Game 1 of this best-of-seven series is scheduled for Thursday, June 1, at 9 p.m. EST at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.
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There are a ton of storylines surrounding this year's "rubber-match" between these two unstoppable teams, and I will get to them in a second. First let's take a look at how the Las Vegas odds are shaping up approaching tip off. Currently, the Game 1 line is set at Golden State -7, with the total sitting at 226. At first glance, I thought it was too many points to be laying in Game 1 of this series, but it's tough to argue going against the home team in the series opener. If you are a bettor that is looking at the outright series price, you can get the Cavaliers at a crazy price (+200) or the Warriors at -240. If you are looking to get very specific, Bovada has lines available on the exact number of games played in the series, the total number of games played ("over" 5.5 -175), the series game spread (Cleveland +1.5 games +105), and the series correct score (Warriors 4-1 is the favorite at +275). If you are looking to correctly predict the NBA Finals MVP, you will see LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the co-favorites at +220, with Steph Curry (+250) and Draymond Green (+600) directly behind them.
As I mentioned, this year's edition of Cavs vs. Warriors offers up so many intriguing storylines and they are vastly different from either of the first two Finals meetings. When Golden State won in 2015, the Cavs were plagued by injuries. Kyrie Irving barely featured, and when he did he was less than 50 percent. They were without Kevin Love as well, who was out with a shoulder injury. Those two key players would have made the world of difference and we could be talking about Cleveland seeking their third straight title instead of their second. However, last year's final was dramatically altered after Draymond Green was charged with a flagrant-one foul and ultimately suspended for Game 5 of the series - a game in which Cleveland used to spark the 3-1 comeback. This year's final features two squads that are relatively healthy, which is good for both teams, but only one can boast about an added X-factor that can help a team win a championship. Welcome back to the NBA Finals, Kevin Durant. I hope you get the ring you've been waiting for.
Let's take a look at how both teams got here and how they compare numbers wise.
Cleveland owns a 12-1 postseason record thanks to four-game sweeps in Rounds 1 and 2 versus Indiana and Toronto, respectively. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavs took care of business and dispatched the Boston Celtics in five games. This series should have also been a sweep, but the Cavaliers took their foot off the gas pedal in the second half of Game 3, allowing the Celtics to erase a 16-point half time deficit. As a team, the Cavaliers are averaging 116.8 points per game while making 40.2 field-goals per game on 50.7 percent shooting. The Cavs also lead the playoffs in three-point makes, knocking down 14.6 treys on 33.6 attempts per game. That's a 43.5 percent success rate, which is around five percent better than the Warriors. Individually, the Cavs are led by James (obviously), who is putting up 32.5 points per game while shooting 56 percent from the floor and 42.1 percent from beyond the arc. King James has certainly taken his game to a level few thought he could reach. After all, he has been the most dominant player in the NBA since he arrived in 2003. He is also getting solid production from his supporting cast. Irving is scoring 24.5 points on 46.6 percent from the floor and 35.6 percent from beyond the arc. He is also contributing 5.6 assists per game and is the key piece of the 1-4 pick-and-roll with James.
On the other side of the coin, the Golden State Warriors are a perfect 12-0 this postseason thanks to three consecutive four-game sweeps. They took care of Portland in Round 1 with ease, defeated Utah in Round 2 and got a scare in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals before rallying to sweep away San Antonio. As a team, the Warriors average a league-leading 118.3 points per game on 50.2 percent shooting from the floor and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc. The Warriors knock down 12.1 threes per game, which has them ranked behind the Cavs. This is the kind of stat that would catch most people by surprise, especially since the Warriors have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on their side. On an individual level, four Warriors average double-digits in points, with Curry leading the way with 28.6. Durant is right behind him, averaging 25.2 per game, while Thompson and Green average 14.4 and 13.9 points, respectively. To say the Warriors have scoring options all over the floor would be the understatement of the year.
However, on the defensive side of the court is where both teams tend to struggle. Both teams give up more than 100 points per game, with the Cavs giving up 103.2 and the Warriors giving up 102. Furthermore, both teams are allowing their opponent to shoot better than 40 percent from the floor and knock down 10 or more three-pointers per game. If these stats continue, I see no legitimate reason why each and every game of this series doesn't go over the posted total.
If you gave me a million bucks and told me I had to lay it down on the outright winner of this series, I would have to put my money on the favorite. Don't get me wrong, there are several cases to be made for why the Cavaliers could win, and all of them include LeBron James being the best player in the world. For me, this series will come down to two things. First off, the Warriors have the advantage in every position other than whoever matches up against LeBron. And finally, the addition of Durant takes the pressure off of Curry, and that will do wonders for him. He had a terrible NBA Finals last year and everyone knows it. The best Curry is a loose Curry, and Durant's presence affords him the opportunity to play loose and confident.
Pick: Golden State Warriors - Outright Winner (-240) or Golden State Warriors in six games (+400)
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