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Cavs-Celtics offers taste of NBA playoffs (assuming no one rests)

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

james_thomas
Isaiah Thomas drives to the basket on LeBron James in a previous meeting this year.
© USA Today Sports Images

A taste of the approaching NBA Playoffs is on tap Wednesday night as two East elites square off in the much anticipated Cavs/Celtics showdown. 

Let’s hope Cleveland doesn’t decide to rest its starters because it’s a back-to-back.

For now, we’re going to assume both teams are at full strength. Even if that changes between now and tipoff, this stat preview will help set the stage for the coming postseason. You have to assume at least one of these teams will make it to the East Finals. If both get there…then we have an early glimpse of a summer showcase.

Cleveland at Boston (Wednesday at 8:05 p.m. ET on ESPN)

  • Two-Point Emphasis: Cleveland 60%, Boston 61%
  • Two-Point Defense: Cleveland 50.2% (#16), Boston 50.5% (#19)
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: Cleveland #7, Boston #1
  • Pace: Cleveland #17, Boston #14

These stat categories served us very well through the NCAA Tournament. They helped paint a picture of team skill sets and priorities at the same time. For now, we’ll use the same approach while keeping the door open to do a pick and roll between now and playoff time.

Right off the bat, we see a pair of teams that have been emphasizing three-pointers this season. You probably know that the Houston Rockets lead the league in three-point emphasis. Cleveland (#2) and Boston (#3) are right behind them. Only the closest followers of the NBA are aware of that. Even supposedly trey-crazy Golden State shoots a lesser percentage of its overall shot total on three-pointers than Cleveland and Boston do. 

Both teams are roughly league average at defending inside the paint. Good rebounding numbers from both teams. Boston is best in the NBA in terms of available rebounds snared. Cleveland is in the top quarter. 

  • Made Three-Pointers per game: Cleveland 13.0, Boston 11.9
  • Three-Point % Allowed: Cleveland 36.4% (#21), Boston 33.3% (#2)

The Cavs make one more trey per game. But notice how much better Boston is at defending the arc. You really get a sense of how Brad Stevens is applying what works at the college game here in the NBA for teams not particularly loaded with superstar talent. Own the arc, hustle on the boards, win games! You also see the difference between young legs and old legs. 

  • Turnover Avoidance: Cleveland #11, Boston #9
  • Forcing Turnovers: Cleveland #28, Boston #16

What jumps out there is the poor defensive number for Cleveland. Again, old legs. When Cleveland gets tired, or is pacing themselves…they obviously don’t force turnovers and don’t guard the arc very well. Man, that really matches up badly against a team like Boston! 

What we’re seeing in an evaluation of stats and skill sets from a handicapping perspective is that Boston’s youth has a chance to exploit Cleveland’s weaknesses. It could take the very best of “classic” Lebron charging the basket and earning free throws to put Cleveland through to the finals again this summer. 

Busy Tuesday impacts playoff chase in both NBA conferences
A huge schedule in the NBA Tuesday night. Let’s quickly run through the results of games impacting the playoff chase as they were listed in Nevada rotation order…

Cleveland (-11) coasted past Orlando 122-102. That moved the Cavs back into a tie for the #1 seed with Boston. The Magic are now 2-6 ATS their last eight games, and 30-47-1 ATS for the season. For you totals players, Orlando’s last four road games have gone over because a disinterested defense has allowed 131-117-121-122 in those outings. 

Indiana (-3) topped Toronto 108-90. The Pacers played like they want to make the playoffs. This win gets them within two games of the .500 mark and avenges a recent road loss to the Raptors. Indiana is currently tied with Chicago for the #7 and #8 spots in the East, a half-game ahead of idle Miami. 

Washington (-3) beat Charlotte 118-111. The win pulled Washington into a tie for third place with Toronto…though it’s hard to know what that’s going to mean since there’s a tie for the top seed and a crowded mess in the lower half of the brackets. Charlotte falls two games out of the playoff picture with four to play. That’s another Over for Washington. Six of the last seven have gone Over for the Wiz, who are an astonishing 50-28 to the Over through 78 games. 

New York (plus 5) stunned Chicago 100-91. You already know this dropped the Bulls into a tie with Indiana for the last two spots in the East. Not a game the Bulls could afford to give away. 

Oklahoma City (-6) obliterated Milwaukee 110-79. Russell Westbrook earned another triple double in his attempt to average a triple double for the season. The Bucks hold a half-game lead over Atlanta for the #5 seed in the East…but are only 2.5 games from falling out of the playoffs in that lower division logjam. Oklahoma City is currently #6 in the West…and sitting fairly comfortably in the half of the bracket that won’t include Golden State. 

Denver ( 3) beat New Orleans 134-131… The loss officially knocked the Pelicans out of the playoff picture they weren’t really in anyway. Not enough games on the schedule left to chase down Portland. Denver trails those same Trailblazers by half a game for the #8 spot. We mentioned the other day that the Pelicans may be content to “put on a show” with high scoring offense and little defense as they play out the string. This one soared Over the market price by 38 points. The Pellies are 4-1 to the Over their last five….with the one Under only missing by a bucket. 

San Antonio (-9) beat Memphis 95-89 in overtime. The Spurs are going to be the #2 seed in the West, while Memphis is very likely to be the #7 seed. That means this was a preview of a first round pairing. Very low scoring. The Spurs led 60-51 entering the fourth quarter!

Utah (-6) beat Portland 106-87. The Jazz now lead the LA Clippers by one game in the fight for home court advantage in that projected opening round series. Portland is a half-game ahead of Denver for the #8 seed. Tough spot for the Blazers because a back-to-back at altitude was created when they had to play a make-up game last night vs. Minnesota. Utah is 4-1 ATS its last five, and the non-cover was by half a point at San Antonio this past weekend. 

Odds to win the NBA Championship
A quick update on the South Point odds to win the NBA Championship…

Minus 160: Golden State (priced at 62% to win)
3 to 1: Cleveland (25% to win)
9 to 2: San Antonio (18% to win)
15 to 1: Houston (6% to win) (opened at 50 to 1 last June)
20 to 1: Boston (5% to win)
22 to 1: LA Clippers (4% to win)
30 to 1: Toronto (3% to win)
40 to 1: Washington (2% to win, all others 1% or lower)
75 to 1: Utah, Oklahoma City
100 to 1: Memphis
200 to 1: Miami
250 to 1: Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana
300 to 1: Milwaukee
400 to 1: Charlotte
600 to 1: Portland
750 to 1: Denver

A quick disclaimer whenever we run futures prices, Nevada sportsbooks bake a form of vigorish into the odds to represent the house edge. Thus, the percentage chances to win are priced to a total that goes well above 100%. The public has to pay a premium to bet on the teams everyone else also wants to bet on. In this case, that’s the “big three” of Golden State, Cleveland, and San Antonio. 

If our stat indicators are right about potential Cleveland weakness in the areas of three-point defense and forcing turnovers, the other top contenders in the East might offer futures value. 

Our first frozen foray to the ice to check on futures prices in the NHL
Pro hockey has been overshadowed on the sports calendar in recent days (except to avid fans!). We will be introducing more NHL coverage into the VSiN City mix once the playoffs begin. Here’s a quick appetizer for the fun ahead. These are the current futures odds to win the Stanley Cup as posted at the South Point Sportsbook…

3 to 1: Chicago, Washington (priced at 25% to win apiece)
7 to 2: Minnesota (22% to win)
5 to 1: Columbus (17% to win)
8 to 1: Montreal, Pittsburgh, San Jose (11% to win apiece)
10 to 1: Edmonton (9% to win)

Let’s stop for a moment at 10 to 1. The most logical suspects to lift the trophy aren’t exactly showing monster payouts at the moment. Unless there are multiple upsets early in the postseason, prices on the league favorites may not change much for a couple more weeks.

There are some bigger payoffs further down the ladder. This next group (priced from just above 10 to 1 up to 50 to 1) may provide sharp observers with some investment potential. If you’re confident any of these teams can get past the first round, you’ll be well positioned to hedge back at series prices from that point forward. 

15 to 1: San Jose (6% to win)
20 to 1: Anaheim, Nashville, Boston (5% apiece to win)
25 to 1: St. Louis, NY Rangers (4% apiece to win)
30 to 1: Tampa Bay, Calgary, Toronto (3% apiece to win)
40 to 1: Ottawa, (2% to win)
50 to 1: NY Islanders (2% to win)

We know there are some hockey lovers already reading VSiN City every weekday. We’ll definitely introduce more intense NHL coverage once the playoffs begin. 

MLB ballpark influences on home runs
Yesterday we talked about the influences that certain Major League baseball ballparks had in 2016 on run production. Today, we’re going to dig a little deeper and study the best and worst parks for hitting home runs a year ago (you can sort on any listed category on ESPN’s recap page).

We hope you caught Gill Alexander’s discussion of baseball analytics Tuesday on “A Numbers Game.” We’ll do our very best to complement the analysis of Gill and Michael Lambourne in the coming days and weeks. Even if you don’t know your xFIP from a wOBA in the ground, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of how the sharpest baseball bettors attack the modern market from the cutting edge. 

Gill has mentioned a few times this season that Colorado’s reputation as a moon base slightly overstates the importance of home runs there. Let’s take a look. 

Best home run parks
NY Yankees: 1.377
Arizona: 1.292
Colorado: 1.265
Cincinnati: 1.175
Cleveland: 1.168
Seattle: 1.158
Philadelphia: 1.149
Detroit: 1.138
Milwaukee: 1.126
Chicago White Sox: 1.101

Same as yesterday…the numbers right after the decimal show the percentage increase. Yankee Stadium increased home runs almost 38%! You’ve no doubt seen many games where the ball just flies out of there. Arizona is at 29%, while Colorado is still a launching pad at 27% if you round up. Gill’s point was that doubles and triple counts go up even more, 41% and 39% respectively in 2016. The two Ohio stadiums clock in next at 18% and 17% respectively. 

Worst home run parks
San Francisco 0.704
Oakland: 0.727
Atlanta: 0.770
Kansas City: 0.783
Miami: 0.793
Pittsburgh: 0.800
Chicago Cubs: 0.819
Houston: 0.822
Tampa Bay: 0.877
St. Louis: 0.901

The Bay Area is where fly balls go to die. San Francisco reduces home runs by 30%, Oakland by 27%. You have cool temperatures more often there than in most other parts of the country. The games are at sea level (balls carry better at altitude). Prevailing winds don’t often help. 

Atlanta, Kansas City, Miami, and Pittsburgh all reduced homers by 20-23% last season. It’s interesting that Wrigley Field hurts to this degree. Sure, the ball gets outta there quick in day games when the wind is blowing out. But, the prevailing winds often blow in at night…and those nights can get cool in the first two months of the season and then later in September. 

We talked yesterday about Houston. Even with bandbox dimensions, Minute Maid Park reduced homers by 18% last season. It’s a tough park for hitting visibility…and other factors may be in play as well. 

How do you handicap with this information? Basic fundamentals.

*Don’t ask HR prone pitchers to win for you in the best HR parks. Bet them with more authority in the parks that hurt HR production.

*Bet on HR-heavy offenses when they play in the parks that most favor their strengths. Don’t ask so much of them in the tougher HR parks because they’ll just be making fly ball outs all night. 

*Look for harmonic convergences where you can aggressively fade HR prone starting pitchers when they face power offenses in the best HR parks. Or, where you can confidently bet fly ball pitchers against swing-happy offenses in those parks where long flies fall harmlessly into outfielders’ gloves. 

Augusta Weather
If you’ve been watching VSiN coverage this week, you’ve heard multiple experienced handicappers talking about the various proposition and futures bets that are available at the South Point. This year, it looks like evaluating the impact of the weather is going to loom very large in the analytical process. 

Here’s the current daily forecast moving forward:

Wednesday: a 100% chance of rain will likely wash out many pre-tourney festivities and soften the course up significantly for the beginning of play Thursday. This could lengthen the course significantly because drives won’t roll as far, particularly for the first groups out on Thursday.

Thursday: overcast, but only a 10% chance of rain at the moment. The high will be a relatively chilly 61 degrees The big news here is that the forecast is for strong winds regularly hitting 20-25 mph. Scoring conditions could be truly challenging on the already difficult course.

Friday: a little warmer, but still cloudy with a forecast high in the mid 60’s. Winds only taper off slightly to the 18-22 mph range. To win your prop bets, you need your golfers to make the cut. Be sure you’re thinking about who can maintain their composure and find the fairway in windy conditions. What fans are accustomed to seeing on the first two days in past years may not hold as true this time around. 

Saturday: If the forecasts are correct, this is when Augusta is going to start to feel like Augusta. It’s supposed to be sunny and clear with a high in the low 70’s. Winds are forecast to calm way down to the 5-10 mph range. Sunny and clear, high up to 71. 

Sunday: Beautiful. Sunny and clear with a high into the high 70’s. Wind isn’t expected. 

Quite the handicapping challenge. The best wind players may survive the cut only to find calm conditions that better reward more aggressive styles of play. Players with styles that would be best rewarded on the weekend may be home watching the tournament with the rest of us!

That wraps up our Wednesday edition. See you Thursday to run the key numbers from Cavs/Celtics and talk more sports from a handicapping/betting perspective. If you have any feedback about today's coverage, or ideas for future content drop us an email.

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