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East blowout sets up dueling storylines in Game 2

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

May 14, 2018 12:04 AM

USATSI_10834497_168384654_lowres
Jason Tatum and the Celtics kept LeBron James in check.
© USA Today Sports Images

Boston obliterates Cleveland in the shocking opener to NBA Eastern Conference championship series. Plus, the latest regarding the NHL Playoffs, MLB’s “Magnificent Seven,” and bettors smoking cigars because they anticipated the impact of Arizona’s humidor. 

NBA Playoffs: Celtics crush Cavaliers…which of the dueling narratives will hold true?
We waited all those days for THAT! After a long basketball-free zone, Boston jumped out to a 36-18 lead at the end of the first quarter, and coasted to an easy win over Cleveland in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston (plus 2) 108, Cleveland 83
2-point Pct: Cleveland 45%, Boston 59%
3-pointers: Cleveland 4/26, Boston 11/30
Free Throws: Cleveland 17/20, Boston 11/13
Rebounds: Cleveland 40, Boston 48
Turnovers: Cleveland 9, Boston 9
Pace: 93.4

The one-sidedness of that box score actually fits into both dueling narratives that were omnipresent on NBA twitter after the game. 

*Cleveland has a habit of starting slowly, or punting playoff games when they have no chance. Indiana covered Game 1 back in the opening round by 25 points, almost the same market miss as here. Cleveland obviously recovered from that (winning 8 its next 10 playoff games). Plenty of time to recover from this one. 

*Boston continues to be dramatically mis-priced by a betting market that doesn’t recognize the power of smart coaching and enthusiastic players who will execute a well-designed game plan.

One of those will rule the day after Game 2. Either Cleveland will bounce back with some tweaks that will allow LeBron James to dominate the floor and open up three-point opportunities that will clock in at better than 4 of 26...or Marcus Morris will continue to disrupt LeBron on defense, while the offense keeps attacking the basket in a way that seriously challenges Cleveland’s shaky defense. 

Let’s assume Cleveland will shoot better than 4 of 26 on treys. A more reasonable 10 of 26 Sunday would still have been a loss. It would have taken 13 of 26 to get the win. Boston guards the arc so well that something that extreme is unlikely…and certainly unlikely to happen three or four times over the next six games. 

Expect a heavily bet game Tuesday in Las Vegas and globally because believers in either of those positions are going to find the Game 2 line attractive. As of Sunday evening, we’re seeing Boston pick-em and 202.5 (after Cleveland opened at -1). If you think LeBron’s going to re-establish his authority, for a pre-series -300 favorite that has to win at least one road game to advance, then pick is going to seem like a steal. If you believe in Boston, whose stellar home mark moved to 8-0 against the spread in the postseason with Sunday’s rout, then you still think the market is way off base. 

Boston’s Home Covers
2.5, 15, 0.5, 11.5 vs. Milwaukee
20.5, 8.5, 0.5 vs. Philadelphia
26.5 vs. Cleveland

Two half-point covers, plus an overtime gift in the Milwaukee opener. We’re not that far from 5-3, which would be more reasonable. That said, there are four double digit covers in the mix. Boston’s aggressiveness will help the team run away and hide from opponents who aren’t executing well.

The “general public” usually isn’t betting Sunday evenings, and typically doesn’t fade LeBron. We can assume the move toward the Celtics is sharp, and represents an appreciation for Boston’s approach to this series. Sharps didn’t even wait for the natural “zig-zag” betting tendencies to see if they could get Boston at 1.5 or 2. A short feeding frenzy at the opener. 

NBA Preview: Western Finals featuring Golden State vs. Houston begins Monday night
We saved this preview for today. Let’s get to it.

Golden State at Houston (8:05 p.m. ET on TNT Sports)
Offensive Efficiency: Golden State #1, Houston #2
Defensive Efficiency: Golden State #8, Houston #6
Rebound Rate: Golden State #11, Houston #10
Made Treys per Game: Golden State 11.3, Houston 15.3
Series Price: Golden State -200, Houston plus 170
Game 1 Price: Houston -1.5, total of 224

Note that every game in this series will be on TNT, while all of Boston-Cleveland will be on the ESPN family of networks (that includes ABC). The regular-season numbers offered a lot of hope for Houston Rockets fans. They could be rooting for the team that could derail the Golden State juggernaut. Virtual clones across the efficiency and rebounding stats. Then, Houston makes four more treys per game. So, how come oddsmakers and sharps agree that Golden State should be around a -200 favorite? 

*Golden State was coasting much of the season, and will be more dangerous on defense and rebounding than the regular season rankings would suggest. 

*Steph Curry is back in the lineup after missing substantial time. Barring imminent injuries, we’ll see the best Golden State has to offer from this point forward. The best Houston has to offer might have peaked several weeks ago. 

*Houston’s defense has had some disappointing outings thus far in the playoffs, in a way that makes them see much less intimidating than that #6 defensive efficiency ranking would suggest. 

*James Harden didn’t seem himself in the latter stages of the Utah series. Harden HAS to be the BEST version of himself for the Rockets to advance. 

If Harden continues to have a less dynamic impact than expected, money will hit the Warriors even harder later in the series. If he shines, then Houston will be a popular underdog bet getting points on the road. 

Keys to watch during Monday’s telecast: Harden’s body language and energy, who wins the battle of the three-point line now that Golden State KNOWS it has a real threat in its face, and whether Houston can maintain its composure late in a close game (if it’s close). 

NHL Playoffs: Washington stuns Tampa Bay on the road TWICE; Winnipeg impresses vs. Vegas 
One game each night Friday through Sunday. Let’s start in the East where two stunners have already been played. 

Game 1: Washington (plus 160) 4, Tampa Bay 2 
Shots: Washington 32, Tampa Bay 21
Power Plays: Washington 2/4, Tampa Bay 1/3

This was last Friday’s game. Very impressive opener for the big series dog. Washington scored two goals in the first period, and two more in the second, while winning shot count 25-10 to that point in the game. Tampa Bay’s rally fell way short. Nothing about the flow of this game suggested Tampa Bay should have been such a pricey series favorite. Overconfidence? 

Game 2: Washington (plus 170) 6, Tampa Bay 2 
Shots: Washington 37, Tampa Bay 35
Power Plays: Washington 1/3, Tampa Bay 2/4

Or, maybe Washington is just the better team right now! Hard to see that coming after the prior two rounds. Sure, Washington impressed in getting past Columbus and Pittsburgh. But Tampa Bay dispatched Boston in just five games, and Boston was perceived as superior to Washington. 

Washington didn’t just win goal count 10-4 in the first two games. If you take out power play goals, it’s 7-1 scoring dominance (88% of the goals scored) at even strength. And, all that’s happening with a 69-56 lead in shot counts. It’s not uncommon for the trailing team to win that stat because they have to force the issue playing from behind. Tampa Bay has been behind A LOT in this series, yet hasn’t been able to force that issue.  

Game 3 will be Tuesday night at Washington. Lightning better strike or this series is going to be over quickly. Now to the West.

Game 1: Winnipeg (-150) 4, Vegas 2 
Shots: Vegas 21, Winnipeg 26
Power Plays: Vegas 1/2, Winnipeg 2/4

The Golden Knights looked overwhelmed by the moment…from the raucous start in the famous Winnipeg “white out” through the course of the evening. Only 21 shots? That tied the low for the postseason, which came in a very tightly contested 1-0 wrestling match to finish the Kings series. This game was more wide open. VGK had trouble maintaining possession of the puck at speed. 

VGK Shots by Series
28-56-39-21 vs. the LA Kings (56 was in OT)
34-29-33-34-39-33 vs. San Jose

A shot count of 31 would have been low for the Knights this postseason. Twenty-one won’t pay off if that becomes any sort of norm vs. powerful Winnipeg. 

Game 2 is Monday Night in “the true North strong and free.” Jets are either -135 or -140 depending on where you shop…with respect for the zig zag and the road dog (road teams have been getting results, even Nashville the last two games at this site). The Over/Under is 6, with Under carrying a vigorish of -125 at most shops). 

MLB: Dodgers swept in four by lowly Reds, might be awhile before they’re “Magnificent” again
Every Monday morning, we check in with our “Magnificent Seven” Major League Baseball teams who were projected to win at least 90 games in the 2018 season. Things have gotten so bad for the defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers that nobody’s thinking of them as “magnificent” any more. 

Thursday: LAD (-175) lost to Cincinnati 4-1
Friday: LAD (-185) lost to Cincinnati 6-2
Saturday: LAD (-170) lost to Cincinnati 5-3
Sunday: LAD (-150) lost to Cincinnati 5-3

Cincinnati entered the series with a record of 10-27! Injuries have been an issue. Clubhouse chemistry was a concern early in the season. Right now, the Dodgers are in a funk that’s showing no signs of abating. LAD has dropped seven of its last eight games. For the season, anyone crazy enough to KEEP betting the Dodgers would be down 25 units for the season. 

Though six of the original seven are currently over .500, only the red-hot AL East powers Boston and the New York Yankees are plus units at approximately the quarter mark of the season. 

Boston 28-12…plus 10 units after a 3-3 week
NYY 28-12…plus 9.5 units after a 4-2 week
Washington 24-18…even after a 6-1 week
Houston 26-16…minus 3 units after a 5-1 week
Chicago Cubs 21-16…minus 3.5 units after a 5-2 week
Cleveland 20-19…minus 8 units after a 3-2 week
LA Dodgers 16-24…minus 25 units after a 1-5 week 

The Dodgers are the only disaster. Cleveland has been a disappointment, mirroring a similar start back in 2017. Great weeks for Washington, Houston, and the Chicago Cubs have pushed them back in the direction of profitability. 

This week’s head-to-head series in the Magnificent Seven:
NY Yankees (28-12) at Washington (24-18) (begins Tuesday)
LA Dodgers (16-24) at Washington (24-18) (begins Friday)
Cleveland (20-19) at Houston (26-16) (begins Friday)

Here’s a listing of all this week’s matchups pairing teams who currently have winning records…

Early Week (current record in parenthesis)
Milwaukee (24-17) at Arizona (24-16)
Houston (26-16) at the LA Angels (24-16)
Chicago Cubs (21-16) at Atlanta (24-15) (begins Tuesday)
Toronto (21-20) at NY Mets (19-18) (begins Tuesday)

Weekend
Philadelphia (23-16) at St. Louis (22-16) (begins Thursday)
Arizona (24-16) at NY Mets (19-18) (begins Friday)

That Astros-Angels series should be a lot of fun, and could be a huge rivalry all season. A good chance for you to put the Atlanta Braves on your radar if you’ve only been casually following baseball this season. 

MLB: Unders go 3-1 in Washington/Arizona series, as humidor looks like it’s still cutting offense…under bettors 15-2-2 the last 19 at Chase Field!
In last week’s issue of Point Spread Weekly, we talked about the apparently dramatic influence the new humidor seems to be having on scoring at Chase Field, the home ballpark of the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

Three more low scoring games to start the weekend series, followed by an Over in Sunday night baseball on ESPN. Over the last 19 games at Chase Field…just 2 Overs…two pushes…and 15 unders!

A stadium that has historically been a hitting paradise that trailed only Colorado for NL batters is now reducing scoring (and home runs) by about 20%. In this short sample size since the new approach of storing baseballs in a humidor, the stadium is playing like it’s in San Diego or San Francisco.

Let’s update the number line from that PSW article. Here are full-game scoring sums from low to high so far this season at Chase Field… 

From low to high at home (midpoint in parenthesis):
1-3-3-3-3-3-4-4-4-5-6-(7)-7-7-7-7-8-8-10-10-13-15-17

The median is a surprisingly low seven. A few more pitchers’ duels and it could drop to a once-unthinkable six. 

Arizona is 12-5 to the Over on the road. So, it’s not like the roster is suddenly full of fantastic pitchers and horrible hitters. Here’s the scoring sum number line for the Diamondbacks’ road games… 

From low to high on the road (midpoint in parenthesis):
3-4-4-5-7-8-8-9-(9)-9-9-10-10-10-12-13-15

Thus far, 59% of Arizona’s road games have seen nine or more runs scored, only 22% of its home games. 

Congrats to any of you who have been enjoying victory cigars stored in humidors because you anticipated this development. We’ll keep you apprised as the season progresses. And, we’ll be talking a lot more baseball here in VSiN City now that the NBA and NHL playoffs are winding down to a relative handful of games. 

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