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Oh, THAT Cavs team is going to show up

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

Unstoppable! The Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets sent messages that were heard loud and clear across the sports landscape Monday night. Both blowout winners blitzed the basket with fast-paced inside-out scoring surges that included a barrage of three-pointers. Let’s get to the recaps and ponder how betting markets will respond to the evolution of playoff basketball.

NBA: Cleveland, Houston make statements with Game 1 laughers
Well, that was anti-climactic. The two most-anticipated series thus far in the 2017 NBA playoffs saw scores of 96-74 and 96-67 entering the third quarter Monday night. Let’s take them in the order they were played. 

Cleveland (-6.5) 116, Toronto 105

  • Two-Point Pct: Toronto 46%, Cleveland 49%
  • Three-Pointers: Toronto 10/26, Cleveland 14/34
  • Free Throws: Toronto 17/20, Cleveland 24/29
  • Pace: 100 possessions!

Those numbers don’t tell the full story. Cleveland backups lost the fourth quarter 31-20. The Cavs’ offense was very much in peak playoff mode as they were winning the game. Let’s lay it out this way…

*Cleveland’s starters were 24 of 29 from the free throw line, Toronto’s 9 of 9
*Cleveland’s 3-point percentage of 41.2% equates to 62% on deuces
*Cleveland’s starters outrebounded Toronto’s starters 37-25

Cleveland attacks the basket and dares you to stop them. That creates a lot of fouls, and it creates a lot of kick outs to open looks on treys. Toronto didn’t have an answer beyond hoping they could score enough to hang around. They trailed by 12, 14, and 22 after the quarter breaks.

We included pace with our key stats because that’s a BIG jump from the first round composite. If Cleveland is going to be happy at this pace because their legs are fresh and the team is healthy, look out!

First Round Possession Counts

  • Cleveland (vs. Indiana): 89-97-96-98
  • Toronto (vs. Milwaukee): 88-92-90-95-92-85

First crack of the century mark for either team. Game 2 will be Wednesday night. Will the market anticipate a bounce-back for Toronto? The Raptors do have a history of starting slow before getting in gear. Nobody in the East may have a gear that can take four games in a playoff series from this version of the Cavs. 

Houston (plus 6) 126, San Antonio 99

  • Two-Point Pct: Houston 49%, San Antonio 40%
  • Three-Pointers: Houston 22/50, San Antonio 9/29
  • Pace: 103 possessions

Preston Johnson talked to Gill Alexander at length Monday on “A Numbers Game” about how unstoppable this Houston offense can be when it’s firing on all cylinders. Then it was 69-39 Rockets at halftime! The underdog grabbed the game by the throat and never let up. Unlike Cleveland, their backups showed up for at least the first half of the fourth quarter. 

We also saw a leap into relatively new tempo territory in this one, as Houston cleared its first round possession average and tied its peak. Against a San Antonio side that had been stepping effortlessly through mud in Memphis.

First Round Possession Counts

  • Houston (vs. Oklahoma City): 98-97-97-103-98
  • San Antonio (vs. Memphis): 86-85-83-95-83-82

It’s very hard to “come-from-behind” by slowing things way down. So San Antonio can’t let too many more games get away from them this early. And, obviously, they can’t let Houston get THIS many good looks from long range. 

Houston’s 3-point shooting in playoffs:

  • 10 of 33 in G1 vs. OKC
  • 11 of 29 in G2 vs. OKC
  • 10 of 35 in; G3 at OKC
  • 11 of 35 in G4 at OKC
  • 6 of 37 in G5 vs. OKC
  • 22 of 50 in G1 at San Antonio

Most attempts and most makes by a mile. This series may end up being a test of wills between "unstoppable" and "unsustainable."

Game 2 will be Wednesday in the Alamo City. Houston now has home court advantage for the best-of-seven Lone Star showdown. 

Worth noting:

  • Boston was 19 of 39 on three-pointers Sunday vs. Washington
  • Cleveland was 14 of 34 on three-pointers Monday vs. Toronto
  • Houston was 22 of 50 on three-pointers Monday vs. San Antonio

That volume of long-range scoring basically takes a wrecking ball to what the NBA Playoffs used to look like. Will it take a wrecking ball to handicapping strategies that used to work? We’ll definitely keep an eye on that for you here in VSiN City.

NBA: Utah/Golden State tips Tuesday night (plus updated Power Ratings)
As promised, our final preview for Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs. This one begins tonight…

Golden State vs. Utah

  • Series Price: Golden State -4800, Utah plus 1600
  • Game One Line: Golden State -13.5, total of 207
  • Offensive Efficiency Ranking: Golden State #1, Utah #12
  • Defensive Efficiency Ranking: Golden State #2, Utah #3
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: Golden State #9, Utah #3
  • Pace Ranking: Golden State #4, Utah #30

There’s a perception in some media circles that Golden State is mostly an offensive juggernaut that isn’t anything special on defense. That’s a scoreboard illusion created by their very fast pace. When you adjust for possession count, the Warriors grade out as #2 in the league on that side of the floor. As great as Utah’s defense is, Golden State is better at getting stops and disrupting opponents on a per-possession basis.

Utah does have an edge in grabbing available rebounds. And, the Jazz are probably better on offense than you had been thinking. Their very slow pace (slowest in the league during the regular season) creates some illusions for that unit. The Jazz are slightly above league average in offensive efficiency.

Very hard to see Utah creating too much drama in this series unless Golden State goes ice cold from the floor for extended periods, which would play into the Jazz’s projected rebounding edge. And, obviously, if the “wrecking ball” theme from the other openers continues here…that’s going to favor the attack of Golden State rather than the attack of Utah. 

In Tuesday’s other NBA Playoff game, Boston is -5.5, with a total of 218.5 vs. Washington (8 p.m. ET on TNT). 

It’s been awhile since we updated our estimate of “market” Power Ratings in the NBA. Based on the settled lines in the openers, we’d have it like this for neutral court ratings…

  • East: Cleveland 85, Boston 83, Toronto 82, Washington 80
  • West: Golden State 92, SA 87, Houston 85, Utah 83

Use 3 points for home court advantage. We’re allotting an extra point for Golden State’s rest and preparation advantage over Utah. Tonight’s price is a reflection of GS’s edge on a neutral court, plus 3 points for home court, plus at least an extra point for their layoff.

You can see why Golden State is a heavy favorite to win back the title. Even if fresh and healthy Cleveland is able to lift its game up to 88-ish, that’s still behind the level Golden State can maintain when healthy. Is Houston about to make a leap?

NHL: Caps survive double gut punch to pop Penguins
Moving now to hockey, Washington led 2-0 with two minutes to go in regulation, and it was tied 2-2 with one minute to go in regulation! In danger of falling behind three-games-to-none as pre-series favorites, the Capitals regrouped quickly for overtime. They forced a power play with an aggressive attack on net, then scored a man up just 3:13 into extra time.

Washington (-115) 3, Pittsburgh 2 (in overtime)

  • Shots: Washington 33, Pittsburgh 30

Washington has won shot attempts in all three games, and now hold a 104-75 edge in that category. Yet, Pittsburgh is up 11-7 on the scoreboard. Two of Washington’s goals tonight came on the power play. The Caps are having trouble cashing in at even strength. 

Game 4 will be Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. The Caps must win another on the road to have any chance to advance to the Eastern finals. 

Tuesday’s money lines (Ottawa leads 2-0, Nashville leads 2-1)

  • Ottawa at the NY Rangers (-160, total of 5); 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network
  • St. Louis at Nashville (-165, total of 5--under -210); 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network

Kentucky Derby Prep: Jennie Rees talks with Brent and Ron
VSiN’s build-up to Saturday’s Kentucky Derby continued Monday with a visit to “My Guys in the Desert” from horse racing writer Jennie Rees. Brent Musburger and Ron Flatter talked to Jennie about the “Final Fractions” theory that was discussed in Ron’s article a few days ago. If you missed it live, you can enjoy that segment (in the second 15-minute segment of the show) by clicking here, and read Ron’s in-depth analytical explanation here

Additional Reading:
*There’s a 20% chance for rain Saturday, but a 100% chance for Thunder Snow (USA Today)
*Post positions will be drawn Wednesday (Bleacher Report)
*Track experts pick Friday’s Kentucky Oaks and Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (kentuckyderby.com)

NFL Regular Season Win Totals: Cellar dwellers
We’re going to start a multi-part series today that will help you think through your betting options with the NFL Regular Season Win Totals that went up Sunday at the South Point. Many of you reading this will be heading to Las Vegas this weekend to bet the Kentucky Derby (and the showcase preliminaries Friday and Saturday). Maybe you’ll find some NFL opportunities as well.

We’re going to start at the bottom of the NFL and work our way up. Today we’ll run through the seven teams who are all projected to win SIX games or less on the current South Point numbers. Our key indicator stats all week will be:

*Yards-per-play differential (offensive YPP minus YPP allowed defensively) in 2016
*Turnover differential in 2016
*Strength of schedule in 2016

Yards-per-play is basically the coin of the realm in modern football analytics. Start there and adjust for circumstances. At a glance, you’ll notice that YPP differential corresponds well with won-lost record. When it doesn’t, turnover differential is typically the reason why.

Note that we used last season’s strength of schedule rankings from Football Outsiders, an analytics website.  

Buffalo 6 wins

  • Even ypp differential (5.6/5.6), plus 6 turnovers, #28 schedule

The Bills managed only seven wins last year despite playing a very easy schedule. You have to assume their YPP differential and turnover differential will get worse vs. a tougher slate in 2017. That’s why the South Point braintrust opened them so low. And, that’s why ownership performed an offseason house-cleaning! Breaking even on yards-per-play vs. the #28 slate is a red flag that changes were needed. 

Jacksonville 6 wins (Under -125)

  • Plus 0.1 ypp differential (5.1/5.0), -16 turnovers, #25 schedule

Some ugly numbers there too. But, some sharps did hit the Jags at the South Point opener of 5.5 because 5.0 YPP is a great defensive mark, and because turnover stats can be fickle. It’s not hard to fix something like that with a lower risk attack. It’s easier for an NFL team to “arrive” if they start with a superior defense and just piece together an adequate offense.  

NY Jets 5.5 wins (Over -120)

  • Minus 0.2 ypp differential (5.3/5.5) -20 turnovers, #12 schedule

Wow…minus 20 turnovers! The Jets made it to 5 wins anyway last year, and should be able to find a less implosive way to move the ball in 2017. But, for now, the roster still doesn’t impress early bettors. 

LA Rams 5.5 wins (Over -135)

  • Minus 0.8 ypp differential (4.4/5.2), -11 turnovers, #24 schedule

Last year’s Rams offense was historically bad. They could only muster 4.4 YPP while facing a relatively friendly schedule. That said, they go on the list with the Jags as a team that can find respectability quickly because of a stingy defense. A key factor in handicapping the low end of the scale this year will be anticipating which strugglers will (or won’t) fix their offensive production and turnover issues. 

Chicago 5.5 wins

  • Plus 0.4 ypp differential (5.9/5.5), -20 turnovers, #21 schedule

Very interesting team here. Chicago was only 3-13 last year despite having a positive YPP differential! Those turnovers were a killer. As were six losses by six points or less. It wasn’t as bad as it looked if you were a Bears fan. Transitioning to a new quarterback will make it difficult to fix the turnover issues, or find poise late in close games. 

San Francisco 4.5 wins

  • Minus 1.0 ypp differential (4.9/5.9), -5 turnovers, #23 schedule

The two worst teams in the NFL last year, San Francisco and Cleveland, both made a lot of headlines with what wasn’t happening at the quarterback position, while the nation largely ignored how terrible the defenses had become. Both teams allowed almost SIX yards-per-play even though opponents would sit on second half leads to run out the clock. The difference here is that San Francisco had a worse differential vs. an easier schedule. 

Cleveland 4.5 wins (Under -125)

  • Minus 0.8 ypp differential (5.1/5.9), -12 turnovers, #1 schedule

Cleveland faced the toughest schedule in the league according to Football Outsiders (partly because they never got to play themselves, and only drew the Jets from today’s list of dregs). They have a lot of work to do. But, keep in mind that they won’t be tanking this season, they did get some defensive help from the draft, and the schedule can’t possibly be as tough this year as it was last year with four games against the AFC South on tap. A chance to catch some opponents by surprise if they can knock about half a yard off that defensive YPP. 

Thanks for spending some time with us today in VSiN City. If you have any comments or requests for future topics, please drop us a line. If you’re reading today on the website and you’d like to subscribe for weekday morning email delivery, you can subscribe right here. Don’t forget to follow us on twitter for bulletins throughout the day about programming and sports betting developments. 

The first sports network devoted to covering the betting markets never rests! See you Wednesday.

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