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Raptors in NBA Finals? Not so fast

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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Kevin Love and the Cavs stopped DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors on Tuesday night.
© USA Today Sports Images

Toronto Raptors fans are in a tizzy as a late-season fade (0-9 ATS!) continues. NBA notes, plus more from the Masters and a mini-tutorial right now in VSiN City. 

NBA: Toronto makes it NINE straight non-covers with fifth straight-up loss in the last 17 days
Now that college basketball is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to focus on the NBA championship chase! Big game tonight in the Eastern Conference. The result did nothing to alleviate concerns of fans north of the border…

Cleveland (-1) 112, Toronto 106
Two-point Pct: Toronto 52%, Cleveland 53%
Three Pointers: Toronto 11/34, Cleveland 13/30
Free Throws: Toronto 11/14, Cleveland 23/26
Rebounds: Toronto 46, Cleveland 42
Turnovers: Toronto 11, Cleveland 12
Pace: 98.8 (near league average)

Raptors twitter was not happy! The prettiest bow you could put on this Toronto loss is that the game that REALLY matters is Wednesday night at home against Boston. Maybe the coach and players were saving peak intensity for that game that will play a large role in determining who gets the #1 seed in the East. Toronto currently leads Boston by two games, with a magic number of four. 

Of course, the reason that’s even in play right now is because Toronto is 3-5 straight up its last eight games. Many pundits had not only penciled in the Raptors in the top spot two weeks ago, but had penciled them into the NBA Finals from the East because Boston was too unhealthy to win the conference, Cleveland was too discombobulated, Philadelphia was too young, Indiana was too new as an Eastern force in the post-Paul George era. The East was Toronto’s by default. 

But Tuesday’s loss in Cleveland makes the Raptors 0-9 ATS its last nine against market expectations, obviously meaning that expectations had skewed way too high. 

Is there anything in the box score above that suggests Toronto’s in big trouble? The Raptors did close from double digits down to make it respectable. What jumps out most is the 112 points allowed in fractionally under 99 possessions. You can see Cleveland got good looks from long range. Shooting 13 of 30 on treys is 43.3%, the same as 65% on twos. Note that Kevin Love was able to stay on the floor for 30 minutes, scoring 18 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. 

Most disturbing to Raptors’ fans on social media was the lack of intensity, and the overall lousy body language. Something like that won’t show up in one-game stats. But that kind of thing can show up in extended point spread slumps. Whenever a team slides that hard without an obvious physical reason (key injury), something mental is the default expectation. 

If it’s not mental, and it’s just fatigue…that’s a problem too! You can’t go into the playoffs tired. Particularly if you’re already a team with a recent playoff history of disappointing your loyal fan base. 

We knew that this particular Raptors/Cavs game was unlikely to be a proxy for “playoff” basketball. If these teams meet in the postseason, a truer level of intensity is still probably more than a month away. Let’s see if our Holy Trinity stats from recent college basketball analysis provides any insights about what to expect in the postseason for these two. 

Holy Trinity: Toronto and Cleveland (rankings out of 30 NBA teams)
Toronto: #6 defense, #10 rebounding, #4 TO avoidance 
Cleveland: #28 defense, #22 rebounding, #12 TO avoidance

Those categories are defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession rather than per game to account for pace), rebound rate (percentage of possible rebounds grabbed, not raw totals), and turnover avoidance (adjusted for pace rather than raw counts). All three are part of the “Hollinger Stats” page at espn.com

For the SEASON, it’s clear that balanced Toronto excels in these important areas. No clear weak spots. Cleveland is hurt in the numbers by having a wasted first half of the season that necessitated a team rebuild around LeBron James. They are better than that stat line when they care. But…defense and rebounding will be a concern in the playoffs. Those aren’t good areas to be concerned about. 

The other night we talked about including three-point shooting in the analytics mix. We’ll start with three different angles as a starting point. (These stats from teamrankings.com.)  

Holy Trey-nity: Three-Point Stats
Toronto: 11.8 makes per game, 36.0% percentage, #5 emphasis
Cleveland: 11.9 makes per game, 36.9% percentage, #4 emphasis

These are very similar teams from behind the arc. Even during the worst of times this season, Cleveland kept embracing long range shooting. A function of role player skill sets, and the fact that it’s a shortcut to make up for weaknesses in defense and rebounding. Virtual clones in the numbers, though Cleveland is a bit more accurate. 

So…if Toronto isn’t in the doldrums, it would seem to have a clear overall edge thanks to the essence of the original Holy Trinity. That’s why so many respected analysts were putting them in the NBA Finals already, with corresponding price changes in the futures markets.

Now…we’ll have to see what happens Wednesday night vs. Boston. We’ll definitely review those key stats the next time we’re together. 

One other NBA game Tuesday night we wanted to take a deep dive on. 

NBA: Even without Steph Curry and Andre Igoudala, Golden State thumps the Thunder in OKC 
Full-strength Oklahoma City needed the game, and shorthanded Golden State didn’t. Though you can assume Kevin Durant won’t take any nights off as a visitor at this site, it was still a market surprise that the Warriors were able to finish on top. 

Golden State 111 (plus 4.5), Oklahoma City 107
Two-point Pct: Golden State 61%, Oklahoma City 47%
Three Pointers: Golden State 8/29, Oklahoma City 9/38
Free Throws: Golden State 21/24, Oklahoma City 28/37
Rebounds: Golden State 40, Oklahoma City 58 
Turnovers: Golden State 13, Oklahoma City 16
Pace: 99.3 (near league average)

Wow…Curry and Igoudala out…the Warriors shoot just 8 of 29 on treys…get out-free-throwed by seven (on 13 more attempts)…get crushed on the boards…and STILL win outright!

Horrible sign for the postseason hopes of Oklahoma City. If you can’t win at home vs. a shorthanded lame duck visitor, who are you going to really scare in the Western brackets?

*Carmelo Anthony was 4 of 16 from the floor, 0 of 9 on treys
*Paul George was 5 of 19 from the floor, 3 of 9 on treys
*OKC’s bench was 4 of 16 from the floor, 2 of 9 on treys (GS bench 18 of 26!)

Russell Westbrook scored 44 points. His warrior mentality often comes at the expense of the team-style basketball needed in the postseason. Can’t argue with him taking 26 shots here because everybody else was so cold. OKC’s defense sure was soft inside, particularly against role players getting cheapies. 

Let’s run the profile numbers for these playoff participants as well… 

Holy Trinity: Golden State and Oklahoma City (rankings out of 30 NBA teams)
Golden State: #5 defense, #6 rebounding, #28 TO avoidance 
Oklahoma City: #11 defense, #3 rebounding, #9 TO avoidance

Golden State has a tendency to get sloppy with the ball because of overconfidence and “showtime” tendencies. That nailed the Warriors two years ago in the Finals. Looks like it might become a problem again. But this is a “defense and rebounding” team under head coach Steve Kerr, in addition to the three-point revolution the franchise inspired. 

Oklahoma City plays some ugly basketball every so often. Typically, that’s guys forcing up bad shots. That won’t show up in our Holy Trinity stats (and might actually help rebounding). You can see why the Thunder have a chance to be competitive in the postseason. Defense is fine, and rebounding is outstanding. 

Holy Trey-nity: Three-Point Stats
Golden State: 11.4 makes per game, 39.3% percentage, #15 emphasis
Oklahoma City: 10.6 makes per game, 35.4% percentage, #14 emphasis

Only 0.8 additional makes per game. But Golden State has a killer percentage. Tough to decide whether to go with raw percentage or rankings in our charts. We should make clear that Golden State’s 39.3% is #1 in the league, while Oklahoma City’s 35.4% is down at #24. 

Ultimately, Golden State can overcome offensive sloppiness because of elite three-point shooting, defense and rebounding. It’s like a dead category to them. They live with bad passes because they make up for that in so many other areas. Oklahoma City's lack of three-accuracy could be the tie-breaker that keeps them from advancing. 

We’ll pick our spots for NBA coverage between now and the playoffs. Really looking forward to the postseason!

Masters Golf: A quick look at tournament “matchups” from the South Point
We’ve already looked at futures prices from overseas, from the Westgate, and from the South Point for this week’s Masters golf tournament. Today, let’s quickly run through the opening South Point prices for some head-to-head full-tournament matchups. 

Chris Andrews and his team have created a round robin of possibilities amongst many of the biggest names. 

Jordan Spieth
-110 pick-em vs. Rory McIlroy
-115 vs Dustin Johnson (-105)
-120 vs. Justin Thomas (even)
-125 vs. Justin Rose (plus 105)
-150 vs. Tiger Woods (plus 130)

Rory McIlroy
-110 pick-em vs. Dustin Johnson
-120 vs. Justin Thomas (even)
-125 vs. Justin Rose (plus 105)
-150 vs. Tiger Woods (plus 130)

Justin Thomas
-115 vs. Dustin Johnson (-105)
-115 vs. Justin Rose (-105)
-140 vs. Tiger Woods (plus 120)

Dustin Johnson
-145 vs. Tiger Woods (plus 125)
-125 vs. Justin Rose (plus 105)

Also, Justin Rose is -140 over Tiger Woods (plus 120)

A few interesting conundrums in there. You’ll recall from our futures discussion that Justin Thomas is the favorite at 6/1, compared to 10/1 for Spieth, DJ, McIlroy, Rose, and Tiger. But head-to-head Thomas is an underdog to both Spieth and McIlroy. Also, DJ is priced closer to Spieth and McIlroy than Thomas, but is an underdog heads-up vs. Thomas.

Sports books must make choices based on their knowledge of how their clientele is likely to bet. Interesting that an overseas option like Pinnacle actually has Justin Rose priced as the most dangerous European, laying -112 head-to-head with McIlroy (even $). At Pinnace. Spieth is -125 over Rory (plus 110), just -108 over Rose (-104). 

The leaderboard is confusing enough with a Dustin and two Justins in the power spots. Now the market can’t even agree on which of them is going to have the biggest weekend!

If you’d like to monitor overseas betting in the Masters through the weekend…

*Here’s a link to pinnacle’s matchup prices
*Here’s a link to betfair’s Yes/No page (“Back all” is Yes, “Lay all” is No geared to 1 unit)

Sports Betting Tutorial: Is there any reason to bet MLB futures early?
Speaking of futures prices, we have room for a Wednesday mini-tutorial on the lack of value in futures prices for this season’s Major League powers. You may have heard Brent Musburger refer to the seven teams projected to win 90 games or more as “The Magnificent Seven” last week. Here’s a quick refresher on their early odds to win the 2018 World Championship. 

ODDS TO WIN THE WORLD SERIES
NY Yankees 9/2 (18% win equivalent)
Houston 5/1 (17%)
Chicago Cubs 5/1 (17%)
LA Dodgers 11/2 (15%)
Washington 7/1 (13%)
Cleveland 8/1 (11%)
Boston 8/1 (11%)

While any of those might appeal to you if you were an avid fan of one of the teams…and brimming with confidence…it’s important to note that you may find prices very similar to those come October. 

To make the math easy, imagine for a moment that eight equal teams go into the baseball playoffs. Those seven above earn their projected spots…and maybe a wild-card surprise turns out to be really good this season. Imagine that all eight teams are -110 pick-em against each other in series prices. I know, it’s not perfect because of home field. But we’re just making an example with the math for now. 

Rolling over any of the eight teams to win three series in a row (Divisional Round, LCS, World Series) is essentially a three-team parlay. If you use a handy Parlay Calculator, you’ll notice that parlaying three options at -110, -110, and -110 yields a return of 5.96 to 1. Let’s call it 6-1. (Bettors will recognize that as the standard payout on three-teamers).

So, placing your normal bet on your favorite team, then re-investing if they win, then re-investing again in the World Series, would position you to win a 6-1 return if all playoff teams were even. Within arm’s reach of current prices across the board for the magnificence. And it’s not unreasonable to assume that those elite teams will all be relatively even come October. 

Check this is out. Imagine that your favorite turns out to be a super-team that’s laying -200 in all three of its series prices. The rest of the contenders stay even…but yours surges out to clear superiority. The parlay calculator using -200, -200, and -200 yields a return of 2.38 to 1. Current payoffs aren’t much better than that level of dominance…and it’s hard to forecast now that such a thing will create itself this summer. 

At the South Point, Yankees fans are already looking at the equivalent of -130, -130, -130 against say…Cleveland, Houston, and the LA Dodgers in succession (or Boston, Houston, and the Cubs…whichever powers they might ultimately line up against) to equal 9/2 (same as 4.5/1). Houston fans are looking at -125, -125, -125. If the Astros face the Yankees, they BOTH can’t be the favorite head-to-head. 

Something to think about as you map out your baseball betting strategies. See you Thursday. 

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