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Show time: Cavs' D must show up; Classic Empire won't

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

defense
LeBron James and the Cavs are going to have to put up some better defense in Game 3.

It’s D-Day in Cleveland…the Cavs better play some DEFENSE or they’ll be down three games in the race to four in the NBA Finals.

NBA: Can Cleveland contain Golden State’s scoring weaponry in Wednesday’s Game 3?
Of all the talk about what the Cleveland Cavaliers might or might not do as they try to bounce back from a pair or blowout losses to the Golden State Warriors, one thing is clear. Fast or slow, inside or outside, this group on the floor or that group on the floor, the Cavs must play better defense

Cleveland’s composite defense in Games 1 and 2

  • Two-Pointers Allowed: 61 of 119 (51%)
  • Three-Pointers Allowed: 30 of 76 (39%, equivalent of 59% on two-pointers)
  • Points Allowed per 100 possessions: 118.98

(Note, you’ll see slightly different pace estimates across the media and analytics landscape because not everyone uses the same formula. We’re using the method popularized by Basketball-Reference. If you hear slightly different numbers elsewhere, they won’t be different enough to change any conclusions handicappers should draw.)

We want to direct you to an excellent article we saw today that outlined some of the issues Cleveland’s been having on this side of the floor. Ben Falk, former VP of Basketball Strategy for the Philadelphia 76ers and Analytics Manager with the Portland Trailblazers authored this video-packed tutorial that’s easy to follow and well worth your time. Falk’s points of emphasis for Cleveland were transition defense, and help defense. 

Obviously, if you’re allowing about 119 points for every 100 possessions, you’re putting way too much pressure on your own offense to shoot lights out. That’s tough to do under backs-to-the-wall playoff pressure in the best of times. Against Golden State’s excellent defense, even tougher. 

For more on what Golden State is doing right defensively, we encourage you to check out David Thorpe’s visit to “Follow the Money” with Mitch and Pauly today. Coach Thorpe always tells it like it is, and explains in depth why Cleveland continues to have trouble scoring to prior standards in this series. 

As we’ve mentioned before, it’s easy to lose sight of Golden State’s defensive strengths because they play such fast-paced games. Sometimes track meets set up dunks and layups for both teams. But, no defenses are so impenetrable that no opponents get cheapies, even in half court games. Yes, Golden State defenders get beat every so often. They more than make up for that with defensive play makers.  

Here’s an exercise that makes the point. We’ve pro-rated the first two final scores down to what they’d be at a pace of 95 possessions. What would you think of Golden State’s defense if these had been the final scores?

  • Game 1: Golden State 108, Cleveland 87
  • Game 2: Golden State 118, Cleveland 101

That feels more defensive, doesn’t it? Particularly the 87. Golden State is playing that kind of defense against the superstar scorers of Cleveland. It’s just happening at a pace that’s faster than casual fans are used to seeing in a championship round. The same “points-allowed-per-possession” but with more possessions.  And, we’re talking about LeBron James AND Kyrie Irving AND Kevin Love AND J.R. Smith and some bench guys who can make treys as potential Cleveland threats. In context, Golden State is playing pretty amazing defense. They’d be holding this explosive Cavs offense to 94 points per game at a more traditional playoff pace.

More great reading for you NBA enthusiasts…

FanSided studied the impact that Klay Thompson’s defense may be having on Kyrie Irving.

Dean Oliver, the man who wrote “Basketball on Paper” recently talked about “Threat Balance” for the NBA finalists, an important influence in how both teams must defend.

Nylon Calculus noticed some interesting tendencies in the shot pattern of LeBron James, which may influence strategies for those of you who bet quarters, halves, or in-game.

Wednesday’s point spread (Golden State leads series 2-0)

  • Golden State (-3.5, 226.5) at Cleveland; 9 p.m. ET on ABC

Be sure you watch VSiN all afternoon Wednesday for game-day programming that will reflect up-to-the minute developments in Cleveland and in the betting markets. 

Belmont: Classic Empire out

Classic Empire, the likely morning-line favorite for the Belmont Stakes, won't run in Saturday's race because of an abscess in the right front, trainer Mark Casse announced this morning. 

Casse said Classic Empire instead would be a possible candidate for the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 30.

​Please take note of these important “My Guys in the Desert” interviews with returning horse racing experts coming up the next two days… 

  • Wednesday: Maggie Wolfendale joins Ron Flatter and Amal Shah at 6:45 ET (3:45 Vegas time)
  • Thursday: Andy Serling joins Brent Musburger and Ron Flatter at 6:15 ET (3:15 Vegas time)

MLB: Before basketball, check out Strasburg vs. Kershaw in Nats/Dodgers pitching duel matinee
This is certainly a must-see game. Too bad it’s on a weekday afternoon! Let’s take a quick peek at the “three true outcome” stats that we ran for you yesterday in our Sox/Yankees series preview. 

  • Steven Strasburg: 27.1% K’s, 7.0% walks, 0.6 HR/9, 3.31 xFIP
  • Clayton Kershaw: 28.8% K’s, 3.5% walks, 1.2 HR/9, 2.70 xFIP

Wow…few pitchers have more control over their destiny than those two live arms. Great strikeout rates for both…Kershaw’s stinginess with bases-on-balls borders on the unbelievable considering the movement on his stuff. Kershaw is slightly more home run prone because he challenges hitters until they prove they can make contact. If you spend a lot of time with fielding independent pitching, you’ll notice that xFIP tends to smooth out the extremes that often crop up in small sample sizes. Only superstars can think about staying below 3.00. Strasburg’s 3.31 is very effective. 

Can either offense score vs. these pitchers? Well, we are talking about elite offenses. The Washington Nationals are miles ahead of the rest of the National League in the key hitting stats. The Dodgers are a strong 3rd in on-base percentage in the senior circuit, but a more disappointing 8th in slugging percentage. 

What happens if the starting pitchers cancel out through their pitch count allotments? If this game is decided by the bullpens, that definitely favors the hosts. Heading into Tuesday’s late start, the Dodgers were 2nd in the majors in bullpen ERA at 2.67, while Washington was a horrendous 29th with a 5.05 ERA. The overnight line shows the Dodgers at -165, with an unsurprisingly low Over/Under of just 6.5.

(Quick side note…you might be thinking that Washington’s poor bullpen is a warning that you should only bet five-inning props with the Nats. That hasn’t mattered much to this point in the season. The problem with “cutting the game in half” like that is that you limit what that great offense can do for you. Do you want Bryce Harper batting for you twice…or four, maybe five times? We’ll keep an eye on that angle for you. In general, try to place more weight on how best to exploit a great offense rather than worrying about how mad you’ll be at the bullpen if they blow a lead.)

MLB: Quick hitters from Tuesday night’s action
Catching up on some stories we’ve been monitoring…

  • Another undefeated night for American League home teams in Interleague play. Baltimore and Texas beat Pittsburgh and the NY Mets respectively. That brings the AL record to 33-17 at home this season vs. the NL, for a profit of 12 units. The NL won its only home game when Colorado crushed Cleveland. The AL’s road record falls to 29-26, but is still up 2.8 units. To this point in the 2017 campaign, the AL leads the NL 62-43, for a total profit for backers just under 15 units.
  • That Mets/Rangers game went Over its market total…extending a season-long phenomenon for the guys from Gotham. Mets games are now 34-13-8 to the Over this season. If your pitchers can’t get outs in the inferior league, in a home pitcher’s park…scary to think what would happen to this team if they had to play in Arlington all season!
  • The amazing Astros' offense made it to seven runs very quickly Tuesday night, (something we discussed Monday), but their 11-game winning streak came to an end in Kansas City. The Royals rallied from an early deficit to win 9-7. 
  • The Boston Red Sox took Game 1 of our showcase series (previewed yesterday) with a 5-4 victory over the New York Yankees. The Bosox hit three home runs in a great home run park off Masahiro Tanaka, helping to drive his ERA up to 6.55 for the season. Drew Pomeranz got the win, but threw 123 pitches in just five innings. 
  • Speaking of home runs, Scooter Gennett hit FOUR dingers for Cincinnati in a 13-1 rout of St. Louis. That pushed the Reds (27-30) ahead of the Cardinals (26-30) in the condensed NL Central standings. 

Sports Betting Industry: “Legalized Gambling Would Fuel Another Rise for ESPN”
That’s the headline of an article that ran Tuesday at Forbes online. Interesting discussion of the evolution toward legalized gambling across America, and how it might help stall ESPN’s falling subscriber numbers.

Though…you know…if sports betting is legalized nationally…that’s just more viewers for VSiN…the only network created FOR sports bettors! 

And wait until you see what’s coming this Fall!

That’s it for Wednesday. Feel free to drop us a note with questions or comments. The @VSiNLive twitter feed features more and more treats each day, including on-the-fly video highlights from our shows. Follow us by clicking here. And, click here to receive our VSiN City newsletter every weekday morning in your email box. 

Back Thursday with a statistical recap of Warriors/Cavs Game 3.

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