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Which Cavs team will show up for Eastern finals?

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

May 17, 2017 08:17 AM
The showdown between Isaiah Thomas and LeBron James starts tonight.
© USA Today Sports Images

Is Cleveland all that’s left between Golden State and the 2017 NBA title? The Cavaliers better not overlook the Boston Celtics when the Eastern Conference Finals begin tonight.

NBA: Eastern Conference Finals Preview

It looks like it would take a miracle (or two or three) to keep the Golden State Warriors out of the NBA Championships. Cleveland was so impressive in sweeping the Toronto Raptors in the last round that you can at least imagine the Cavs making it interesting for Stephen Curry and company. But that perception could change quickly if Cleveland reverts to complacent regular-season form vs. Boston.

Here’s a quick review of the regular-season stat rankings we’ve been using as indicators through our postseason coverage. 

Eastern Finals: Cleveland vs. Boston

  • Series Price: Cleveland -700, Boston 500
  • Game One Line: Cleveland -4, total of 220
  • Offensive Efficiency Ranking: Cleveland #3, Boston #8
  • Defensive Efficiency Ranking: Cleveland #22, Boston #12
  • Rebound Rate Ranking:  Cleveland #19, Boston #27
  • Pace Ranking: Cleveland #16, Boston #12

A team with such a soft defense and mediocre rebounding shouldn’t be a road favorite of that size, or an exorbitant series favorite. Cleveland IS justifiably a huge favorite because the Cavs have lifted their intensity so much in the postseason. The defense isn’t great, but it’s good enough to slow down opposing offenses who are forced to keep up with a true scoring juggernaut. Rebounding has certainly been better than mediocre, with a plus 19 differential through two rounds vs. Indiana and Toronto. And, the offense…well…numbers probably tell the story better than words…

  • Cleveland scored 109 points on 89 possessions in G1 vs. Indiana
  • Cleveland scored 117 points on 97 possessions in G2 vs. Indiana
  • Cleveland scored 119 points on 96 possessions in G3 vs. Indiana
  • Cleveland scored 106 points on 98 possessions in G4 vs. Indiana
  • Cleveland scored 116 points on 100 possessions in G1 vs. Toronto
  • Cleveland scored 125 points on 100 possessions in G2 vs. Toronto
  • Cleveland scored 115 points on 96 possessions in G3 vs. Toronto
  • Cleveland scored 109 points on 93 possessions in G4 vs. Toronto

If you try to slow the Cavs down, they will kill you in the half-court because LeBron attacks the basket to either score, draw a foul, or kick out to a great shooter on the perimeter. If you let them run, they’re basically Golden State. 

We showed you yesterday that Boston’s defense allowed consistently effective inside shooting vs. Washington. That also happened against Chicago until Bulls playmaker Rajon Rondo was lost to injury. How can the Celtics slow down Cleveland? 

They probably can’t. But, they might have a chance to outscore them by raining down treys. That was an edge they exploited repeatedly in the last round. The problem is…Cleveland’s diverse scoring arsenal can also rain down treys. 

Here’s a look at made treys per game for both teams thus far in the playoffs. We’ll go from worst to best rather than chronologically because it helps paint a better picture of expectations (medians in parenthesis). 

Made Treys in the playoffs

  • Boston: 9-10-10-10-11-11-(13)-14-14-16-16-17-19 (average 13.1, median 13)
  • Cleveland: 9-11-13-(13-14)-16-18-21 (average 14.4, medians 13-14)

Boston has to rain down treys just to cancel out Cleveland’s new level of long range production. It’s easy to fall back into old handicapping habits when thinking about LeBron James in a playoff series. Right now, it’s best to think of Cleveland as the Houston Rockets if James Harden were LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving was there to spell Harden. The early market prices, lifted by quant interest on the favorite, reflect this apparent new reality. 

Is Cleveland really as good as it’s looked thus far? We’ll crunch the Game 1 numbers for you tomorrow for more context. 

NBA: Spurs check out early as Golden State rolls to 2-0 series lead

Normally we’d lead off the newsletter with a game from the night before. But…this wasn’t much of a game.

Golden State (-14) 136, San Antonio 100 

  • Two-Point Pct: San Antonio 38%, Golden State 62%
  • Three Pointers: San Antonio 8/23, Golden State 18/37

This one was over in the first few minutes. San Antonio seemed content to punt in hopes that Kawhi Leonard could get healthy by Game 3 Saturday in the Alamo City. Not much reason to spend time on this one. Extended garbage time that lasted virtually the whole night. Let’s get to the hockey thriller! (For those of you keeping track of pace, this one logged in at an estimated 103 possessions per team).

NHL: Nashville singing after late goal beats Anaheim

Nashville has clearly established dominance in terms of the flow of play three games into its Western Conference Championship matchup with Anaheim. The Predators controlled shot count on the road. Then, look at the numbers Tuesday at home in Game 3.

Nashville (-150) 2, Anaheim 1

  • Shots: Anaheim 20, Nashville 40

It’s a lot harder to double an NHL team in shots than it is to double them on the scoreboard. That’s an incredible advantage for a playoff game. Yet we were knotted at one goal apiece until Nashville scored on a power play goal with just under three minutes to go. Anaheim did have success on its own power play, scoring its only goal that way, and having a productive two minutes in the third period themselves that didn’t cash any opportunities. 

Basically, Anaheim has to be a man up to dominate. Otherwise, Nashville is more in control than its tight 3-2 and 2-1 victories would suggest. 

Shot counts

  • Game 1: Nashville 46-29 (in overtime)
  • Game 2: Nashville 33-27 (even though Anaheim was at home in a must-win spot)
  • Game 3: Nashville 40-20
  • Total: Nashville 119-76

Give credit to Anaheim for making G3 a thriller in spite of that huge shot deficit. Game 4 will be Tuesday in Music City. All it takes is one service break against a complacent host to get series underdog Anaheim back on track. Note that Nashville is now 10-3 in the playoffs, despite not having home ice advantage in any series. The Predators are 4-3 on the road, 6-0 at home. (No complacency yet!)

Wednesday’s moneyline (series tied at 1-1)

  • Pittsburgh (-130, 5--Over -130) at Ottawa; 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network

Preakness: Post Position Parade hosted by Gill Alexander

Be sure you tune into “A Numbers Game” Wednesday for a special Preakness preview that will coincide with the formal drawing of post positions for Saturday’s big race. Gill’s two-hour show starts at 4 p.m. ET (1 p.m. in Las Vegas), the draw begins at 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. in Las Vegas). 

Gill’s guests will include Chris Fallica of ESPN, Peter Fornatale of the Daily Racing Form, Marco D’Angelo (who hit a very lucrative trifecta in the Kentucky Derby), plus Vinny Magliulo and Chris Andrews to provide perspective on the race from their side of the counter. 

In the meantime, some reading for you racing fans:

The Paulick Report with a comprehensive race breakdown

The Seattle Times digs deep on Classic Empire’s hopes for redemption

The Preakness Notebook from the Baltimore Sun

Bleacher Report provides background details on the draw

Late Tuesday, our own Ron Flatter (@ronflatter) tweeted Las Vegas odds from the Westgate and the Wynn. A quick summary for the 10-horse field...

  • Always Dreaming: 4/5 at Westgate, 4/5 at Wynn
  • Classic Empire: 3/1 at Westgate, 3/1 at Wynn
  • Gunnevera: 8/1 at Westgate, 10/1 at Wynn
  • Lookin at Lee: 10/1 at Westgate, 9/1 at Wynn
  • Hence: 15/1 at Westgate, 14/1 at Wynn
  • Conquest Mo Money: 15/1 at Westgate, 14/1 at Wynn
  • Lancaster Bomber: 18/1 at Westgate, 22/1 at Wynn
  • Cloud Computing: 20/1 at Westgate, 12/1 at Wynn
  • Multiplier: 20/1 at Westgate, 15/1 at Wynn
  • Senior Investment: 25/1 at Westgate, 25/1 at Wynn
  • Term of Art: 40/1 at Westgate, 30/1 at Wynn

MLB: Interleague Update

Another winning night for the American League on Tuesday. Though the deck was loaded in their favor with big favorites Houston and Texas matched up against NL East weaklings Miami and Philadelphia. Profit in market terms for the AL thanks to Boston’s road win at St. Louis.

AL Tuesday Winners

  • Houston (-160) beat Miami 12-2 (up 19-4 in two games)
  • Texas (-180) beat Philadelphia 5-1
  • Boston (pick-em) beat St. Louis 6-3

NL Tuesday Winners

  • Atlanta (plus 120) beat Toronto 9-5
  • Colorado (even) beat Minnesota 7-3

Interleague records (through Tuesday) 

  • American League 38, National League 24
  • Adjusted for money lines: American League plus 11.7 units
  • American League at home: 20-10 (plus 8.1 units)
  • American League on the road: 18-14 (plus 3.6 units)

NL weaklings often have BIG trouble competing in Interleague play. If you assume that the decade-long data is correct about AL superiority, then obviously the worst teams in the lesser league are likely to be outmatched. Here’s a look at how NL teams with records of .500 or worse in the current standings have performed against the AL thus far (ranked by games below break-even):

  • Miami 2-7
  • Chicago Cubs 1-5
  • San Diego 2-5
  • Philadelphia 0-3
  • Pittsburgh 2-4
  • Cincinnati 2-3
  • Atlanta 2-2
  • San Francisco 1-1
  • NY Mets 0-0

That’s 12-30 for the nine NL teams currently at .500 or worse! Sadder from the Senior Circuit’s point of view…the NL dregs have A LOT more games left to play against the AL! The Mets haven’t even started yet. Though, the Cubs are obviously likely to play much better than that moving forward given their talent level, and San Francisco has time to play more to their preseason projections. 

Thanks for making a midweek visit to VSiN City. If you have any comments or questions about the newsletter or our daily programming, please drop us a note. Subscribing for morning email delivery is as easy as making a few clicks. Be sure to follow us on twitter for programming bulletins and sports betting news throughout the day. 

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