When fans or media members do not have a strong opinion on a topic they tend to make predictions on what they want to happen. Because the Golden State Warriors have not been in the NBA Finals since 1975, and LeBron James is one of the greatest players of all time, picking the Cavs in six games, or the Warriors in seven are popular opinions.
Sportsbooks are right.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good betting options for handicappers.
Let’s take a closer look at the teams and how they realistically matchup, keeping wants and preferences well out of the picture.
Golden State Warriors
Golden State is a 2/1 favorite to beat Cleveland in the NBA Finals. The Warriors have been chalk for most of the season. Their resume is untouchable. They won 67 games during the regular season, finished 39-2 at home, led the league in points per game, and were tops in field goal percentage defense.
During the playoffs, the Warriors swept New Orleans, beat Memphis in six (including a 17-point road win in Game 4 when trailing the series two games to one), and eliminated Houston in five. Stephen Curry has lived up to his MVP award, and the deepest team in modern NBA history has basically stapled former All-Star David Lee to the bench.
The Cavs, meanwhile, were 53-29 during the regular season but finished their road slate just 22-19. They were eighth in the league in scoring and 20th in field goal defense. That being said, they are sixth in points and second in defense during the postseason.
Like the Warriors, Cleveland swept their opening playoff series (against Boston), and then needed six games to get by Chicago in the second round. The Cavs trailed the Bulls two games to one and earned an 86-84 victory in Game 4. Cleveland then swept the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs have had to play the majority of the postseason without Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving has played through a knee injury over the past few weeks.
Cleveland’s postseason opponents won six fewer games than the Warriors’ opposition during the regular season, despite playing in the much weaker Eastern Conference. The West has produced the NBA Champion in 11 of the last 16 campaigns.
The Warriors are the superior team, and sportsbooks know it. That leads us to the following question: just how much better are they?
In our view, it’s hard to see Golden State taking a 3-2 lead back to Cleveland and taking Game 6 to win the title. If the series is that close, expect the Cavs to hold serve at home. That means the best choices are Warriors in seven (which is currently 19/5), Warriors in five (7/2), or a Warriors’ sweep (31/4).
The data from the season plus the series odds indicate it isn’t a close enough match-up to warrant seven games. I’ll hedge my bets and use 30-percent of my allocated payroll on the sweep, with the other 70-percent on the Warriors in five. Either way, the payout is a lot better than laying 2/1 on a result that feels pretty likely.
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (flickr) “Stephen Curry” [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]. Photo has been cropped.)