NBA Finals 2018 Preview and Predictions
Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers: Round Four
While the NBA Finals matchup turned out as many expected, the playoffs as a whole have been much better this year than they were last season.
Golden State vs. Cleveland Finals History
As many know this is the fourth NBA Finals to feature the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. This is the first time in any major North American sport’s league that the same two teams have played for four straight years in the finals. Golden State has won two of the three series and owns a record of 11-7 in 18 Finals games.
Last year was Golden State’s bigger domination of the Cavaliers. The Warriors won the series in five while setting a Finals record with a +13.5 point differential. The Warriors dominating performance in last year’s Finals in addition to the lack of Kyrie Irving for the Cavaliers has caused basketball sportsbooks to open the Warriors as the heaviest NBA Finals favourite in 16 years.
Now, it is important to remember back in 2015 (the first showdown between the Warriors and Cavaliers), that Kevin Love missed the entire series, while Irving only played in Game One. LeBron led the Cavaliers to two wins without his All-Star teammates. However, Golden State has only improved over the last three years through experience and the signing of Kevin Durant.
NBA Finals Breakdown
Even with LeBron James playing maybe the best basketball of his career, the Warriors are the better team overall. When the Warriors play at their best, they are amongst the greatest teams in NBA history. This playoffs have not been as easy or dominating for the Warriors, but with home court advantage and most of their roster healthy, it is hard to bet against them in the 2018 NBA Finals.
Houston was surprisingly effective at stopping Golden State’s offence, limiting them to less than 100 points two times (something that had only happened two times in their last six playoff series). The problem is effectively stopping Golden State for 30-35 minutes does not guarantee anything.
When Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant catch fire from beyond the arch, the Warriors can cut a 20-point deficit in half in two minutes. Even with a few sub-100 point performances, Golden State leads all playoff teams with an offensive rating of 110.0.
Not too far behind in second are the Cavaliers with an offensive rating of 107.1. Cleveland’s problem is that outside of LeBron James, they struggle to find consistent scoring. Outside of LeBron James, only Kevin Love is averaging over 10.0 points per game for Cleveland (in comparison Golden State has four players averaging double digits).
Love’s health is a factor going into the Finals. If Love is unable to go, the Cavaliers will need consistent scoring from J.R. Smith, Jeff Green and Kyle Korver, something that only occurred in the Cavaliers sweep of the Toronto Raptors in Round Two. Even if Kevin Love is healthy and averaging around 20.0 points per game, Golden State has the better offence in this series.
Advantage: Golden State Warriors
Where there is an even wider disparity between the two teams in on the defensive side of the ball. Golden State leads all teams with a defensive rating of 99.7. Along with leading all playoff teams in defensive rating, Golden State has the best three-point defence, lowest field goal percentage and rank in the top-five for blocks and steals.
While the Cleveland Cavaliers defence is playing better in the playoffs, it still lags well behind Golden State. Cleveland owns a defensive rating of 105.9 in the playoffs, better than their regular season numbers, but still not good enough to rank in the top-third of all playoff teams.
LeBron will need to play more defence in the playoffs for Cleveland to have any chance in this series. The problem there is the amount of extra energy he will expel will hinder his offensive production, which is just as important for the Cavaliers in this series.
Advantage: Golden State Warriors
There is one single factor that can lead to a Cleveland Cavaliers to a win in the Finals. That factor is LeBron James. James is in the midst of arguably the greatest postseason in NBA history. He has carried the Cavaliers through the playoffs through his sheer will to win. James has also not given up on his teammates. While popular opinion is this is the roster Finals roster LeBron has been on since 2007, he still has enough faith in his teammates to make shots and contribute.
If LeBron continues to play like has through the first three rounds, he will no doubt be the best player on the floor. While the next three or four best players belong to the Warriors, a team knowing they have the number one guy can spark their confidence.
Also, the health of Andre Iguodala is another crucial factor going into the series. Iguodala was instrumental in Golden State’s first championship run. His defence on LeBron in the 2016 NBA Finals was so impressive he took home the Finals MVP Award. Golden State can win without Iguodala, however, without him, Cleveland’s chances (of at least winning a game or two) are better.
Neither team’s bench is very good and any meaningful playing time from their eight to ten guys would be a disservice to their team. As long as neither team faces any more injuries, it is unlikely they use the bottom of their bench outside of blowout situations.
NBA Finals Prediction
As much as everyone would like a competitive and entertaining 2018 NBA Finals, it is difficult seeing this series lasting more than five games. The Golden State Warriors are just so much better than the Cleveland Cavaliers that even LeBron James averaging 40.0 points per game may only be enough to win one or two games.
Last year, with Kyrie Irving and a healthy Kevin Love, the Cavaliers were only able to win one game. LeBron is playing better in this postseason. However, to beat these Warriors, the Cavaliers need a consistent secondary option, not a Jeff Green or J.R. Smith.
Cleveland should win one game in the series (by the sheer will of James). However, between the minutes LeBron has played and Golden State’s ability to erase leads quickly, expect the Golden State Warriors to capture their third title in four years.
NBA Specials and Prop Bets
Along with the 2018 NBA Finals winner futures, there are other wagering options available on the best basketball sportsbooks serving Canadians. We picked out some of the best options and explain why it is a good strategy to bet on each of them below.
As a potential hedge bet, wagering on the Cleveland Cavaliers at +2.5 games is a viable option. Placing this bet and wagering the Golden State Warriors to win in five games guarantees a payout unless the Warriors win in a sweep.
Wagering $100 on the Cavaliers at +2.5 and the Warriors to win in five guarantees a profit of $64 or $75. While not necessarily the most substantial return in betting history, it is not a bad approach to take, if you are someone who is on the fence about LeBron James pulling off more than one win in the series (which is possible if Iguodala cannot play, and the Warriors need to use Durant to defence LeBron more often),
NBA Finals MVP
Since most expect the Golden State Warriors to win the Finals, picking one of their stars two win Finals MVP is the best option. Kevin Durant enters as the favourite to win the award this year. While he was stellar last year in the Finals, this year feels like the year Curry finally takes home the honour.
Unlike the Houston Rockets and even the New Orleans Pelicans (with Jrue Holiday), the Cavaliers do not have a player who can consistently guard Steph Curry. Curry is also shooting better lately, averaging 28.1 points over his last five games.
Along with his great shooting, Curry is making plays all over the court. Curry averaged 7.3 assists, 7.0 rebounds and 2.7 steals in the last three games. If he comes close to matching all those numbers in the Finals, it will be hard to deny the two-time league MVP his first Finals MVP.
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