Ten games In, Are The Cavaliers The Team To Beat In the NBA Eastern Conference?
Should The Cavaliers Still The Favourite In The East?
As the NBA season enters the closeout quarter, now is an excellent time to revisit the NBA Finals futures. Looking at the top teams to win the NBA Championship, nothing is overly surprising. The Golden State Warriors (-175) are still the favourites. Houston has climbed the odds and now sits second at +350. Cleveland, Toronto and Boston (the top-three Eastern Conference teams from a season ago) occupy third, fourth and fifth in the odds.
The only real question is whether Cleveland at +115, deserves to be favoured over the Toronto Raptors (+240) and the Boston Celtics (+250) to win the Eastern Conference.
After taking some time to digest the Cleveland Cavaliers’ new roster after the trade deadline, the primary question remaining on the mind of NBA fans is whether or not the Cavs are now the prohibitive favourite in the Eastern Conference.
Before the trade, the Cleveland Cavaliers were struggling, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Cavaliers ranked 28th (out of 30) in the NBA before the trades and allowed teams to score 100 or more points in 40 of their 53 games.
When allowing 100 points, up to the deadline, the Cavaliers were 20-20. When their defence stepped up to limit teams to less than 100 points, the Cavaliers were an impressive 11-2.
Since the trades, the turn-around for the Cleveland Cavaliers has not been as dramatic as expected. The table below shows some improvements, but overall the Cavaliers are still only 6-4 (from February 9 to March 6) since reshaping their roster.
|Cleveland Cavaliers Stat Pre and Post Trade Deadline|
|W||L||Avg. PTS Scored||Avg. PTS Allowed||Difference|
While their defence has improved, they still allowed seven of the ten teams to score 100 points or more and are on pace to allow teams to score 100 points or more 61 games. Although 61 games do sound high, it was the same amount of games last season they allowed an opponent to score 100 points or more in a regular season game.
Eastern Conference Futures
Despite the Cavaliers mediocre play this season, they are still the favourite to win the East at -175. There is one reason the Cavaliers are favourites over the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics. That reason is LeBron James. A LeBron James-led team has made seven consecutive finals.
However, in the four seasons, since LeBron returned to Cleveland, this is statistically speaking the worst team. The Cavaliers have improved on offence since LeBron’s first season back. The problem is, this year they have sacrificed too much on defence. The table below shows this in more detail.
|Cleveland Cavaliers Yearly Stats|
|Year||Win %||Off Rtg||Def Rtf||Net Rating|
The lack of defence will sting more when it comes playoff time. The Cleveland Cavaliers most significant completion in the East is currently the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors rank fourth in the NBA in offensive rating, one sport better than Cleveland.
Unlike Cleveland, Toronto does not sacrifice defence for offence. Toronto is third overall in defensive rating this season (Cleveland is 28th), giving them the third best net-rating in the NBA behind only the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.
Even the Boston Celtics look like they could bring down the Cavaliers in a seven-game series. Boston leads the NBA in defensive rating and ranks fourth in net rating. Boston is a young team though and has gone through some hiccups this season when their young stars struggle. Overall though, their defensive abilities and playoff Kyrie Irving could be enough to bring down LeBron.
The question now is who is the better pick to win the Eastern Conference, Toronto or Boston? Toronto has been quite successful against Boston the last two-and-a-half seasons. Toronto is 7-3 against Boston and 5-0 at home since the start of the 2015-16 season. Toronto has an easier stretch to end the season and looks like a better pick to claim the number one seed in the East.
With Toronto having home court and Boston likely playing the Cavaliers in round two (a series they could very well lose), the Raptors with their two All-Star guards and deep bench are a good pick to make their first NBA Finals appearance.
Western Conference Futures
Although there is some intrigue in the West this season, especially around the performances of the Portland Trailblazers and New Orleans Pelicans, most, if not all, expect the Western Conference Finals to be between the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
The Rockets lead the Warriors by a half-game (as of the morning of March 7), and also hold the season tiebreaker over Golden State, having won two of their three meetings this season. Coming into the 2017-18 NBA season, the Rockets were expected to be a top-three team in the West, but how well the pairing of guards James Harden and Chris Paul has actually worked is very impressive.
The Rockets are still the underdog in the West at +225. Golden State (-250) has not done any outside of look like a team at times on cruise control to make NBA fans believe they are not the best team in the league. The Warriors have a higher net rating than the Rockets (10.7 to 9.0)
Golden State is also deeper and better defensively than the Houston Rockets. The Warriors do have some health issues as Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant have all missed at least seven games this season. However, as long as they are healthy, Golden State is the best bet in the West and should go to their fourth straight NBA Finals.
NBA Championship Predictions
As much as most Canadian sports fans would love to see the Toronto Raptors win their first NBA Championship, it is quite difficult to rationalize picking the Raptors to beat the Golden State Warriors (barring some type of significant injury) in the Finals.
Golden State have won eight straight games against Toronto, dating back to the 2014-15 season (when Golden State won their first title with Steph, Draymond and Klay). The Raptors have played Golden State close, losing by six or less in five of the last six.
Still, Golden State is such a strong team, even the Raptors playing at their absolute best would likely only be enough to win two or three games. Unless the Warriors suffer some sort of catastrophic injury (i.e. Durrant, Curry or Green cannot play at all in the Finals), there is little reason to wager against the Warriors, especially at their current odds.
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