The inevitable NBA Finals matchup that everyone’s been expecting since … well … the last NBA Finals is upon us. For the third straight year, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet for the slightly off-kilter Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Sportsbooks strongly favor the Warriors, though their 4/11 odds are longer than the 2/7 figure that was expected a few weeks ago.
Let’s take a quick look at the teams and find the best bet to make.
How to Bet the NBA Finals
You can look at all sorts of numbers, but the bottom line is this is less about the Cavs and more about LeBron James. He is in the NBA Finals for a seventh straight year, going 2-2 with the Heat, and 1-1 during with Cleveland over that span. (He’s 3-4, career, in the Finals.) The idea that one guy can take his team to the biggest stage virtually every year is astounding.
So why are the Warriors such big favorites if the Cavs have arguably the best player in the history of the game? A few reasons: Cleveland wasn’t particularly good on the road, or against other top teams, in the regular season, and they were downright bad defensively. For much of the year, it looked like they were declining.
But the playoffs have written a different script. They are 12-1, winning by an average margin of 15 points a game. The trio of James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love is averaging more than 74 points, nearly 21 rebounds, and almost 15 assists per game. As a whole, the team is averaging nearly six more points per game than in the regular season.
More importantly, on defense, the Cavs have tightened up, allowing fewer points and holding opponents to a worse percentage from the floor and beyond the arc.
Between 1994 and 2012, Golden State reached the postseason only once. However, the last five regular seasons have produced five straight playoff appearances and win totals of 47, 51, 67, 73 (an NBA record), and 67. After taking a 3-1 series lead over Cleveland last year, they looked destined for their second straight NBA title.
Then came the collapse, followed by a long offseason and the addition of Kevin Durant to an already stacked roster.
This year’s team took some time to coalesce and suffered through some key injuries, but it might be even better that last year’s record-breaking squad: they are 12-0 in the playoffs this season and have dominated their opponents, winning postseason games by an average of more than 16 points a game.
Like the Cavs, the Warriors have been better on both offense and defense in the playoffs. That is hard to imagine since Golden State had the best offensive rating and second-best defensive rating in the league in the regular season.
It is hard to see a flaw in the team that added Durant to Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
How to Wager
As crazy as it is to say, taking the Warriors at 4/11 is reasonable. That gives them a 73-percent chance of winning, while fivethirtyeight.com suggests the probability is closer to 90-percent. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle.
It’s no fun — and not very lucrative — to bet on a big favorite, of course. So let’s look at some other options rather than just Golden State-to-win.
In terms of series length, the odds are as follows:
- GS in five: 5/2
- GS in seven: 7/2
- GS in six: 19/4
- GS sweep: 7/1
- CLE in six : 23/4
- CLE in seven: 8/1
- CLE in five: 19/1
- CLE sweep: 40/1
Last year, with Curry less than 100-percent, the Warriors built a 3-1 series lead, winning by an average of 19.7 points a game. Then Green was suspended for Game 5 and the Dubs looked completely lost. The Cavs went onto take Game 6 at home and won a nervously played Game 7 that could have gone either way.
Two years ago, the Warriors won the final three games of the series by an average of 14 points.
The 2017 NBA playoffs have not featured a lot of great games or series, and this won’t be one either. Expect the margins of victory to be similarly large. The Warriors in five seems likely, but Golden State in four is very much in play too, and at 7/1, seems like the best value on the board.