NBA Finals Matchup Futures: Do You Fade LeBron James or the Warriors?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Rockets are fun. The Spurs are reliable. The Thunder are stocked. But let’s face it: The Warriors are super-heavy favorites for a reason. The NBA championship future odds just aren’t worth talking yourself into.
But what about the Finals matchup? With how inconsistent the Cavs have been? Now that’s interesting.
Here’s a look at the Finals matchup odds going into the homestretch.
Cavaliers vs. Warriors (+175 BetOnline, +150 5Dimes): Ye old rematch is no longer in the red, which shows how vulnerable the oddsmakers still think Cleveland is. The Cavs have jumped back to being the favorites in the East, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still concerns for how they’ll manage the rest of the way. After all, things are never as good as the honeymoon.
It’s ultimately hard to get excited here. Yes, it’s the most likely. It’s a safe investment. However, the risks make this seem less like the basic algebra it was the past two seasons. There’s real concern to be had with the Cavs, not only because of how they’ve played but also because of the improved Eastern Conference field, which might not just roll over for them. Meanwhile, the Warriors might still sweep: Two league executives at All-Star Weekend said they thought that was likely, compared to four who said it wasn’t. Those four point to an improved West field. Is it improved enough actually to beat them? No. But the team is tired, and a major injury could throw a wrench in the whole machine, even if they still have three top-15 players on the roster.
Note: the field is -220 for all other matchups at BetOnline. You can’t feel good about that one, either.
Celtics vs. Warriors (+394 5Dimes): Boy, this one looked good in December, but a lot’s changed since then. It would be a great matchup: These teams bring great things out of each other, especially compared to Cavs-Warriors, which usually features LeBron James (pictured) trying to smash down a brick wall covered in swords with a hammer.
However, the Celtics’ falloff is concerning. The offense hasn’t made the jump. Even if Boston gets it together during the final two months of the season, there are too many question marks without Gordon Hayward. Do I like this matchup for 2019? I do. Now, though, it seems more like a leprechaun’s fairy tale.
Raptors vs. Warriors (+599 5Dimes): Now we’re talking. I like a 6-1 return for a matchup that features the No. 1 seed vs. the reigning champ in a year in which LeBron has looked tired and his team has reshuffled the whole deck with under 30 games to go.
The Raptors are hard to believe in, but the oddsmakers are never going to be ahead of something like “Toronto finally makes the changes it needs and is a different playoff team.” The Raptors have done absolutely everything to prove they deserve playoff confidence. The bench is better. Jonas Valanciunas is better. The offensive scheme is greatly improved. The defense is great. DeMar DeRozan is having a career season and doing so with more 3-pointers and more playmaking. You can’t ask anything more from the Raptors. This line is based on a playoff history that is no longer relevant. Would I like Toronto-Warriors at -150, which is where you’d normally see a matchup between two No. 1 seeds? No. But +599 is downright tasty.
Cavaliers vs. Rockets (+1035 5Dimes): Man, what a plot twist this would be. The Cavs make it, but the Warriors don’t? If you’re looking for a longshot that still believes in Cleveland, this fits the bill. It’s inflated on account of how new the Cavs are and what a trainwreck their overall season has been. It hedges against a Golden State injury and factors in both the Rockets’ regular-season performance and potential playoff formula vs. the Warriors.
The Rockets could have home-court advantage in a Game 7 against the Warriors, and the Cavs are playing as if they’re actually alive again. Hedge this with a safety bet on Golden State to win the title at -168 (5Dimes) and you’re in good shape both ways.
Celtics vs. Rockets (+1740 5Dimes): Total and complete chaos. An underdog top-two seed led by a score-first point guard, an aging nondominant playmaking center, and a bunch of kiddos makes the Finals only to play a Mike D’Antoni team led by James Harden and Chris Paul after they knock off one of the greatest teams ever assembled.
Yeah, no, I don’t feel great about this one.
Raptors vs. Rockets (+2500): If you like Celtics-Rockets, you might as well go in on this one, given Toronto’s better resume and better chance of having home-court advantage and a later matchup with Cleveland. That sound you hear is TV executives pouring stiff, stiff drinks at the thought of this one going live on ABC.
Cavaliers vs. Thunder (+4650 5Dimes): This is the most out-there one I can talk myself into. You go against the grain and look to the West for the surprise upset with a Thunder team that beat down the Warriors twice this year, and then you go safe with LeBron James. The Thunder probably don’t have enough defense without Andre Roberson, but it would make for one great story. If you’re not going with Golden State, you can get a little loose with who comes out of the West given Houston’s playoff vulnerability, and then you keep it safe with Cleveland. At +4650? It’s a lottery ticket, but not a totally blisteringly nonsensical one.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports