Don’t look now, but the Cleveland Cavs are on a 3-game winning streak. Their opponent for tonight’s 8pm contest , the OKC Thunder , meanwhile , have lost five of their last seven, and have been without two key players, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, for the past two games.
By Tyronne Grant – Wannamakeabet Staff Writer
Despite the above facts, the Cavs have been made slight underdogs in tonight’s game, the line -2 in favor of the hosting Thunder. I think that’s a ‘gimme number’ for anybody who likes Cleveland for the win.
Like baseball, NBA basketball is a game of constant activity, with contests for all teams coming at a rate of three or even four per week, sometimes on consecutive days. This means that momentum from one game to the next is huge, as players find and lose the rhythm of their shots, and coaches tweak lineups to rest key players as much as possible.
In the midst of this constant action, vegas oddsmakers seek to make lines that reflect the relative strength of each team in each game. In many cases, their lines are relatively speaking, soft.
For the Cavs team leader Lebron James has seen his latest performances revitalized after a heroic performance against a tough Minnesota team.
Following that game (won by James via a buzzer-beater in overtime) the Cavs shook up the league via a blockbuster trade , removing a number of tired veterans, and bringing in a slew of young shooters and slashers.
After Minnesota, James and company dominated the low-flying Hawks , James himself posting a triple-double that included career- high 19 assists, all while playing without his team’s newly-acquired players.
The three game winning streak was completed this past Sunday, with a confident James getting strong support from the new arrivals, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney hood and George Hill in a blow-out win over the then-top-seeded Celtics.
In both the Timberwolves and Celtics games, the Cavs were underdogs and won outright. Yet Vegas is not convinced that the Cavs have turned the corner.
Much of this could result from the fact that the last time the Thunder and Cavs met, the former jumped all over the latter, hanging almost 150 on Lebron and co., with OKC leader, Westbrook dishing 20 assists, and four of five starters scoring more than 20 (Paul George had 36).
Perhaps on Tuesday night, the Cavs will be given a reality check, so the line seems to say. In all likelihood, though, it is the Thunder who will get the reality check.
A closer look at the shooting percentages for both teams makes for some interesting reading. According to teamrankings.com, Cleveland has converted 47.4% from the field , a rate good enough for 6th-best in the league. By contrast, OKC ranks 18th in the league FG% at 45.3%.
In the January 20th matchup between the two, OKC was abnormally hot, shooting 58% from the field, and nealry 47% fron behind the arc, far higher than their season’s averages of 45% and 5th-worst 35% from three.
OKC hasn’t come anywhere near repeating thaft performance since.
Games since 1/20 (FG%/3P%)
Vs. Nets (Won) : 43%/28%
Vs. Wizards (W) : 52%/33%
@ Pistons (W) : 48%/42%
Vs Sixers (W) : 49%/30%
@ Wizards (L) : 38%/28%
@ Nuggests (L) : 52%/31%
Vs Pelicans (L) : 38%/25%
Vs Lakers (L) : 45%/28%
Vs Grizzlies (W) : 44%/43%
The Thunder have failed to shoot better than 50% in all but two of their nine games since their meeting with the Cavs. Since we know that, overall, the Cavs are a better- shooting team than OKC, we can side against the Thunder suddenly ‘catching fire’ to that extent again; the previous meeting was, if not a fluke, then at least a statistical anomaly.
It shouldn’t happen again, particularly since neither Westbrook nor Carmelo Anthony have played in the last two games due to ankle sprains suffered in the recent win over the Warriors, and are game-time decisions tonight.
With a full-strength Cavs squad on a three-game win streak coming to town, I see little reason to not take points, regardless if Westbrook and Anthony suit up for the game. Although the Thunder have an interesting x-factor in Paul George ( posting a career- best conversion rate from 3-point range), if OKC have indeed ‘regressed to their mean’, then this game can go either way. In fact, the line (-2 currently) suggests that this game is, essentially a pick ’em.
The Pick: Cavs +2, +110 ML
On the strength of Lebron James’s form , a revitalized Cavs roster, plus questions as to the health and ‘ true quality’ of the Thunder going into this game, i think tonight is the best time to take free money on the Cavaliers , before Vegas stops providing it.