Entering the 2017 NBA Finals, some talking heads around the sports world were speculating that Cleveland’s LeBron James could surpass Michael Jordan as being considered the greatest player in NBA history if James led his Cavaliers past the heavily favored Golden State Warriors for the second straight season.
However, after two Warriors home blowouts all the speculation now is that Golden State might go down as the greatest single-season team ever should it become the first club to go unbeaten in a postseason. One sportsbook released a hypothetical NBA betting line on these Warriors and Jordan’s 1995-96 Bulls team that won a then-record 72 regular-season games and the NBA title: The Dubs would be 6.5-point favorites at a neutral-site location.
The NBA Finals switch to Cleveland on Wednesday night for Game 3, and the Warriors are listed as 4-point betting favorites at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. No team has ever rallied from a 3-0 series deficit in the NBA playoffs. Golden State is -1100 on the series betting line with Cleveland at +650.
The Warriors have taken the first two games of this series by a combined 41 points, but they won the first two of the Finals last year at home by a combined 48 points and we all know what happened next. So perhaps the Cavs still have a shot, although there’s one big difference from this year to last: Golden State has Kevin Durant now and is on an NBA-record 14-game playoff winning streak.
Durant has been unstoppable in averaging 35.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals in the first two games. He essentially has played all five positions on the court and guarded each of Cleveland’s Big 3 of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love at one point or another.
Durant is the clear favorite to win Finals MVP. The Cavs simply don’t have an answer for him. How do you stop a 7-footer who can handle the ball like a point guard and has range out to nearly half court? When LeBron is guarding him this series, Durant is 10-for-17 for 23 points with just one turnover.
James is certainly doing his part for the Cavs. He tied Magic Johnson for the most career Finals triple-doubles at eight with 29 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds in Game 2. Both Love and Irving have been solid as well, although Irving is being outplayed by Stephen Curry, who had his first career playoff triple-double in Game 2.
The problem is that the Cavs are getting nothing from anyone else. Fellow starters Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith have totally disappeared – they were each minus-18 in Game 2. Thompson has just eight points and eight rebounds total. The Warriors simply dare him to shoot the ball. Smith has only three points in the series.
No player on the bench is contributing much, either. Coach Tyronn Lue might make a change for Game 3 in switching out Smith for Iman Shumpert in the starting lineup. Shumpert is 3-for-12 shooting but is a very good defender and brings energy.
James’ Cavs teams have been home underdogs just six times in games he has played since returning to Cleveland in 2014, with five coming against the Warriors. The Cavs are 3-3 ATS
in the previous six. They covered as 3.5-point underdogs against Golden State in a 109-108 victory on Christmas.
For Cleveland to have a shot in Game 3 or this series, it must get more from outside the Big 3, not allow second-chance points, and slow the pace. Trying to beat the Warriors in a track meet simply won’t work. The two Finals games have been the Cavs’ two fastest-paced games of their postseason so far.
OddsShark Computer Prediction: Warriors 112.8 Cavaliers 110.7. Cavs +4. Under on the Point Total.