NBA Betting Preview: Déjà vu all over again as James and Curry favoured for finals
Haven't we been here before? Despite a year of changes and turmoil, the same four teams have returned to the conference finals from last season. Should we expect a different result this time around?
"LeBron saved the Cavs against the Pacers. He was given more support in the second round, and Cleveland now look very dangerous after their turbulent season"
Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics
Game 1 - Sunday, 13th May at 20:30 BST
Live on Betfair Video and BT Sport 2
One year, hundreds of roster moves, 1,230 regular season games whittling down 32 to 16 teams, two rounds of playoffs and it's looking like it'll be Golden State Cleveland Finals for the fourth year in a row, at least according to the markets. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Well, not quite.
There have been changes, significant ones. We've talked plenty about the Cleveland-Boston switcheroo last summer. After that swap, the balance of power the East looked as though it could swing to Massachusetts. The changes didn't stop there.
Cleveland moved Isaiah Thomas, their former Celtic, mid-season, rebuilding their team again mid-season. The Celtics lost one of their big moves signings, Gordon Hayward, on the opening night of the season to a gruesome injury.
Unfortunately for the Toronto Raptors and Dwane Casey, things havent't changed enough. The Canadian franchise took first seed in the East, but were devastated by the greatest player in the game in four games. Casey was fired this week, days after collecting the 2018 Coach of the Year award.
LeBron saved the Cavs against the Pacers. He was given more support in the second round, and Cleveland now look very dangerous after their turbulent season.
If James can drag this team to a title it will be the crowning achievement of his incomprehinsible career. He won't be afraid of this Boston Celtics team.
They saw off the Sixers in the last round through tough defence. Philly were well-placed to take expected wins throughout the series, but the Celtics forced turnovers at pivotal moments - none more crucial than Game 3's overtime debacle - and snatched the series from a team who were steamrolling opponents until then.
Having assumed James would be let down by his supporting cast in the previous round, I am deeply reluctant to bet against the great man in this series.
Boston's roster still looks short of the Championship standard without Kyrie and Hayward. Al Horford is their de facto leader, rookie Jayson Tatum is their top-scorer in the playoffs, and Terry Rozier is having a breakout postseason.
Coach Brad Stevens - who didn't get a single vote in the Coach of the Year poll - must get some credit for fashioning a very competitive team with the assembled pieces, and their gritty play gives them a shot in this series.
If Stevens can draw up a plan to restrict James and the great one doesn't get support from the likes of Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and Kevin Love, the Celtics could pull this off.
My own pick would be for the James to pull this off again. He's scored 377 points so far in the playoffs. The next nearest scorer is James Harden on 285. James has 99 assists. Only Rajon Rondo of the departed Pelicans has more.
The Cavs are [1.37] to win the Eastern Conference. I don't love the short price, so would look at the series scores. Cleveland to win 4-3 is [6.40] on the Series Correct Score market, and looks reasonable value. The way James is playing, this could be over sooner, but Boston are tough at home and have upset a powerful offence in the previous round. Cleveland 4-2 is [3.15] but I'm inclined to take the longer priced option.
Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets
Game 1 - Tuesday, 15th May at 02:00 BST
Live on Betfair Video and BT Sport 1
The changes in the West comes from Houston.
Last year they were a scoring machine, but their below average defensive effort cost them when it mattered. San Antonio ground out a 4-2 series victory in the conference semi-finals, ending James Harden's charge for a title.
A year later, they've added defensive combatability. More than that, they added Chris Paul's offensive talents too. and they've managed to top the regular season performance of the Warriors, taking home seeding for this series by finishing with the best record in the league.
They score almost at the same rate as the Warriors offence too. They are the only team that can keep pace with GSW consistently, with Harden, Paul and Trevor Ariza three players who can wrack up scores.
They'll have to face a Warriors team that now has it's talisman back, alongside the kind of depth other teams can only dream of. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in their starting five is intimidating enough, but it's their "lesser talents" that often make the difference.
This depth shows up in the way the Warriors wear teams down to boss third quarters. In the playoffs they've dominated games after half-time, outscoring opponents by just under 27 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter. That's almost 20 points better than Houston.
Scoring at the rate they do, it's easy to understand why, with Curry back, they are [1.5] favourites for this series, despite the regular season record.
I fancied Houston to get past Golden State if Curry couldn't return or was hampered by the knee injury he picked up in March. I'd still expect this to be a hard-fought series and could see it going seven games, but they look so good now it wll take a lot from the Rockets to unseat the defending champs.
The Rockets do have home advantage on their side. They'll need to make the most of it. I still hold out hope they could outscore the Warriors in seven, but Golden State 4-3 is probably the series scoreline I'd fancy most, available at [7.0].
0.5pt Cleveland Cavaliers 4-3 in the Series Correct Score market @ [6.40]
0.5pt Golden State Warriors 4-3 in the Series Correct Score market @ [7.00]