NBA Betting Preview: James carrying Cavs, but Eastern title looks beyond them
Cleveland scraped past the Pacers, but they look to be lagging behind the remaining runners in the NBA championship race. How far can LeBron James carry them, asks Mark Kirwan....
"Over the seven game series, the Pacers outscored Cleveland by 40 points in total, the worst points differential for a series winner since 1984."
NBA Playoffs 2018 - Eastern Conference Second Round
Live on Betfair Video and BT Sport
Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors
Well, they've made it... just.
The Cavs ground out a game seven win over the surprise Pacers, thought the seies was anything but encouraging if you're a Believeland backer.
LeBron had to pull out a 45-point performance in the series decider - making 64% of his shots - for the 2016 champs to squeak past Indiana by four points.
Over the seven game series, the Pacers outscored Cleveland by 40 points in total, the worst points differential for a series winner since 1984.
The series win takes James' record to 13-0 in first round matchups, but his Herculean efforts can only take this team so far. They covered the spread just once in seven efforts against Indy, which does not bode well for tougher challenges.
And yet, in the second round, doubts still remain about this Toronto team.
They led the East through the regular season and have a strong home court through the conference final, but their series against the Wizards, while not a troubling as Cleveland's, would not instill confidence.
They've looked sloppy and slow, and that's costing them on rebounds. Washington took advantage in the early stages of several games in the series but couldn't close them out.
It's good they rallied in the fourth quarters to dig out important wins, but at some point Toronto will meet a more clinical team and may not get off so lightly.
Cleveland don't look like that team. The series handicap line is the Raptors -1.5 games, and while I'm always reluctant to discount King James, I think the Canadian team should get past him in six.
Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics
Boston, as higher seeds, have home court advantage in this series, but that's just about the only edge they have here.
Their coach, Brad Stevens, may be another, but his player-management and development can only do so much. Marcus Smart is back but Jaylen Brown is now hobbled haveing top-scored in the first round for the Celts.
They have coped admirably with losing Kyrie, as they did with Gordon Hayward when the season opened, but the question is how far this can take them?
Their team work and defensive effort helped them overcome the generational talent of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the first round in seven games - they won that series by winning all four of their games at TD Garden - but now they come up against two more rising stars in Philly.
The Sixers are no 24-2 in their last 26 games. They weathered Joel Embiid's absence through the final weeks of the regular season and opening games of their Miami series.
The center's offensive play hasn't looked as sharp since his return with a mask protecting his facial fracture, but defensively he came through, shutting down Miami's offence around the rim.
Even without him, Philly still have Ben Simmons averaging a triple-double throughout this 26-game run. The forward bucks the trend of long-distance shooting in the league, his speed, size and skill allowing him to pick apart defences with his passing and score in close.
Boston have a mean defence, and are strong at home. Whether they can generate enough scoring to keep pace with this rolling Philly team is the issue. I'd expect Philly to win this series 4-2.
As a value play, I like Simmons as Top Series Points Scorer at 7/1 too. Embiid and JJ Redick are favourites, but given the form he is in the Australian should be up there too.
1pt on Toronto Raptors 4-2 in the Series Correct Score market @ 4/1 (Sportsbook)
1pt on Philadelphia 76ers 4-2 in the Series Correct Score market @ 2/1 (Sportsbook)
0.5pt on Ben Simmons in the Series Top Points Scorer @ 7/1 (Sportsbook)