Favored Warriors Are No Slam Dunk to Win NBA Title

Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It was funny to hear avid fans of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers talk about the early money-line prices for the NBA Finals that begin June 4. Confident Warriors fans who anticipate a sweep, or at most a five-game series, couldn’t believe the series price was as low as minus-240. At the same time, Cavaliers fans saw the series as a near tossup, and couldn’t believe their team was such a big underdog, fetching a plus-200 to plus-220 return!

These diverse opinions may hint at a very actively—and perhaps evenly—bet league championship series at Las Vegas sportsbooks.

But how should you approach betting the Finals? Before you so much as stick your hand in your pocket, respect the market and understand there are reasons Golden State is the series favorite. Among those reasons: The Warriors dominated the West, which is the much superior conference; they largely stayed healthy, and are expected to be at full strength against Cleveland; they have a versatile attack that isn’t as overly reliant on league MVP Steph Curry as the media would have you believe; they have the superior of the two defenses and more productive depth, which will allow them to rest their starters; and they can excel at any pace, which means you can’t take them out of a comfort zone.

Now, we can turn many of those points around to explain why Cleveland is a sizable underdog: The Cavaliers advanced to the Finals by rolling through the East, but again, it’s the inferior conference; they’re battling injuries, most notably to point guard Kyrie Irving (who has been in and out of the lineup) and forward Kevin Love (out for the playoffs); they may be relying too heavily on LeBron James, particularly in the postseason; while they’ve been playing improved defense, they still have issues defending the 3-point line (which is Golden State’s greatest offensive strength); their bench is less dynamic than the Warriors’; and they’ve played slow this season and may not have the bodies to get into a track meet.

It’s easy to digest these points and project a comfortable path for the favorites. But that’s a dangerous approach, because Cleveland certainly has upset potential that shouldn’t be ignored. Consider:

**The Cavaliers were so dominant once getting their personnel in order following midseason trades that they just might be entering the Finals on near-even footing with Golden State. (Cleveland is 46-11 since January 15, including 12-2 in the postseason, with Love missing the past two series.)

**James is the most experienced postseason player in this series by a mile, and experience matters when championships are on the line.

**If the Cavs can control the pace (read: slow things down), that will give them a chance to mitigate their fatigue and bench issues. A slower pace won’t take Golden State out of its comfort zone, but it will keep the series in Cleveland’s.

On a game-by-game basis, I could easily see myself investing in Cleveland in some spots, Golden State in others. And I’ll definitely be considering betting the “under” in games played at Golden State, where 12 of the Warriors’ 15 postseason games have stayed low (additionally, Cleveland is 6-1 “under” in playoff road games).

In the end, I get the feeling we’ll have multiple wagering opportunities in these Finals, as I see this one going the distance …

The pick: Warriors in 7.

Scott Spreitzer is a longtime local bettor and handicapper who also cohosts Pregame.com’s First Preview sports-betting show at 10 a.m. Mon-Fri on ESPN 1100-AM and 100.9-FM. Follow him at @ScottWins.