Cleveland at Boston
Time: 7 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: BOS -4.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics are deadlocked at 50-27, and are contesting one another for the Eastern Conference’s top spot, and for homecourt advantage throughout the 2017 Eastern Conference playoffs. Boston is the hotter team as winners of eight of its past 10, while the Cavaliers have gone just 5-5 over its past 10 SU, though the Cavs have won its past three contests. Boston enters as 4.5 point favorites from the TD Garden, where the Celtics have posted a 28-10 mark this season. The game will air at 7 PM (Central) as the first of an ESPN Wednesday night double header.
Boston has most recently knocked off two tanking teams: The New York Knicks and Orlando Magic. The C’s have won 9 of its past 11 games, and Isaiah Thomas is having a season for the ages, even irrespective of his 5-foot-9 stature. The former No. 60 overall pick has averaged 29.1 points per game this season and become known as a fourth quarter killer.
Over his past 10 games, he has shot 48 percent from the floor in averaging 28.4 points and five assists per game. The Sacramento Kings may be the worst trade bargainers in the NBA, after giving up Thomas only to surrender DeMarcus Cousins for pennies on the dollar years later. Of course, the Phoenix Suns can also rue letting go of Thomas, who at age 28 should still have several productive seasons of high scoring basketball in him. That said, Thomas himself said the Celtics should take Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall if it lands the pick, so the days of Thomas starting in Boston could be numbered.
Thomas, as good as he is offensively, is a defensive liability in every sense of the term, and it requires significant adjustments by the Celtics to cover the “mismatches” he creates by simply being 3-to-5 inches shorter than even averaged sized point guards. Thomas is an incredible talent, but can Boston win with him as its most dominant player? Yes. Can it win a title? That is far less certain, but tonight should give some indication of how well the C’s matchup with the Cavaliers as the postseason looms. Cleveland has sort of been in coasting mode, but this game has to become some sort of statement game for LeBron James and company.
The Cavaliers have knocked off a few woeful teams to counteract the three-game losing streak it was on prior to the trio of wins. The Cavaliers had lost to Washington, San Antonio and Chicago, but it followed that up with predictable wins over the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic. For as good as James has been this season, he has seemingly been going at half-speed while racking up 26 points, eight rebounds and eight assists per game—and posting a PER of 26.9.
The improvements of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, though, should make Cleveland all the tougher to knock off this year. Irving is averaging 25.1 points per game and 5.8 assists, while Love is approaching 20 points per game and shooting lights out. The Cavs also have a plethora of useful role players to form an effective second unit, and the sharpshooters staggered around LBJ do their job: Be it Channing Frye, JR Smith or Kyle Korver, the Cavaliers can space the floor.
Cleveland hits 13 threes per night on 38.8 percent team shooting, and even James is shooting 36.3 percent from three on 4.7 attempts per night.
The Cavaliers have made some prudent additions, too, from former No. 2 overall draft pick Derrick Williams to the rapidly declining once-superstar Deron Williams. Andrew Bogut suffered a season-ending injury in his first minute on the court as a Cavalier, but the Cavaliers did sign Larry Sanders.
Sanders was a former Defensive Player of the Year type caliber, but he has played just two minutes thus far and will need to round into playing shape after taking a long tract of time off to deal with marijuana usage and mental illness. He could end up being a far bigger difference maker than Bogut ever could have, but it is also something of a long-shot given his extended absence from the league. If he can get his winds and his timing by the postseason though, the Cavaliers will have a major defensive threat coming off the bench behind starting center Tristan Thompson.