2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals Free Betting Picks
Everyone knew these two franchises were on a collision course to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, no one could’ve imaged how each would arrive here.
For Cleveland, a trade deadline roster makeover (remember when Dwyane Wade was on this team? Yeah, neither do we) did nothing to stop LeBron James from his eighth straight conference championship visit. After sweeping top-seeded Toronto last round, the Cavs enter as the slight favorites.
Boston’s circumstances are even more surprising. Without their two superstar talents — Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — the Celtics have chugged along, thanks to second-to-none coaching by Brad Stevens. They knocked off everyone’s favorite bandwagon team, Philadelphia, in five games during the second round to set up this rematch.
A year ago, Cleveland routed Boston in five games. Though, this matchup pits two completely new teams against each other. Both have more than 10 new players on the roster from last season.
Before we break down what has and hasn’t changed, we’d like to thank TopBet for the below odds!
Exact Series Outcome: No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 2 Boston
It’s officially the Jayson Tatum show in Boston (until Irving and Hayward return at least). The rookie sensation scorched the 76ers to the tune of 23.6 points per game. He’s dropped 20 or more points in seven straight games, shattering Larry Bird’s previous franchise mark for a rookie (four games).
Of all the newcomers in this series, no one is a bigger X-factor than Tatum. However, perhaps no coach is more equipped at slowing him down than Tyronn Lue. The two are cousins and Lue knows Tatum as “little Jay.” This will be one weird episode of Family Feud once the series starts Sunday.
All of the Cavs’ new faces have yet to leave their mark through two rounds. The midseason trade acquisitions — George Hill, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood — have tallied a combined 23.9 points per game.
In spite of all the changes on both sides, who goes to the NBA Finals will be decided by the holdovers.
Of course, we’re talking about King James, or should we say Thanos? James has seemingly found the “infinity stones” during the postseason. His averages after two rounds are a godly 34.3 points (on 55.3 percent shooting), 9.4 rebounds, and nine assists per contest. All of this after racking up close to 3,500 minutes since opening night. Infinity stones indeed.
What sort of scheme could Stevens have up his sleeve for LeBron? The way we see it, there are two options.
Plan A: a player-by-committee approach involving Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. This tactic keeps a semi-fresh player on him throughout the game, plus doesn’t allow James to get comfortable against any individual.
Plan B (and we’re being completely serious here): let LeBron put up video-game numbers and stop everyone else. After all, James (probably) can’t win this series alone. Stopping Kyle Korver and JR Smith is critical with this option.
No matter the choice, Boston is the only Avengers-like group that can stop James. After all, this was a team with an NBA-best defensive rating of 101.5 during the regular season. Then again, those infinity stones are insanely powerful…
Moving on, no matchup is bigger than Kevin Love and Al Horford. The affair was too one-sided in the 2017 playoffs with Love getting the clear upper hand. He contained Horford to 12.4 points and 4.2 rebounds throughout the series, while putting up 22.6 points and 12.4 rebounds of his own.
Though, Horford is peaking entering the grudge match. He’s averaging a career-high 17 points per game during the postseason. But it was his defensive versatility which was more impressive against Philadelphia. Horford held his own against Joel Embiid, a center, and Ben Simmons, a point guard, for long stretches of time.
This duel will likely be wagged on the perimeter as Love looks to space the floor. Embiid tried and failed to do just that against the deceptively-fast Horford, who held him to 5-of-21 shooting from beyond the arc.
As much as betting against LeBron is a recipe for getting burned, there’s a calming sense about the Stevens-led Celtics. They’re the better team at each position, minus James. They have home-court advantage. But most of all, they’re an actual team instead of a one-man wrecking crew.
After eight years of tearing through the Eastern Conference, this will be the one series James can’t single-handedly will a team to victory.
Pick: Boston wins 4-3 (+575)
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