Kevin Love set for Stardom in Cleveland?

Milwaukee Bucks v Cleveland CavaliersLast year was a strange one for forward Kevin Love, as he struggled to find his role in a Cleveland Cavaliers offense that already had two superstars. But this season, it looks like Kevin Love might just be THE man in Cleveland.

There have only been three games so far in the 2015-16 season, but Love seems far more involved in the offense than he was last year. He’s second on the team in points (19.7), first in rebounds (11.7) and second in field goal attempts (15.3). Compare this to the previous season, when Love averaged 16.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG and 12.7 shot attempts in roughly the same number of minutes (32.8).

As if the numbers aren’t evidence enough, Love has a vote of confidence from his world-famous teammate, LeBron James.

“We’ll use Kevin however he wants to be used,” he said. “I told you Kevin is going to be our main focus. He’s going to have a hell of a season. He’s going to get back to that All-Star status. He’s the focal point of us offensively. I know I can go out and get mine when I need it. But I need Kev to be as aggressive as he was tonight, and when he rebounds at the level he did tonight, the shots will automatically fall for him.”

There were a lot of offseason questions surrounding whether or not Love would even be back in Cleveland. He had trouble fitting into an offense that already included Kyrie Irving and James. Furthermore, there were some awkward moments during the season where LeBron and Love had minor public feuds. Much of this was brought on by James’ comments that Love needed to be more aggressive when looking for his own shot.

kevin-love-staying-clevelandPerhaps a poolside chat between Love and LeBron during the offseason helped clear up the matter.

“He showed why he’s one of the best power forwards in our league,” said James. “We need to continue to ride his coattails.”

Perhaps LeBron’s words mean something here because Cleveland looks like they’re at least treating Love as an equal to James in offensive sets. Head coach David Blatt has also done a better job of helping Love succeed by letting the power forward play in the post more.

“I knew I’d be looking at different spots on the floor,” Love said. “I welcome that.”

Now the big question is if things will remain this way or if they’ll change as the season moves along. James is still the lead dog on the Cavaliers and will take over whenever he feels like it. Then there’s Irving, who will be back from injury and command the ball quite often too.

But then again, last year was LeBron’s most-punishing season as he carried Cleveland through the playoffs and into a Finals matchup with the Golden State Warriors. The Cavs predictably lost since injuries to Love and Irving proved too much. Now that the team is healthy again, Cleveland has other players who can carry the load. So it’s very possible that Love could remain the Cavs’ top scoring option throughout the 2015-16 season. Then…when the playoffs begin, expect James to take over again.

Cleveland Cavaliers have Lots of 2015 Free Agency Decisions; Golden State just needs Green Back

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland CavaliersThe NBA Finals ended as many predicted, with a deeper, more-talented, less-injured Golden State Warriors team beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 4 games to 2. The Warriors’ celebration will be long after ending the team’s 40-year championship drought. But they probably won’t be celebrating all offseason, given that they have a very good chance of reaching the 2016 NBA Finals with their returning roster. Cleveland, on the other hand, needs to consider which of their six free agents will be re-signed if they’re to reach the Finals again. That said, let’s look over the Cavs’ laundry list of tough decisions, as well as the lone major free agent that Golden State needs to worry about.

Cleveland Cavaliers 2015 Free Agency

Iman Shumpert – The 24-year-old shooting guard played well for the Cavaliers in the first three postseason series, but was stifled by the Warriors, shooting just 24.3%. Based on how things ended against Golden State, Shumpert probably won’t get the asking price he wanted going into the NBA Finals. However, that’s not to say that another team won’t offer Shumpert more money than the Cavs are willing to pay him – especially since he’s young.

jr-smith-clevelandJ.R. Smith – Smith has already indicated that he’ll probably opt out of the final year of his deal, which would pay $6.4 million. It’s unclear what kind of market there is for a soon-to-be 30-year-old shooting guard who’s extremely streaky. But it’s clear that Cleveland and LeBron want him back if he’s willing to re-sign. Smith also had a tough series against Golden State, shooting just 32.8% (29.3% from three-point), but he did help Cleveland quite a bit after coming over from New York along with Shumpert in a mid-season trade.

LeBron James – There’s not really much to discuss here because James is staying in Cleveland and will help make free agent decisions this offseason. But he will opt out of his deal and sign a one-year contract so that he can get more when the salary cap raises in the 2016-17 season.

kevin-love-staying-clevelandKevin Love – Whether or not Love will stay in Cleveland has created a media circus all year long. LeBron pushed to get Love on the team, but they didn’t really mesh well on or off the court. Some suggested that the Cavs don’t really need Love after he averaged 16.4 PPG and 9.7 RPG. But it’s pretty clear that Cleveland would have been much better off against the Warriors with an All-Star power forward who can spread the floor with his shooting ability. Love has said that he’s going to be playing for Cleveland on opening day next season, but there are lots of suitors who’ll be throwing themselves at him.

Matthew Dellavedova – The undrafted point guard was about a zero for Cleveland’s offense against the Warriors, shooting just 28.3% from the floor. But his excellent defense on Steph Curry (an unguardable player) and hustle won Cavs fans over. Dellavedova will likely be brought back if another team doesn’t offer to overpay him.

Tristan Thompson – Thompson turned down Cleveland’s four-year, $52 million deal last summer in hopes that he could do better. The gamble paid off and the Cavs need to pay Thompson if they want him back. The 24-year-old is one of the few players that held his own against Golden State in the Finals, averaging 11.6 PPG and 12.6 RPG. Plus he has the support of LeBron, who said that Thompson should “probably be a Cavalier for his whole career.” Cleveland can keep him on a one-year, $7.1 million qualifying offer for next season, but they could lock him up for years with a good deal now.

Golden State Warriors 2015 Free Agency

Draymond Green, LeBron JamesDraymond Green – Unlike Cleveland, the Warriors only have to worry about keeping Green as far as key starters go. And the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year has already indicated that he’d like to re-sign with Golden State. So it looks like the core will definitely stay intact.

Leandro Barbosa – Barbosa played some quality minutes off the bench for Golden State and averaged 5.8 PPG in the Finals. It’s unclear if he will definitely be with the Warriors next year, but re-signing him is not an absolute must.

James Michael McAdoo – McAdoo only played in 15 games for the Warriors this season, so next year definitely doesn’t hang in the balance if they don’t bring him back.

Cavs vs Warriors Betting Game 2: Rihanna curses JR. Smith – Will He be Okay?

jr-smith-rihanna-nba-finalsThe first game is now in the books between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, with the latter winning 108-100 (OT) on their home floor. The Cavs had two chances to win the game in regulation, with LeBron James missing a jump shot and Iman Shumpert missing a last-second put-back. It’s not hard to pinpoint the X-factor here: JR Smith only hit 3-of-13 from the field at a time when Cleveland needed his clutch shooting. Additionally, Kyrie Irving left with another knee injury, making some wonder if this will even be a series anymore. We’ll discuss that, along with Rihanna’s possible effect on Smith, but first, here’s the Cavs vs Warriors Game 2 betting line:

Game Time: Sunday (June 7th) at 8:00 ET Line:
Golden State -8 (-110)       Over 200.5 (-110)
Cleveland (-110)               Under 200.5 (-110)

Judging by the line, this shouldn’t be much of a contest – especially with the Warriors at Oracle Arena again. Of course, the theme here, including mine personally, is that you can’t count LeBron out. But is it finally time to do so, given that King James is against a seemingly unbeatable army? Let’s look at five important factors that will determine Game 2 between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.

1. Golden State Small Ball can break Any Team

Draymond Green, LeBron JamesOvertime finally saw Steve Kerr pull out the small ball lineup that has crushed so many other teams this year – Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Igoudala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green playing center. These five, who are interchangeable with a couple bench players, give the Warriors five players who can shoot, dribble and spread the floor. The fear is that the Cavs can kill Golden State on the boards and inside with this small ball lineup. However, that was far from the case in the first game.

2. Kyrie Irving is done for the Finals – The Cavs are Possibly done Too

Irving already came into this series knowing that he wouldn’t be 100%. However, he looked like he was near 100% while shooting 10-for-22 and pouring in 23 points. That was before he went down near the end of Game 1 and limped back to the locker room; now the diagnosis is in – Irving has a fractured knee cap and needs surgery plus 3-4 months of recovery. Cleveland got by with Matthew Dellavedova at point in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but it’s highly unlikely they can repeat that feat against the Warriors.

3. JR Smith shot Terribly – But He has to be on Fire

jr-smith-clevelandTwitter was ablaze with rumors that Rihanna cursed JR Smith in the first game, as he shot only 3-for-13 with 9 points in 34 minutes. Smith was a hero in the Bulls and Hawks series for Cleveland, hitting timely shots and playing good defense. But some suggest that he wasn’t himself with Rihanna in the crowd because they supposedly have beef with each other. Whatever the case may be, Smith did not look good in the first game and he’ll have to get on fire for Cleveland when considering how limited their offensive options are.

4. Andre Igoudala did not stop LeBron – He took Advantage of Opportunity

Many headlines claim that Igoudala stopped LeBron down the stretch, or at the very least slowed him down. Well, the game footage shows that James did play somewhat worse offensively with Igoudala guarding him. And Iggy is definitely one of the league’s better wing defenders. But this isn’t just great defense at play – it’s great defense combined with Warriors depth. At any time, James could be facing Green, Igoudala or Harrison Barnes, meaning he’s never going to get a break this series.

5. Golden State’s Bench will win this One Easily

Given Irving’s status, Cleveland doesn’t seem to have any chance on the road, against the league’s toughest team. They might win 1-2 games in the series if they’re lucky, but Golden State just has way too much depth for the Cavs to contend with. And here’s a parting stat just to hammer this point home:

GS Bench = 14-for-27 shooting, 34 points
Cleveland Bench = 4-for-14, 9 points

Game 2 Score Prediction: Golden State 105, Cleveland 93

Cavs vs Warriors NBA Finals Betting: 5 Things to expect

cleveland-vs-golden-state-betting-1The 2015 NBA Finals betting line is now set, with the Golden State Warriors taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors dusted off a pesky Rockets team in five games, while Cleveland obliterated the Atlanta Hawks with a four-game sweep. So which of these dominant teams has the advantage? We’ll discuss this, but first, here’s a look at the Cavs vs Warriors Game 1 betting line: Betting Line:
Golden State -5.5 (-110)       Over 202.5 (-110)
Cleveland (-110)                   Under 202.5 (-110)
Game Time:
 June 4th at 9:00pm ET

This series is often looked at as LeBron and Co. versus the Warriors deep and talented team, led by Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Thanks to Golden State’s balance, they finished the regular season at 67-15 – one of the NBA’s best records ever – then blitzed through the brutal Western Conference playoffs with a 12-3 record.

Cleveland was pretty impressive after some mid-season trades, and they went 12-2 on the weaker Eastern Conference side of the bracket. Plus, they have key injuries with Kevin Love out for the postseason and Kyrie Irving playing at less than 100%. So does this mean that they’ll get blown out of the water by the Warriors?

1. LeBron is the Real MVP

Curry has had an amazing season, and he’s somehow played even better in the playoffs. If you give this guy an inch of daylight, he’s going to burn you with the three again and again. However, not even Curry has the all-around game that James still has at age 30. Some didn’t have LeBron making it past the Bulls, and many believed the Hawks would take Cleveland to six or seven games. But even with a hobbled Irving, no Love and a cast of role players, James has carried his teammates to victory.

2. Golden State can beat Cleveland in a Variety of Ways

cleveland-vs-golden-state-bettingWhile Curry might be the undeniable leader of this team, followed by his ‘Splash Brother’ Thompson, this is more than just two great shooters. There’s Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barns and Draymond Green in the front court, along with Andre Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa, David Lee and Shaun Livingston coming off the bench. Cleveland just can’t match what the Warriors have all over the court.

3. The Cavs Defense has been Incredible

Before making mid-season trades that brought in J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov, Cleveland was in the bottom half of the league in defense. However, their D has improved tremendously thanks to Shumpert’s perimeter defense and Mozgov’s rim protection. So if there’s a team that can slow down the Warriors, it is definitely the Cavs. But Golden State’s defense is worth noting too because they have wings like Green and Iguodala that can at least force LeBron to take bad shots sometimes.

4. Tristan Thompson should continue feasting on the Boards

tristan-thompsonA huge reason for Cleveland’s playoff success – in Love’s absence – has been the rebounding of Thompson. Although he’s always been a strong rebounder, the undersized PF/C is playing like Wilt Chamberlain on the offensive glass. Golden State is going to be much tougher to grab offensive rebounds against than Atlanta. However, Thompson still had lots of success against the Bulls’ giant line, so don’t expect the Warriors to stop him either.

5. Iguodala could be Warriors’ X-Factor

If there’s one player that could make or break this for Golden State, it will be Iguodala. A former star in Philly, he now comes off the bench for the Warriors and provides energy, hustle and outstanding defense. More than this, he’ll likely be left open when out on the court with Thompson and Curry. So if he can hit the three (31.9% in this postseason), it could be Golden State’s special ingredient.

Final Analysis of Cleveland vs Golden State

Almost everybody expects the Warriors to win because, well, they’ve been the best all season. More than this, LeBron’s cast isn’t quite as talented as Golden State’s team. However, the one thing that Cleveland does have is amazing chemistry, which is surprising when you consider that this team was put together on the run this season. So expect LeBron, great defense and veteran leadership to power Cleveland to its first major sports title ever.

Series Prediction: Cleveland wins 4 games to 2

Cavs vs. Bulls Game 3 Betting: Here’s what you need to know

cavs-vs-bulls-game-3After being handled at home, the Cleveland Cavaliers came roaring back behind LeBron James’ 33 points, winning Game 2 by a score of 106-91. This evens the series and will make Game 3 a lot more interesting as action heads back to Chicago. So who’s got the advantage heading into the next contest of the Bulls vs Cavs series? We’ll discuss that, but first, take a look at the Game 3 betting line:

Game Time: May 8th (Friday) at 8:00pm ET; shown on ESPN Betting LIne:
Chicago -2 (-110)       196 (-110)
Cleveland (-110)        196 (-110)

It’s interesting to see that Chicago is now favored on the Game 3 betting line, given that they got down by 20 points in the first quarter of Game 2 and never recovered. But then again, it was the Bulls jumping out to a 31-15 first-quarter lead against the Cavs, before closing the game out in the final quarter. Plus, with action shifting back to the United Center, the Bulls will definitely get a boost. As for how much of a boost, this remains to be seen.

Assuming you’re interested in betting on Game 3 of the Cavs vs Bulls series, make sure to keep the following points in mind.

LeBron James is playing with Renewed Fire

After a pretty bad Game 1, where he played terrible down the stretch, King James came back with renewed focus in the second contest. He said that he needed to be more aggressive, and this is exactly what happened as James continued taking the ball to the basket again and again. We haven’t seen LeBron hit many outside shots lately, and he made just 13-of-29 shots in his 33-point effort last time out. But James’ aggression kept the Bulls on their heels, which allowed him to dish out a very LeBron-like 8 assists, compared to only 2 turnovers.

mirotic-game-3Chicago still can’t sort out their Frontcourt Rotation

Understanding Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s frontcourt rotation has become nearly impossible. Obviously Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah deserve their minutes, but where is Nikola Mirotic!? He’s become a dangerous scoring weapon who can stretch the floor when Chicago needs offense – something Gibson and especially Noah can’t do. Yet Mirotic continues to only play the last couple minutes of the first half, and garbage time when allotted. Maybe it’s just Thibodeau’s old-school, rookies-don’t-play style of coaching…?

Thibodeau Firing Rumors persist

It’s kind of hard to come out with fire against LeBron and his equally talented sidekick Kyrie Irving when rumors are swirling about your head coach being fired/mutually parting ways. Thibodeau and the front office have clashed over many things, especially his insistence on playing the starters for extended minutes. This has obviously worn on Noah while it puts Derrick Rose’s knees at risk more. But it doesn’t seem like Thibodeau is going to change his philosophy any time soon.

mike-miller-cavsCleveland’s Bench is Largely Horrendous

There’s little leeway for the starters to mess up, given what the Cavs have coming off their bench. Guys like James Jones and Matthew Dellavedova can play, but they shouldn’t be your sixth and seventh men. The aging enforcer Kendrick Perkins is the only big man off the bench, while Mike Miller doesn’t look like he could play in a wheelchair league right now, posting four rebounds, 0 points and giving up more buckets in 13 minutes.

As Rose and Butler go, the Bulls go

Everybody makes a big deal about Chicago’s front-court depth, but it is Rose and Jimmy Butler’s shooting which decides how this team fares. Both were a combined 11-34 in Game 2, which can’t happen against the Cavs. Rose and Butler also went 10-for-41 against the Bucks in Game 6 of their first-round series, resulting in another loss. Both players need to at least shoot above 40% for the Bulls to have any chance of winning.

Game 3 Prediction: Cleveland 99 – Chicago 97

2015 NBA Championship Odds to Win

stephen-curryIt took until the final day of the regular season to decide, but the NBA Playoffs are finally set. And this means that 2015 NBA Championships odds are now available too. Assuming you’re looking to place a bet on which team has the best chance to win it all, you can visit the homepage and place your wager(s). Here’s a look at available odds (as of Apr. 17) for all 16 teams:

Golden State 9 to 5
Cleveland 11 to 5
San Antonio 4 to 1
Atlanta 17 to 2
Chicago 15 to 1
LA Clippers 18 to 1
Houston 22 to 1
Memphis 22 to 1
Dallas 50 to 1
Portland 60 to 1
Toronto 70 to 1
Washington 75 to 1
New Orleans 150 to 1
Boston 160 to 1
Milwaukee 160 to 1
Brooklyn 225 to 1

Quick Analysis

It’s no surprise that the Golden State Warriors carry the best odds of winning at our online sportsbook. After all, they won 67 games and finished 11 games ahead of every other team in the ridiculously brutal Western Conference. Plus, Golden State features Steph Curry, the 2015 MVP favorite who recently made more waves for making 77 straight three-pointers in practice.

lebron-james-bench-1One team that may or may not be a surprise – depending upon your viewpoint – is the Cleveland Cavaliers (11 to 5 odds). The Cavs became a preseason favorite to win the title when they added LeBron James and Kevin Love in the summer. However, they struggled throughout the first half of the season, sitting at 19-20 at one point. But LeBron helped rally the Cavs and they went 34-9 over the rest of the season and grabbed the East’s No. 2 seed.

It may be hard for some to take the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs at 4 to 1 odds. The Spurs were in a seesaw battle for the West’s No. 2 seed. Unfortunately, they lost their final game to New Orleans (who got into the playoffs due to this win), which dropped San Antonio all the way down to the No. 6 seed. That said, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan have a very difficult road ahead of them to win another title.

The Atlanta Hawks may be offering the best value right now at 17 to 2 odds. After all, they finished with the league’s second-best record at 60-22, and also earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference. And, sure, the Cavs are the hot pick to win the East right now. But don’t sleep on Atlanta with their home-court advantage and balanced team that’s led by point guard Jeff Teague.

joakim-noahThe Chicago Bulls carry the fifth-best odds of winning the championship at 15 to 1. It’s arguable if Chicago is the fifth-most talented team in the playoffs, at least when considering all of the injury problems that they’ve had so far. But they do have a chance to win the East if they can beat Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The Toronto Raptors (70 to 1 odds) and Washington Wizards (75 to 1 odds) are two darkhorse teams that are looking to emerge from the Eastern Conference. However, their road to the title begins by facing each other in a series that may be too close to call right now.

Moving to the rest of the pack in the Western Conference, it’s a complete jumble. The Houston Rockets (22 to 1 odds) were able to grab the No. 2 seed on the last day of the regular season. But it seems that they’ll have to battle every step of the way, even in their first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks (50 to 1 odds).

The Memphis Grizzlies also have solid odds to win at 22 to 1, despite the fact that they open up the playoffs on the road against the Portland Trailblazers (60 to 1). Portland was able to gain first-round home-court advantage due to their Northwest Division title. However, they finished 51-31, which was actually only the sixth-best record in the West.

As you can see, there are certainly some very interesting matchups in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. And once the smoke clears from the opening round, we’ll be eight teams closer to deciding a champion this year.