By Brian Edwards
**No. 1 Cleveland vs. 4 Atlanta**
Series Price: Cleveland -2250, Atlanta +1450
Series Format: 2-2-1-1-1
Skinny: Cleveland easily disposed of Detroit by sweeping all four games of their first-round series. Since then, the Cavs have enjoyed eight days off with Tuesday’s Game 1 falling nine days after a 99-78 win at Detroit that sent the Pistons into vacation (and a rebuilding project).
Mike Brown’s team lost its regular-season finale against Philadelphia because it rested several starters, including superstar LeBron James. With that in mind, it’s not a stretch to say the Cavs haven’t tasted a “real” defeat since losing at Orlando way back on April 3.
This squad has the look, feel and chemistry of a championship team. Cleveland only lost twice at home all year, once to the Lakers when it led by double digits at intermission and the aforementioned defeat in the regular-season finale.
Obviously, NBA MVP LeBron James is the catalyst, averaging 32.0 points, 11.2 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game in the Detroit series. During the regular season, James was second in the league in scoring (28.4 PPG) and 10th in assists (7.2 APG). He has also developed into a lockdown defender who might draw the assignment of defending Atlanta All-Star Joe Johnson.
This is basically the same nucleus that James led to the NBA Finals two seasons ago before San Antonio swept Cleveland. The notable exception is Mo Williams, who averaged a career-high 17.8 PPG during the regular season. Most importantly, James now has a teammate he trusts to knock down perimeter shots at crunch time.
Atlanta is a maddeningly inconsistent team. Like bettors saw in three home wins against the eventual champs in the first round last season, the Hawks can play with – and beat -- anybody at home. However, there’s no reason for gamblers to have confidence in this squad when it goes on the road.
Mike Woodson’s team can look outstanding at times, such as the four blowout wins over the Heat, including Sunday’s 91-78 Game 7 triumph that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated. When the Hawks are running and gunning, they can be dangerous as Josh Smith and Al Horford can run the floor as well as any big men in the league.
But Atlanta gets into trouble in a half-court game when more often than not, it fails to get good ball movement and often settles for perimeter jumpers. Smith is the major culprit in that regard. When he settles for jumpers, defenders love it. When Smith attacks the rim, defenders have all sorts of problems.
Johnson had five bad games in the Miami series. He was held way below his averages five times with Games 5 and 7 being the exceptions. Johnson erupted in Sunday’s victory with 27 points, five steals, five rebounds and four assists compared to just one turnover. Mike Bibby was the Hawks’ most consistent player against the Heat, leading the team in scoring four times. Bibby averaged 15.0 PPG and had a 31/17 assists-to-turnovers ratio.
Gambling Notes: Cleveland has covered the number in eight consecutive games. The Cavs were serious money makers at home, cashing tickets at a 30-13 ATS clip. When listed as double-digit home favorites, they posted a 15-10-1 spread record.
Atlanta has only won 17 of 44 road games this season, but it has a respectable 22-22 ATS mark on the road. The Hawks have only been double-digit underdogs twice. They took the money in a 103-102 loss at Boston as 11-point ‘dogs, but lost a 110-96 decision at Cleveland as 12-point puppies.
The ‘under’ is 48-37-1 overall for the Cavs, 25-17-1 in their home games. The ‘under’ is 47-40-2 overall for the Hawks but has been less prevalent in their road assignments (22-20-2). Although the ‘under’ has been a money maker for both squads, we should point out a 4-1 run for the ‘over’ in the last five head-to-head meetings between them.
Outlook: ABC’s Jon Barry was adamant that Atlanta is going to take broom treatment when asked about the series Sunday. Magic Johnson disagreed on the air and so do I through my keyboard. The Hawks are going to win at least one game at home. After all, they split a pair of regular-season games against the Cavs at Philips Arena. Atlanta captured a 97-92 win as a four-point underdog back on Dec. 13. On March 1, the Cavs escaped with an 88-87 win after James was sent to the charity stripe on a questionable call with 1.6 seconds left. Even so, the Hawks covered the number as four-point home ‘dogs.
On the road, Atlanta will have to play extremely well just to be in position to steal a game. I just don’t see the Cavs losing at home. Most are predicting a sweep or Cleveland in five games, but I think the Cavs will lose both Games 3 and 4 at Philips. However, they’ll recover to win Games 5 and 6 to advance to the East finals.
Future Bets: Bettors certainly don't want to risk the enormous price attached to Cleveland (around 1/22) in this series. If you want to take a shot at a longshot, maybe you get a small taste of Atlanta for a return nearly as generous as 15/1? In reality, the hope of cashing on the Hawks is extremely slim unless James sprains an ankle and misses a game or two (or three). But you never know -- things happen. And if you're holding that ticket and Atlanta can steal a victory early in the series, all sorts of hedge opportunties could become available.
But at the end of the day, the only logical wager I can recommend is taking the Cavs to win at certain odds for the specific amount of games. My VI cohort Chris David had some thoughts in that regard.
"It doesn't take a genius to pick the Cavs to win this series or the next, but you could make some cash betting on the Exact Games in this series," said David. "I wouldn't be surprised to see a sweep, but Atlanta did beat Cleveland once at home and could've won both games at Philips Arena if the ref had swallowed his whistle in the one-point setback. With that being said, Cavs to win in five games (+200) can garner a positive return at Sportsbook.com."
Re: Cavs-Hawks Preview
Atlanta at Cleveland Preview
Defeating the Miami Heat in seven (4-3 ATS) the Atlanta Hawks earned a spot in the conference semifinals against No. 1 seed Cleveland Cavaliers who disposed of Pistons in four (4-0 ATS).
Hawks not the best on the highway at 17-27 with a vig losing 22-22 mark against-the-number have been pegged 11.5 point favorites vs Cavaliers a cash stuffing 9-1 ATS last ten on the hardwood, 17-7 ATS last 24 playoff games at home including 7-2 ATS in round-two.
Hawks did not have success vs Cavaliers this season losing 3-of-4 but Joe Johnson and company cashed three of the contests (3-1 ATS) marking five cover the past seven meetings (2-5 ATS).
Other trends of interest: Hawks are 12-2 ATS L14 vs the Central, 3-8 ATS L11 as DD road dogs, Cavaliers 4-8 ATS L12 overall as DD favorites.
After last night's two upsets the Home Teams are 32-16 SU but just 22-25-1 against-the-vegas-price.
Last season in round-two home teams were 22-3 SU with a profitable 16-8-1 mark at the betting window defeating visitors by 10.6 points per game.