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Handicapping the NBA: East Finals Game 2 Betting Primer

Nick Whalen

RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.

Coming off of a Game 1 massacre in Boston, LeBron James and the Cavaliers will look to bounce back in a pivotal Game 2 on Tuesday night.

While Cleveland remains the overall favorite to win the series, the Cavs are installed as a one-point underdog in Game 2, which features an O/U total of 204. The spread and the total are two of the more popular wagering options, but many sports books and betting outlets offer a variety of team and individual player props, as well.

With that in mind, letís take a look at some of the nightís more appealing bets.

The Spread: For what itís worth, Boston is far and away the best team in the league at covering the spread. The Celtics are 60-33-2 (64.5%) ATS on the season. Cleveland, on the other hand, ranks dead last at 35-58-1 (37.6%). Considering the Cavs have proven liable for a complete no-show on any given night, that shouldnít be overly surprising. The question is whether Game 1 was an anomaly, or if Bostonís defensive schemes really can stifle James and Clevelandís shooters over the course of a series.

A one-point spread is essentially a pick Ďem and, accordingly, the payout (-110 both ways) isnít staggering. But if you feel confident that the Cavs will bounce back, itís worth looking into alternate spreads, which are available at Cavs -6.5 and Celtics -8.5. I donít think this Boston team will wilt like Indiana ultimately did in Round 1, but beating LeBron again by at least nine points feels like a lot to ask. James is 33-11 all-time in Game 2ís, and heís won 17 of his last 19, with the only two losses coming at the hands of the Warriors each of the last two seasons. James also hasnít dropped a Game 2 to an Eastern Conference opponent since 2013 and hasnít gone down 0-2 in an Eastern Conference playoff series in 10 years.

I like the Cavs to avoid falling into that hole Tuesday night behind a much more aggressive James and better shooting from the perimeter.

Total: As is the case with the spread, the total doesnít provide the richest potential payout (-115 over; -105 under) but, again, alternate totals -- O/U 195.5 and 211.5 -- are available. Iíd lean toward this being a higher-scoring game for the Cavaliers (obviously), while Boston could be due for a slight regression after shooting 51.2% from the field in Game 1, more than six percentage points higher than its postseason average.

This series feels like it could play out similarly to Cavs/Pacers in Round 1, when the Cavsí four victories came by a total of just 14 points, with only one of the seven games -- a Pacers blowout in Game 6 -- topping 206 total points. Boston is playing at a slightly faster pace than the Indiana was, but the Celtics were the best defensive team in the league this season, and itís difficult to imagine theyíll have a complete letdown on that end, as Toronto did twice against Cleveland in the Conference Semis.

I think Cleveland will still struggle to score against the Celticsí defense, but the Cavs canít play any worse offensively than they did in the first half of Game 1. Even so, that doesnít mean itíll be an explosive, 120-plus-point night for the Cavs. James will be much sharper by default, but I think this ends up being a game in which one or both teams are hovering around triple-digits late in the fourth. So while itís tempting to take the over on 204 points, I like under at (slightly) better odds.


Will LeBron James record a triple-double?
That James has better odds (+225) to net his third triple-double of the playoffs than any Celtic not named Al Horford has to record a double-double speaks to just how consistently dominant heís been in the postseason, particularly after losing Game 1. Obviously, getting to 10 points wonít be an issue, and James tends to up his effort on the glass in the playoffs. He had double-digit boards in five of seven games against the Pacers and has grabbed at least eight rebounds in nine of 12 playoff contests.

Getting to 10 assists against a stingy Boston defense will be the toughest task, but itís nonetheless encouraging that James had nine assists in Game 1, despite having seven turnovers and the non-James Cavs going 4-of-19 from three. James still managed 15 potential assists in Game 1, a shade lower than his postseason average of 18.2 per game.

Al Horford total points and assists: O/U 19.5
Horford has traditionally struggled against LeBron-led teams, but he was the best player on the floor for much of Game 1, finishing with 20 points, six assists, four rebounds and two blocks. His assists numbers are down overall in the postseason, however, and the introduction of Thompson into the starting five is a wrinkle the Celtics will have to feel out. I donít see Thompson completely shutting down Horford, but a bigger body should keep him under 20 points in Game 2, which makes this a dicey prop.

Kevin Love first quarter points: O/U 4.5
Again, with props like these the odds arenít great -- over -150; under +120 -- but I think Love is a strong bet to get to five points. While it wasnít the case in Game 1, the Cavs have traditionally made concerted efforts to get Love involved early on. That hasnít always translated to efficient scoring, but Cleveland needs Love to remain engaged and be a threat on offense. With Tristan Thompson set to start at center, Love will shift down to his more natural power forward spot, where heís openly stated heís more comfortable.

Kyle Korver total points: O/U 10.5
Just a quick note on Korver, who has vacillated between great shooting performances and complete duds in the playoffs. After a poor Game 1 -- 1-5 3PT, five points -- in which Boston did an excellent job of sticking to him around screens, I like Korver to bounce back. Heís scored at least 12 points six times this postseason, and four made threes doesnít feel like too much to ask for the Cavsí best perimeter weapon.

Jaylen Brown total points: O/U 17.5
Brown was hampered by a hamstring injury toward the end of the Sixers series, but he didnít look limited at all in Game 1 en route to a team-high 23 points. Brown did hit 3-of-5 three-point attempts, but he got to the line only once (2-2 FT) and finished 9-of-16 from the field. Bottom line: It was the type of game he could replicate and it wouldnít feel out of place.

Long Shot

Will Terry Rozier record a triple-double?
Smart money, of course, says no. But if youíre feeling intrepid, the odds (yes: +1500) are fairly appealing. Rozier hasnít notched a triple-double in the playoffs, but he had one during the regular season and has come within striking distance a few times over the past two-plus weeks. The Cavs have plenty of holes, but the struggle to find consistency at point guard has been among their biggest deficiencies all season.

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