They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and many cappers will say the same thing about the opening game of a playoff series.
But after watching the Cleveland Cavaliers dismember the Atlanta Hawks Monday night, it’s hard to figure how this is going to be anything close to a competitive series.
Josh Smith didn’t go to college and he wouldn’t be labeled a scholar in many circles, but the Hawks forward summed up the uneven matchup beautifully following the 99-72 Game 1 loss.
“We played as good as we could in the first half and we should have converted that to the second half,” said Smith.
Yes, Atlanta was unforgettably bad in the second act. The Hawks were outscored 50-28, but that’s not the point. They had a straight flush while their opponents flipped a pair of deuces, but the Cavs still led by five at the recess.
Cleveland is 5-0 against the spread in the playoffs and the group appears destined to reach the NBA Finals with little – if any – fight from the remaining Eastern Conference squads.
Feel sympathy for the poor oddsmaker who has to make lines for LeBron James’ boys. The books opened with the Cavs favored by 11.5 in Game 1 but that number climbed up to 12 and 12.5 at some locations.
“It’s tough,” Mike Seba, senior oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants said. “They don’t show any signs of weakness.”
Seba said his group sent out -12.5 for Game 2 but most shops were dealing -13 as of Wednesday night.
The LeBrons are beating their playoff adversaries by an average of 17.8 points per game while the average pointspread has been a hair over 7.
Is Cleveland this good or is its competition this bad?
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” said Covers Experts’ Ted Sevransky. “The Cavs are a well-oiled machine but they’ve been tested less than any other team in the postseason.
“Atlanta is a decent team, but they’re not as good as last year’s team because of their injuries.”
Sevransky noted that the Hawks are limited because of ailments to Marvin Williams (wrist) and Al Horford (ankle).
“When you take two starters and make them non-factors,” he said, “it’s going to be tough for any team.”
Seba doesn’t agree completely.
“[The Cavs] are overachieving. As good as they are, I still think they are overachieving.”
Assuming Mike Brown’s group takes care of business and beats the Hawks by 13 points Thursday, what is the right pointspread for Game 3 at Atlanta?
“The bettors love those teams that are coming back home down 0-2 in a series,” Seba said. “The number won’t be higher than 4. It’s a natural let-down situation for the team ahead.
“Even if Cleveland wins Thursday’s game by 30, I don’t think they’ll be favored by more than 4.”
Jeff Stoneback, an oddsmaker with MGM Mirage estimated the line would be closer to 6.5 for the first game back in Atlanta.
Cleveland’s march towards the league’s best regular season record was made possible because of its near invincibility at home, but the club was still a profitable 22-19 ATS away from the Quicken Loans Arena.
Sevransky, though, warns bettors not to dismiss the Hawks on their home court. He points to their success last year in the first round vs. Boston, where they won and covered all three times – and last round against the Heat (3-1 straight up and ATS).
Still, observers have to wonder if Atlanta is content just to be in the second round and whether its players even believe they can beat Cleveland, regardless of the location.
“We have to play with a sense of pride,” Hawks All-Star guard Joe Johnson said after the landslide loss. “The second half, we kind of gave up.”
Make sure to tune into Covers Radio weekends at 2:30 p.m. ET where the Prez and Ted Sevransky discuss all the day's top betting stories.