After going 34-9 to close the regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29) are the favorites to win an NBA title – at least according to Vegas. Cleveland is a 9-4 favorite, just ahead of Golden State, which is 5-2, and San Antonio, which is 4-1.
Does this put pressure on LeBron James and the Cavs to win it all?
“Well, I don’t think there’s an enormous amount of pressure to win despite the fact that the Vegas odds have placed them at the top,” Sports Illustrated senior writer Chris Mannix said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “This is still a team that I think has that one-year window where they can’t bow out in the first round, but if they get to the conference finals and lose to Atlanta, it wouldn’t be any shame. New teams coming together – really outside of Boston in 2007-08 – there’s always kind of that one-year period where they’re adjusting to each other and trying to figure out the best way to play together. This Cleveland team certainly could win a championship. They have more than enough talent to do it. But I wouldn’t view it as a disappointment or any kind of failure if they didn’t win one this year.”
The Hawks, meanwhile, are 12-1 favorite to win it all, while the Bulls, Rockets and Clippers are all 14-1. Atlanta won 60 games this year but will be without Thabo Sefolosha (leg), who was reportedly injured during an arrest in New York City earlier this month.
“The Sefolosha injury is significant in some ways because he is a high-level perimeter defender, and at some point a player with those skills is going to come in useful as the playoffs kind of progress,” Mannix said. “But I think they can survive without him. I mean, the core of this team is still (Kyle) Korver, (Paul) Millsap, (Al) Horford, Jeff Teague – and I think these guys are going to have a really strong postseason.”
Head coach Mike Budenholzer has done an amazing job in his first two seasons in Atlanta. Last year, the Hawks went 38-44. This year, they’re the second-best team in the NBA.
“I think that Mike Budenholzer over the last couple years has done a great job of sort of instilling confidence in these guys, of sort of treating Jeff Teague in the same way they treated Tony Parker in San Antonio, putting him in a lot of the same sets and asking him to attack the basket in the same way Parker did,” Mannix said. “I know that Al Horford is not the name Tim Duncan is, but look at what he does. He does a lot of things that Duncan did – and still does – for so many years in San Antonio. I think this Hawks team is as equipped as any not just to come out of the Eastern Conference, but they could win a championship this year. I really believe that.”
Mannix picked the Hawks at midseason to win the East, and he’s sticking with them.
“I just think that continuity matters when you get into the postseason,” he said. “And I do think that with Chicago sitting at that No. 3 seed, that sets up an absolutely brutal second-round matchup with the Cavaliers. Those two teams are going to beat each other up. Cleveland may win that series, but they’re going to be a little worse for wear thanks to what Chicago does to them in that second round and I think that will soften them up a little bit and just enough for Atlanta, which obviously has home court. I think they’ll win that one.”