The Cleveland Cavaliers take the first step towards defending their NBA Championship when they play the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.
Tyronn Lue’s men won the title for the first time in the club’s history by defeating the Golden State Warriors in a historic comeback last season.
However, the Cavaliers have made life difficult for themselves by missing out on the number one seed in the Eastern Conference with a poor run of form down the stretch.
LeBron James has remained a dominant force and will once again be looking to take his game to the next level in the post-season as he has become accustomed.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will be eyeing another ring by supporting their captain, with the Cavaliers boasting the best roster in their Conference, although the challenge ahead of them remains a tough one.
Indiana will be relishing the opportunity to knock off the defending champions. Nate McMillan’s men have little to lose in the midst of their rebuilding project and will aim to come at the Cavaliers with all they’ve got to send the series beyond four matches.
It should be an interesting battle, with Cleveland in need of a confidence-building win following their poor run to end the campaign.
We’ll now look back at the regular seasons of both teams and break down the betting odds for the series.
The Cavaliers started the season in prime form, brushing aside the New York Knicks in their opener without having to get out of first gear. Irving produced a fine performance to guide his side past the Toronto Raptors on the road before they closed out the opening month with a win over Orlando.
Lue’s men battled past the Celtics and the Houston Rockets, confirming that they had not lost their dominance at the top of the NBA, although the first defeat soon came at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks.
There were only mild bumps in the road for Cleveland, ending November at the top of the Eastern Conference with a 13-3 record, which included a high-scoring win over the Portland Trail Blazers as Love put 40 points on the board.
They slipped to a defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks at the end of the month and lost their opening two matches of December against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Chicago Bulls.
However, they responded by reeling off two five-match winning runs in the month, leaving them well ahead of the pack at 25-7 at the end of the year following an impressive one-point win over the Warriors on Christmas Day.
Problems began to mount in January as the Cavaliers lost eight of their 15 matches, including a hammer at the hands of the Warriors at Oracle Arena, while they also lost a close match against the San Antonio Spurs.
Lue’s men were back on song in February and were able to secure their place in the playoffs in the middle of March. However, the Cavaliers would lose 14 of their remaining 24 matches – notably all of their last four to drop to the second seed behind the Celtics.
The Pacers are on track in their rebuilding project, having missed the playoffs in the 2015 campaign and were beaten over seven matches by the Raptors in their first-round clash last term.
Paul George has emerged as a star and has recovered extremely well following his horrific leg break sustained while on duty with Team USA in 2014. Any challenge for a deep run will have to involve him playing at a high level throughout the post-season.
Indiana began the regular campaign with an overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks, with Myles Turner starring with a 30-point performance. However, back-to-back defeats highlighted defensive issues for McMillan to scheme around.
November would be the story of their season, with the club registering eight wins and eight defeats. However, they did manage to beat the Cavaliers on home soil and also the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road with George and Jeff Teague guiding their side to the respective victories.
The festive period proved to be a tough time for McMillan’s men as they lost four matches on the bounce, knocking them below .500. The recovery began on December 30 with a win over the Bulls, which turned into a five-match winning streak, with George leading the charge.
The Pacers inconsistent form was highlighted in their seven-match winning streak at the end of January through to the beginning of February, which was promptly halted by losing six matches on the bounce, including one at the hands of Cleveland.
A difficult put their playoff place in jeopardy, but Indiana made a late surge in April to ensure that they qualified for the post-season. George guided his time to five wins on the spin in their final five matches to get them over the line and into the seventh seed.
The two sides come into the series in a complete contrast in form. The Cavaliers lost their final four matches of the season to slip out of the top seed and into the second, while the Pacers made their late push to ensure they qualified for the post-season and finished ahead of the Bulls.
As a result, McMillan’s men will be full of confidence heading into their clash against the defending champions. They will not fear Cleveland, although they lost their series during the regular season 3-1, even though the last of those contests at the beginning of April went to overtime.
James, Irving and Love cannot afford to rest on their laurels in the contest, with the need to find their peak form almost immediately. Turner and George will make life difficult for Hue’s men, with the ability to take the series beyond four games.
However, the Cavaliers have the ability and the experience on their side to see off the threat of the talented Pacers and book their place in the last four of the Eastern Conference.
Therefore backing them at -1200 would be a smart option to claim the series with PaddyPower, although the Pacers could make it interesting with a 4-2 scoreline backed at +350 .
Cleveland Cavaliers To Beat Indiana Pacers
Cleveland Cavaliers To Beat Indiana Pacers 4-2