The Cleveland Cavaliers aim to return to the NBA Finals – and get there with fewer distractions – and they begin that journey with Sunday’s home game against the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons. The top-seeded Cavaliers reached the finals last season’s despite LeBron James’ lack of confidence in coach David Blatt before losing to the Golden State Warriors.
Blatt was fired midway through this season and there is less tension within the squad with Tyronn Lue serving as head coach. “We trust the system that he’s put in, we trust the process that he’s put in, and the game plan going into Sunday we trust,” James told reporters. “So I think the fact that he’s been a part of big playoff games as a player and as a coach benefits our team for sure.” Cleveland is supposed to roll through the opening round despite the fact the Pistons won three of the four regular-season meetings and crave an epic series upset. “I don’t want to fight Goliath’s homeboy or little brother, I want to go and fight Goliath,” Detroit point guard Reggie Jackson told reporters. “I think that’s how this locker room feels.”
TV: 3 p.m. ET, ABC
LINE HISTORY: LeBron and the Cavs opened Game 1 as 10.5-point home favorites and have yet to move off that number. The total has been bet down a point from 201.5 to 200.5. Check out the complete line history here.
ABOUT THE PISTONS (44-38, 42-38-2 ATS, 42-40 O/U): Detroit is part of the postseason for the first time since 2009 and the players want to do more than gain valuable playoff experience. “Guys always come through here and they’re like, ‘Oh, let’s make it competitive.’ No, we’re trying to win the series,” rookie forward Stanley Johnson told reporters. “We think, we know, we can win the series. We know we can beat them in seven games. So that’s no shade on LeBron, or the Cavaliers, or Kyrie (Irving), because they have a great team. Fifty-seven wins this year, you know, that’s an awesome organization, what they have going.” All-Star center Andre Drummond led the NBA with 66 double-doubles and averaged 20.3 points and 13.7 rebounds in three games against Cleveland.
ABOUT THE CAVALIERS (57-25, 37-42-3 ATS, 41-41 O/U): James was superb in the postseason last year with averages of 30.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.5 assists and figures to once again carry the squad. Power forward Kevin Love and Irving were battling injuries last postseason and Cleveland is hoping its “Big Three” can run the course healthy this time around. The Cavaliers are certainly concerned with defending Drummond as they announced that Tristan Thompson has been elevated to starting center over inconsistent Timofey Mozgov.
* Pistons are 8-2 ATS in the last 10 meetings in Cleveland.
* Cavaliers are 4-1 ATS in their last five games playing on three or more days rest.
* Under is 5-0 in Cavaliers last five games playing on three or more days rest.
* Over is 4-1 in the last five meetings.
Charlotte Hornets at Miami Heat (-4.5, 200)
The Miami Heat escaped from the tiebreaker scenario in the Eastern Conference at the top of the pack and will have homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The third-seeded Heat ended up with the Southeast Division title and will host Game 1 on Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets, who finished with an identical record but got the sixth seed based on the tiebreakers.
Miami, Atlanta, Boston and Charlotte all finished with the same record after the Celtics overcame a 24-point halftime deficit to defeat the Heat on the final day of the regular season. Miami is shaking off that loss and is ready to face the playoffs without All-Star Chris Bosh, who has been out since the All-Star break and will miss the postseason due to a medical condition. The Heat added veteran Joe Johnson when it became clear that Bosh would not be coming back anytime soon, and Johnson averaged 13.4 points in 24 games while helping the team go 16-8 in that span. The Hornets surged with an 18-6 mark over the final 24 games to pull into the four-way tie behind Kemba Walker’s average of 21.6 points in that span.
TV: 5:30 p.m. ET, TNT, FSN Sun (Miami)
LINE HISTORY: The Heat opened as 4.5-point home favorites and have yet to move off that number. The total opened at 202.5 and has been bet down a whole 2.5-points to sit at its current number of 200. Check out the complete line history here.
ABOUT THE HORNETS (48-34, 42-39-1 ATS, 40-40-2 O/U): Walker is at his best when Nicolas Batum is alongside in the backcourt, and Batum plans to be ready for Game 1 despite missing Wednesday’s finale with a sprained left ankle. “Unless we get a setback, I think he’ll be fine,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford told reporters. “We’re going to do more contact (Saturday), but we did some defensive drills and stuff (Friday) and he was fine. So I think he’ll be good.” The 27-year-old Frenchman averaged career highs of 14.9 points and 5.8 assists in his first season with Charlotte and posted 14.8 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in four games against Miami.
ABOUT THE HEAT (48-34, 43-38-1 ATS, 34-47-1 O/U): Miami ended up losing 98-88 at Boston on Wednesday but quickly brushed aside what could have been a demoralizing loss and focused on the positives. The Heat are back in the playoffs after missing out last season and come in with some momentum after a surprising surge without Bosh following the break. “We’ve had a lot of adversity in that locker room, and I really commend those guys for coming together and not making excuses,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters. “It looked pretty bleak after the All-Star break. You look at it now and say, ‘Oh, this is what was expected, to go 19-10.’ That’s not what people were thinking. But guys really banded together and got out of their comfort zones and we put together a pretty good run finishing it out.”
* Underdog is 5-1-1 ATS in the last seven meetings.
* Heat are 6-0 ATS in their last six home games.
* Over is 5-0 in Hornets last five overall.
* Over is 8-0 in the last eight meetings in Miami.
Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs (-15.5, 190)
The host San Antonio Spurs set a franchise record with 67 victories and begin what they hope is a deep postseason run when they open the playoffs against the seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday. The second-seeded Spurs are expected to cruise past the Grizzlies, who lost 10 of their final 11 regular-season games and also went winless in four games against San Antonio this season.
The Spurs added power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the offseason to beef up their championship hopes and the All-Star will be playing with a dislocated right pinky finger. Aldridge meshed well with All-Star small forward Kawhi Leonard and became a more potent offensive force over the second half of the season. Memphis has been decimated by injuries – most notably the losses of center Marc Gasol (foot) and point guard Mike Conley (Achilles) – and faces long odds in a seven-game series. “If we do what they say, we’ve got what – a two percent chance of advancing?” shooting guard Tony Allen said of the forecasts to reporters. “We’ve just got to go out there and play hard and play for each other. Hopefully, we can beat the odds.”
TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT, FSN Southeast (Memphis), FSN Southwest (San Antonio)
LINE HISTORY: The Spurs opened as large 15.5-point home favorites against the injury riddled Grizzlies and have yet to move off that number. The total also hasn’t moved off its opening number of 190. Check out the complete line history here.
ABOUT THE GRIZZLIES (42-40, 42-39-1 ATS, 45-35-2 O/U): Memphis lost its final two games of the regular season by an average of 23.5 points and the players are well aware it will take a supreme effort to win the series. “We know our margin of error is non-existent,” Grizzlies small forward Matt Barnes told reporters. “We pretty much have to be perfect every single game but crazier things have happened.” Players like Barnes and swingman Lance Stephenson will need to complement power forward Zach Randolph, who returned to the go-to player role after the injuries to Gasol and Conley.
ABOUT THE SPURS (67-15, 44-38 ATS, 35-45-2 O/U): Aldridge averaged 19.9 points in 25 games after the All-Star break and thrived once he figured out how to fit in with a veteran group fully acclimated to the San Antonio system. “I think it took him longer to adjust to us that it did us to get used to him,” veteran Tim Duncan told reporters. “He continued to try to defer to us for a long time while we were trying to push him to take over.” Leonard emerged as the club’s top option even with Aldridge on board and averaged a career-high 21.2 points and scored 20 or more points in 15 of his last 20 games.
* Grizzlies are 0-4 ATS in their last four road games.
* Spurs are 0-5 ATS in their last five home games.
* Over is 5-1 in Grizzlies last six road games.
* Under is 5-1 in Spurs last six versus Southwest Division opponents.
Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers (-8, 209)
The Los Angeles Clippers breezed their way to the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference despite operating without All-Star forward Blake Griffin for over three months. Griffin is back in the fold for the playoffs and will try to help the Clippers slip past the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, who visit for Game 1 on Sunday.
Griffin returned to the lineup on April 3 after missing extended time due to quad, hand and suspension issues and played in five of the final seven games, averaging 10.4 points on 40 percent shooting in 24.6 minutes. “We still have to get Blake even better, but I think he has looked great,” Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers told reporters. “I think his pace is back, his speed, and more important, I think his confidence that he can play is back.” The Clippers could have their hands full against the Trail Blazers, who were not even expected to make the postseason but instead surged all the way to the No. 5 spot and clinched it on the final day of the regular season. “It’s going to be tough,” Portland guard Damian Lillard told reporters of the matchup with Los Angeles. “They’re a really good team. but we know that we have a chance. We have to go out there and be ourselves, lock in and be ready.”
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, TNT, KGW (Portland), Prime Ticket (Los Angeles)
LINE HISTORY: The Clippers opened as 7.5-point home favorites and have been bet up to -8. The total opened a 207.5 and have since been bet up a point and a half to the current number of 209. Check out the complete line history here.
ABOUT THE TRAIL BLAZERS (44-38, 44-38 ATS, 44-38 O/U): Portland’s low preseason prognostications drove the team throughout the campaign and inspired the players to drive for the highest playoff seed possible. “When everybody came out with the expectations and all their expertise about what we were going to do this season, I feel like that was the biggest thing that, not only just me, but everybody remembered,” guard Allen Crabbe told reporters. “One person picked us as what, 15 out of 15 in the West? The list goes on, man. Everybody felt disrespected, and that’s not what our season is gonna be. It was everybody’s goal since training camp that we were gonna play hard.” The Trail Blazers were 15-24 after a loss on Jan. 8 but went 29-14 the rest of the way.
ABOUT THE CLIPPERS (53-29, 40-39-3 ATS, 34-48 O/U): The big challenge might be avoiding looking ahead to a potential second-round meeting with Golden State, and Los Angeles is comfortable being overlooked in the West behind historically great teams like the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. “I don’t think anybody really gives us any kind of chance of winning (it all),” Griffin told reporters. “We’re not favored by any means, so that (underdog mentality) should be our mindset.” Los Angeles is hoping guard J.J. Redick, who suffered a bruised heel Tuesday against the Grizzlies and sat out practice on Friday, is ready to go on Sunday.
* Trail Blazers are 1-4 ATS in their last five games overall.
* Clippers are 4-0 ATS in their last four versus Northwest Division opponents.
* Over is 8-2 in Trail Blazers last 10 road games.
* Under is 4-1 in Clippers last five games following a ATS loss.