Sunday 5th June
The first Game of the NBA Finals was played only a couple of days ago, but it seems the world is a lot sadder of a place after the news came through that Muhammad Ali had passed away aged 74.
This is a man that was far more than a boxer and who was a huge inspiration for every black athlete that has come through since Ali ruled the world in the late 70's including so many who now play in the NBA.
While Ali's passing has dominated everyone's thoughts, the NBA Finals will go on as Game 2 is set to go at The Oracle Arena on Sunday.
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors Game 2 Pick: The rivalry between Steph Curry and LeBron James is beginning to pick up and it is fitting that such a word like 'legacy' is being used regularly.
Game 2 is being played a day after 'The Greatest' legacy was ended and LeBron James is more than a little aware that his place in history could be decided by the rest of this series. If the Cavaliers are to lose, James will fall to 2-5 in NBA Finals and there is a feeling that Curry will become the bridge from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to this generation.
Curry will have a big claim if he moves to 2-0 in NBA Finals and both times those wins came against LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. It would put the Golden State Warriors into 'dynasty' potential as they would go into the next NBA season as the favourites to win their third title in a row and all of this is overshadowing this series with so much on the line.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will be looking to make some adjustments from Game 1 which basically is improving the bench play and also looking to reduce turnovers. LeBron James had decent numbers, but both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have room for improvement, while the vaunted three point shooting of the Play Offs was not quite up to the level required.
I do think the Warriors Defensive schemes are under-rated, but Cleveland also put up too many misses in the paint which they will expect to drop.
One thing Golden State will be looking to do is to open the shooting lanes for Curry and Klay Thompson who didn't have the biggest lines in Game 1. Both were being hassled as they were in the Oklahoma City series, but they showed they can get loose and Cleveland have to be aware of that while also trying to slow down a bench that produced 45 points for the Warriors.
The rebounding edge has to be won by Cleveland again if they are going to have a chance to square this series before heading home, while they need to play consistent Defense to keep Golden State from getting away from them.
It is tough to pick a winner between these teams on the spread because I am expecting a desperate Cleveland team to come out, but can't ignore how good Golden State are and how well they seem to match up with the Cavaliers.
Instead I will go back to the over/under market and look for another game that fails to get over the total points expected by the layers. The 'under' play is now 8-3-1 in the last twelve overall between these teams and also 5-1-1 in the last seven played in The Oracle Arena. The layers have trimmed the points from Game 1, but I still believe the Defensive schemes can slow the Offenses just enough to stay under this total.
Wednesday 8th June
The Cleveland Cavaliers have taken a verbal hammering in the press and by the fans after another disappointing showing in their Game 2 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Some are calling for a sweep and others have said no matter what happens in Game 3 and 4, which are playing in Cleveland, that the Warriors are too good for Cleveland.
Golden State Warriors @ Cleveland Cavaliers Game 3 Pick: Back to back losses would be one thing, but the way the Golden State Warriors blew out the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 is a big concern for this NBA Finals. Many are off the Cleveland bandwagon after their cruise through the Eastern Conference Finals and the fans have to hope the three days between games can change the momentum of this series.
The Warriors are simply doing everything better than the Cavaliers when you break down the stats from the first two games. This is without Steph Curry and Klay Thompson firing to the level they did in the final three games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but other players are finding the space to exploit.
Draymond Green had a big Game 2 and the bench continues to show the depth that helped them put away Cleveland in Game 1. In Game 2 it was much more to do with the starters dominating Cleveland with a 20-2 run in the middle of the Second Quarter seeing them move clear of the Cavs and never looking back as the role players got a chance to play through the Fourth Quarter.
Pushing the pace hasn't worked for Cleveland and they have to make the adjustments before this series is beyond their reach if it isn't already. The speed is actually helping Golden State who are faster and able to transition much better, while Cleveland will likely be missing Kevin Love for Game 3 as he continues in the concussion protocol.
LeBron James has not reached the level of the series last year and he has had little help around him. Kyrie Irving is not being efficient enough with his play while JR Smith and Channing Frye have not got the three point shot dropping as they had in the post-season before the Finals.
Some of that is down to the Golden State Defense, but the missed shots that Cleveland have had has knocked their own confidence.
Being back at home might change that even without Love in the line up for the Cavaliers. However I can't back this desperate team because Golden State have looked better all around and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they win Game 3 and perhaps even close the Finals later this week.
I still like the under play in this series though. The layers have chopped the points by around 5 points from Game 1, but the under has hit in both opening games and moved to 9-3-1 in the last thirteen games between Golden State and Cleveland. This is hard to ignore as Defensively the two teams can slow down the Offenses enough as they have shown and I will back the under play for a third time in the series.
Friday 10th June
There has been plenty of people trying to dissect the Golden State Warriors performance in Game 3 and the focus has shifted from LeBron James to Steph Curry as the MVP that is failing to produce the goods.
The Warriors were not happy with the way they played in Game 3, while Cleveland will be looking for more of the same so they can send the series back to The Oracle Arena with the NBA Finals tied at 2-2.
Golden State Warriors @ Cleveland Cavaliers Game 4 Pick: It hasn't been too often that a team that has won the most games in NBA history in the regular season will be described as being 'soft' but that was the word bandied around by many after the Golden State Warriors were blown out in Game 3. It wasn't from the media either, but the management and playing staff all used that adjective when talking about Game 3 and you have to think a bigger effort will be made from the off.
Let's face it, the Cleveland Cavaliers bull-rushed Golden State early in both halves which made this a blow out and they looked a much better team without Kevin Love. That's no criticism of Love as a player, but this series looks like one where his biggest impact may come off the bench assuming he passes the concussion protocol in time for Game 4.
With only the two days between games this time, it would be a surprise if Love is rushed back considering how well Cleveland played without him.
There will be adjustments though and I can't see Golden State coming out as cold on both ends of the floor as they were in Game 3. Only once this season has this team suffered back to back losses and that was in the Western Conference Finals against Oklahoma City, but generally they have bounced back with the win.
Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have to get going Offensively to open up the spacing for the other players on the team, while the bench production is still a strength for Golden State. And you have to think a much more physical team will come out in Game 4 to try and knock Cleveland out of their rhythm.
This also looks to be a big ask for Kyrie Irving to produce the same level that he was able to in Game 3 when he came out and was hot from the field. While I like Irving as a player, finding his rhythm shooting the ball has been difficult for him against Golden State and I think Game 3 might have been an exception to prove the rule.
It is clear the public have jumped on the Cleveland bandwagon with most of the action going on the home team and the spread is leaning more towards the Cavaliers than it did in Game 3. I just don't think they match up that well with Golden State and it is hard to ignore the fact that the Warriors had won seven in a row before the loss last time out.
In my opinion there is much more room for improvement from Golden State than there is for Cleveland the Warriors were close at times to making Game 3 a lot more competitive than it ended up being. They have to come out better in both halves as they can't afford to be down by nineteen points after the First Quarter as they were in Game 3 but this is a team that has proven they can react to adversity all through the season.
I love LeBron James and would love to see him win a title again- while my heart is pulling for him, my head says that the Warriors were just caught out in Game 3 and I expect a big reaction from them. I will take Golden State with the points.
Monday 13th June
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors Game 5 Pick: The series looks just about over after the Golden State Warriors put away Cleveland in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead. No team has ever lost that lead in the NBA Finals and the Golden State Warriors, who have the most single season wins in League history, are very unlikely to let this slip.
The big news going into Game 5 was the suspension of Draymond Green for hitting LeBron James in the crown jewels. That has seen the layers shrink the spread for Game 5 but I am not sure it is enough for the Cavaliers to cover, especially if Game 4 was an indication of Steph Curry coming back to the fore.
Of course Green is a big miss for the Warriors, but this is a team that certainly has the 'next man up' mentality that makes them a great Champion. Who steps in is less clear, but the Warriors will feel a deep bench will allow them to make the rotations to make up for the absence of one of their better players in the series.
Green has been hitting his shots when the 'Splash Brothers' have been locked down but someone else might take over that part of the game when getting the open looks Green has been in the series.
For Cleveland it is all about trying to rally one last time but they look a team that knew the game was up in Game 4. Bringing it back home for Game 6 would be a big achievement considering they have been blown out here twice in the series, but it is difficult to see how they do that.
I expect they will have their moments, but Golden State look like they have bolted the stable and barring a mammoth game from James, this should be the NBA Finals closed on Monday. The spread looks tempting to back Golden State to cover and I think they will do that with some big plays in the Fourth Quarter providing the knock out blow to the Cavaliers and ending a great season for the Warriors where they have re-written the history books.
Thursday 16th June
Golden State Warriors @ Cleveland Cavaliers Game 6 Pick: Game 5 will go down in the history books thanks to the performances LeBron James and Kyrie Irving put together to help the Cleveland Cavaliers extend this series. The Cavaliers will need more of the same if they are going to upset the Golden State Warriors and get this series back for a Game 7 in California.
Actually I am a little surprised that it won't actually be an upset as the Cleveland Cavaliers are the favourites in Game 6. They are at home and are coming off a fantastic performance, but the Golden State Warriors don't do too many back to back losses and they do have Draymond Green back from suspension.
Andrew Bogut's injury is a blow as I am not sure Golden State will be able to have the success on the boards without him, but the feeling is that Cleveland will need another special performance to keep this series going. That is hard to really get a feel for because Game 5 was so historic in the way James and Irving played and I think Golden State will be much better in Game 6 having closed out the 2015 NBA Finals in the same Arena.
Green's return will bring in more energy and there were other factors in Game 5 that are going to be hard to imagine happening in Game 6. The Warriors struggled mightily from the three point range in the second half, while Kyrie Irving was making every shot that he was taking despite being under intense pressure from the Defensive shape in front of him.
Will both those separate issues happen again? It is hard to imagine and both need to happen for the Golden State Warriors to fall into a 3-3 spot in my opinion.
Losing Bogut is a problem, but there is more depth that the Warriors can rely upon rather than the Cavaliers, and I expect a much more focused performance. I will take the points in this one and look for Golden State to keep this very close throughout and perhaps make a few more shots at the end of the Fourth Quarter to win this Game 6.
Sunday 19th June
If you had told me on June 11th that this series would need every game that had been set to decide it, I would have thought you were mad. The Golden State Warriors looked in a position that Cleveland would have found impossible to peg back, but the Cavaliers have done that and now look to close out what would be a remarkable NBA Finals win.
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors Game 7 Pick: After looking by far the strongest team in the series after four games, the Golden State Warriors have blown two opportunities to win back to back titles. Some of that is down to their own issues, but they also didn't account for LeBron James taking over the series in the manner he has, while also receiving able support from Kyrie Irving.
LeBron James has been immense and helping Cleveland win this series will put him right alongside Michael Jordan in the talk of being the best player of all time. It would definitely put him on the Mount Rushmore of the NBA and the way James has played in the last two games makes him a real threat to back to back titles for the Golden State Warriors.
It is a big issue that Andre Iguodala might be limited in the way he can perform in this one, although he will suit up for Game 7. His Defensive prowess has given James problems in the past, but not being at 100% would be a big blow for the Warriors in the form LeBron is currently producing.
Losing rim protector Andrew Bogut has proved a bigger deal than most would have imagined while Harrison Barnes is not hitting his shots. Steph Curry will play despite some calls for a suspension after he was thrown out of Game 6 for throwing away his mouthpiece which ended up hitting a fan at courtside.
The momentum is behind Cleveland and the question is for the Golden State Warriors to answer if they can battle back and win this series. The Warriors are playing at home where they are very difficult to beat and it also has to be remembered that Steve Kerr has not lost three games in a row as Head Coach of Golden State which perhaps has me leaning towards the Warriors.
But how can you ignore how well Cleveland have played in Game 5 and Game 6 while facing elimination? With LeBron James looking to prove he is still the face of the NBA and the support he is getting that was missing last year and you begin to feel the long wait for a title in Cleveland could be coming to an end.
It could be a perfect storm coming together for the Cavaliers as they face a banged up team but the key will be to keep the three point shooting of the Warriors in check. They have managed that in the last two games and keeping their cool might lead the Cavaliers to the title they want so desperately.
This looks like it will be really close so I can only think of taking the points and backing the Cavaliers to keep this one close.
05/06 Golden State-Cleveland Under 208.5 Total Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
08/06 Cleveland-Golden State Under 205.5 Total Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
10/06 Golden State Warriors + 2 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
13/06 Golden State Warriors - 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
16/06 Golden State Warriors + 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
19/05 Cleveland Cavaliers + 5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)