Indiana Pacers vs Cleveland Cavaliers
NBA: 3:30 PM EST
April 15, 2018
Lebron James will begin his quest to reach the NBA Finals for the 8th consecutive year in a first-round rematch from a season ago against the Indiana Pacers. That series resulted in a sweep for the Cavaliers, despite every game coming down to the final few minutes (the Cavs won the 4 games by an average of 4.0 ppg). A year later, both teams have made significant roster moves and will shape up entirely differently for this 4-5 matchup.
The story, as per usual this time of year in Cleveland, will be King James’ ability to dictate play and incite maximum effort from the entire roster. Lebron’s postseason successes have been well-documented: he’s carried a variety of rosters to deep playoff runs on the back of a monstrous 28.4ppg/8.9ppg/6.9apg career playoffs line.
On the other bench will be an upstart Indiana team that has greatly exceeded expectations this season, the year after gutting their roster and shipping superstar Paul George to Oklahoma City. Fifth year guard Victor Oladipo has been an absolute revelation for the Pacers, increasing his scoring output by 6ppg this season en route to a very likely Most Improved Player award. Indiana heavily relies on Oladipo in a pick-and-roll scheme on offense, with the Indiana alum garnering a 30% USG rate, good for top 10 in the NBA.
Cleveland, though, has been a vastly different team following their moves at the trade deadline. George Hill and Rodney Hood were acquired to shore up a perimeter defense that led the Cavs to a dead-last rating in the NBA at the time. They have since ascended as far as 22nd in the league, which is no small feat for what was a historically bad defense at the beginning of the year. Wing Jeff Green will be tasked with guarding Oladipo, and his athleticism on the perimeter could cause the Pacers to settle for more jumpshots than they’re comfortable. There are no guarantees in this league, but it’s almost never a bad idea to bet on Lebron James, and until proven otherwise, I expect James and the Cavaliers to ratchet up the intensity on both sides of the ball and give Cleveland a series lead.
Our Free Betting Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers -6.5