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May 24, 2015 (Posted at 12:00 PM ET)

Tomorrow's pick (Monday) will be posted at 3:00 PM ET.

Take Atlanta Hawks at +9 spread against Cleveland Cavaliers risking 3% of the bankroll.

Our play tonight in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals has a lot to do with current perception of both squads. It is our belief that the market is overreacting to recent results too much. While it’s true that Atlanta has looked like a shell of their former selves thus far in the series, to believe that they are 9 points inferior to the Cavs is simply not true and quite frankly a mistake. Our job as handicappers to find and exploit these types inefficiencies in the marketplace and profit from them. While these types of plays often are not always the most popular given the current perception; being popular is simply not our goal. Being on what we believe is the profitable side is all that matters and that is where we believe we will be tonight. 

There is no question that the Atlanta Hawks have dug themselves into a pretty deep hole losing the first two games of the series. It's not even so much that Atlanta had lost, but it has been the manner in which they have lost that has somewhat skewed the perception of this team. Having 2 poor performances in a row, people have forgotten that this team was the best 3 point shooting team in the Eastern Conference and yet they have only manage to shoot 20% from beyond the arc thus far in the series. Meanwhile the Cavaliers have been fortunate to shoot above 50% from 3 point range thus far. These are anomalies in the statistics and not something that we do not expect to continue in this series. Things always have a way to venture back to the mean and we expect that to happen tonight. The Cavaliers have created quite a bit of momentum for themselves and have put the Hawks on their heels, and while it may give off the perception that the Cavaliers are clearly the “better” team, in the grand scheme of things they simply are not 9 points better than the Atlanta Hawks, even at home in Cleveland. 

This line is inflated and the Cavaliers are over-valued simply because of how the first two games have played out, however, past results are in no way indicative of future success. The Cavaliers have put in 2 solid performances in a row, but we don't believe every meeting between these two teams will result in a double-digit blowout; to believe that would simply be naive. The Cavaliers have been the star-studded roster that the linemakers have hyped up the most this season and their spreads are a byproduct of that. There have been many games that they have won but didn't cover the spread, especially at home when they have often been over-valued. This is another such case. 

While the Cavaliers have often been over-valued, the Hawks have often been mispriced and under-estimated which they are now being again. This is a team that very few “bought into” this season despite all of the times they have proven people wrong. There is no doubt the Hawk’s value at the moment is at an all-time low and the odds makers have likely, in a sense, been waiting for this moment to price the Hawks where they have wanted to for some time now. We are not saying that the line doesn't make sense. The odds makers arguably had to inflate this number in order to ensure an even amount of action on both sides. The average betting public will have seen the Hawks lost 2 games at home by a wide margin and now, with the series shifting to Cleveland, they expect LeBron James and company to have a bigger advantage and win by an even bigger margin. It simply doesn't work that way. While the line makes sense on the surface, we do feel that it is inflated. Each game and each scenario is different and we handicapped this game at Cleveland -7 so to get the Hawks at nearly a double-digit underdog shows value. 

The Cavaliers have a commanding 2-0 lead in the series and while many will look at that as a positive for Cleveland, in this particular game we believe it could be a negative, at least mentally. The Cavaliers have to realize that they are in full control of this series and they have the "luxury" of knowing at least in the back of their minds that they do not have to win this game tonight. They can take it just a little bit easy and not have to go as hard for the full 48 mins. They know that they could lose this game tonight and still have another 2 home games to close the series. That is a dangerous mindset to be in, especially when they not only need to win the game against a motivated Hawks team, but must do so by double digits in order to cash the ticket.

On top of what could be their less than ideal mindset, the Cavs also have a number of players with some nagging injuries. Kyrie Irving could use a good amount of rest. That is a players that the Cavaliers will no doubt need if they advance to the NBA Finals and take on the Golden State Warriors (more than likely). We don't believe they will risk Irving's health for this game tonight and LeBron James can't continually beat a team like the Hawks on his own. We also wouldn't be surprised to see some other role players decrease their minutes tonight in order to get the needed rest to heal up some lingering injuries. 

With all that being said, we don't believe the Hawks are going to want to find themselves in the same situation as the Houston Rockets; down 0-3 in an inescapable hole. They will be desperate and put everything that they have into this game. They don't want to lose this series in embarrassing fashion and that is exactly what will happen if they suffer another double digit loss tonight. The good news for them however is that now all of the pressure is on the Cleveland Cavaliers to close out the series. The Hawks no longer have anybody expecting anything from them which should allow them to play more loose and free and get back to playing the type of game that made them the #1 seed this season.

Let's not forget that Cleveland is also coming back home after somewhat of an extended road trip. It's a well-known fact that teams often struggle in their first game back at home after being on the road. So not only have expectations and the spread ballooned up but add in the travel and being back home and seeing families/friends again which can provide another type of mental distraction. The Cavs could also get caught overlooking the Hawks. This is a team that had pretty much been dominated in the regular season by the Hawks and now have exacted revenge, not one but twice on the team that was supposedly the best in the East. That could cause the players egos to swell just a bit and believe that since they easily won the first two meetings that the rest should be just as easily. That is certainly not the case. We believe tonight’s contest will be the toughest for the Cavs of the series despite being at home. 

The Hawks are 6-0 ATS in their last 6 games following a double-digit loss at home and have beaten Cleveland 15 out of last 20 games which include 3 in the regular season. They do know what it takes to beat this team and have done it including at Quicken Loans Arena when they blew them out 127-98 in their last visit on Dec 17th. Things have obviously changed since then but the fact remains that they have the blueprint on beating this team and have done it before. This game should be more tightly contested than the first two and the points should come into play.

We also believe the loss of Kyle Korver has inaccurately affected this line as we don't believe that his loss is as big as some are making it out to be since he has been struggling for much of the postseason. While he was absolutely phenomenal during the regular season, at times he has proven to actually be a liability in the playoffs since he isn't the best defender and can't make his own shot. He needs to come off screens in a catch and shoot situation which teams had figured out and is a big reason why the Nets, Wizards and now the Cavs have all kept him quiet. His absence will give more minutes to guys like Kent Bazemore, Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott who are all capable and provide something different and might just help an offense that has gone stagnant find its rhythm. Other than the ridiculous and unexpected disparity in 3-point shooting efficiency between the two sides in Games 1 & 2, the biggest difference maker in this series has been rebounding. Cavs have dominated the boards and outrebounded Hawks every game and while they should continue to enjoy the edge on glass, that advantage should diminish with the bigger and more athletic Kent Bazemore in starting lineup today.

There's a reason Hawks finished regular season 7 games above Cleveland while also beating them 3 out of 4 times. They are still a quality team. While we are not calling for the outright upset here, even though we wouldn't be shocked if the Hawks managed to win this game we simply believe that this game will be much more closely contested than the first two and that the line is inflated which is why we feel it should be taken advantage of. Of course, games can often play out differently than we anticipate and even if this isn't a closer, more tightly contested game like we expect, laying 9 points always leaves the door open for a backdoor cover as teams won't want to risk injuries and don’t care whether they win this game by 1 or 10 points. At this point David Blatt's main goal is to simply get another victory. It's important when handicapping a game to align interests with that of the players and coaches. In this particular game, our interests align perfectly with the Hawks. They desperately need a victory and will do everything they can to get it. With that as motivation; 9 points is extremely attractive and presents too much value to pass up on. 

Other notable facts to consider:

  • Atlanta is 5-1 after scoring 85 or less points!
  • Atlanta is 12-4 off an upset loss as a favorite!
  • Atlanta is 30-14 against teams with winning records. 
  • Atlanta is 10-3 when seeking revenge for a home loss this season.

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