If Stanley Johnson think he’s in LeBron James’ head then better that the men in white coats take him away now rather than leave him in a state of fantastical delusion.
Because for the first time in, well, possibly all season, the Cleveland Cavaliers resemble the kind of team intent on swatting away their challengers with disdain to return to the NBA Finals.
They’ll take a 2-0 series lead over the Detroit Pistons into Friday’s clash at The Palace after winning Game 2 by 17 - with both contests so far decided by a Cavs surge in the second half.
Sure, it’s impressive that the Pistons aren’t backing down. But Johnson’s bravado underlines that their energy in living with Cleveland for lengthy spells has left them spent down the stretch, rendering the East favourites a solid bet even on a fourth quarter handicap of -0.5 at 1.87 – and on an overall margin of -5.5 at 2.05.
But where for the Cavaliers beyond this? Their offense, averaging 106.5 points in the first two playoff clashes, has clicked into action, especially from three-point range. Detroit has left ample shots uncontested but there’s a momentum build going on with Kyrie Irving scoring 31 and 22 so far and the likes of Kevin Love and JR Smith chipping in.
With the Toronto Raptors dropping one in their first three games with the Indiana Pacers, Cleveland is down to 1.33 for the Conference and rightly so. And while the Spurs and Warriors still look more solid, there’s at least some grounds for optimism that a punt on the Cavs for the title at 5.00 isn’t money down the drain.
The Boston Celtics have been disappointing in dropping 2-0 behind the Atlanta Hawks with the latter’s defense outstanding in Game 2’s 89-72 grinder. But the C’s shouldn’t be completely dismissed with great value on Atlanta needing six games to close out at 5.50.
Most calamitous so far have been the Charlotte Hornets who sit 2-0 down as their series with the Miami Heat switches to NC on Saturday. The Buzz have been stung by an average margin of 21.5 so far, an atypical offensive haul for the Heat since Chris Bosh went down. If they stay hot, and Nicolas Batum sits out, then going over 204.5 total points in Game 3 may be a steal.
Best bet: Take Cleveland to sweep the Pistons 4-0 at 2.25