NBA: Cleveland and backers in search of answers (8:35 PM ET, TNT)

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NBA: Cleveland and backers in search of answers (8:35 PM ET, TNT)


It's not a great time to be a Cleveland basketball fan, because what looked like a return to the NBA Finals is in serious jeopardy. The Cavaliers situation has everything to do with what is taking place on the court, not preconceived notions. Cleveland may have one of the two best players in basketball; however the team is not as good as Orlando's. The margin of difference is not dramatic, but it is enough to matter and Cleveland backers have four losing wagering tickets to prove it in this series. Still, the Cavs are a hefty favorite tonight and most bettors figure they'll extend this series to a 6th game. Get the latest percentage breakdown on the BETTING TRENDS page.

So what have been the differences to this point, let's examine.

Orlando plays an unusual style of offense; basically they have Dwight Howard as only true post player, surrounded by four perimeter players. Howard, though limited in offensive moves, has superior strength over Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao and its laughable to suggest Ben Wallace would do better job than either of those two. Howard has had his way in the paint and uses his quickness to snatch offensive rebounds and have put-backs.

When Cleveland decides to double-team Howard, this leaves open the Magic's array of shooters, who either can make medium or long distance shots, or drive to the basket thru open lanes created by doubling-down on Howard. It is clear the Cavs players are much more comfortable double-teaming within 5-15 feet range, as compared to being spread out like Orlando forces them to do at greater distances. This leaves coach Mike Brown with a real dilemma, either drink the poison or be injected with it.

Though Mo Williams and Delonte West are normally reliable shooters, they have not been in this series, not even close. This was never more evident than in Game 4, when the Cavaliers where moving the ball crisply and players that were able to get into the teeth of Orlando defense were kicking out passes to Williams and West and neither looked like they could make a shot if the basket was 2-feet larger in diameter. West to his credit worked on isolation matchups and was effective on the block in postup situations. Unfortunately, this twosome was gruesome 0-6 beyond the arc.

Cleveland returns home, where they are 44-3 (31-16 ATS), with one of the losses coming in the East Finals. As mentioned previously, one of the most difficult challenges for a sports bettor to overcome is believing what you are seeing and letting go of paradigms. Though Cleveland had the best regular season record and breezed thru first two rounds, they were 2-8 ATS versus teams that had 70 percent or higher win percentage during the regular season and four more losses have been added during this series.

Because Orlando had never accomplished much in the postseason, they were fairly easy to dismiss going up against Cleveland. The fact is the Magic are 32-18 SU and ATS on the road and though they were hammered a couple times in the postseason, to be that strong as a visitor speaks to the team's true value.

Also, matchups are important and seeing Orlando is 10-4 and 13-1 ATS against the Cavaliers, this proves they have the physical and physiological edge. has Cleveland as 7.5-point favorite with total of 190. For the Cavs to force Game 6 and beyond, they have to have starters play as they have all season. Orlando has gone through shooting droughts and still managed to make enough baskets to matter, Cleveland has not. The Cavs need to find help off the bench as well, since they are being buried by Magic reserves. Cleveland is 13-2 ATS off a road loss and 17-6 against the spread if it was three points or less.

Cleveland has too often talked, instead of played in this series. Even coach Brown is living in make-believe land. "This is about as even of a series as you can ask for. They've just made one or two plays down the stretch more than us. But I still feel the confidence, I still feel the togetherness and I still feel like we have a chance to win this," Brown said. Coach, I hope you know this, but it is those one or two critical plays in games that make the difference between wins and losses and your team isn't making them, no matter how much you love each other.
Though Orlando won't discuss it, they are 9-1 ATS off two or more consecutive home wins this season and teams with 3-1 leads in NBA playoffs are 182-8 in league history to finish off series as winners.

The action continues on TNT starting at 8:35 Eastern.

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