Even Though the Cavaliers Are Playing Great, the Warriors Are Huge NBA Title Favorites
The 2016 NBA Finals matchup is set and it'll be a rematch between the defending champion Golden State Warriors and last year's runner-up, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Last year, the Warriors took down the Cavaliers in a hard-fought six games, despite the Cavs being without stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving (with the exception of the 44 minutes Irving played in Game 1 before fracturing his knee cap).
Reminder: LeBron James is damn good at basketball and pretty much willed last year's tilt into being a competitive series.
This year, however, both teams are at full strength. There will be no need for excuses nor an asterisk.
This is the top team in the Western Conference taking on the top team in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers are coming in with a sterling playoff record of 12-2, while the Warriors just became the 10th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder in seven games.
The Dubs led the league in average point differential this season at +10.8, but the Cavs have led the playoffs at +12.6. Both teams are draining threes at a record-setting pace (the Cavs are hitting 14.4 per game at a 43.4% clip, while the Warriors are hitting 12.5 at 40.3%) and scoring in bunches on bunches (110.9 points per game for Golden State, 106.9 for Cleveland).
Having to choose between the "Big Three" of James, Irving, and Love versus Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green would be a near impossible task. Heck, choosing the best player in the world right now would basically come down to LeBron or Steph.
Seems like a compelling, evenly-matched series, right?
Not even close.
Here's how our algorithms see this series playing out:
Cleveland Cavaliers win in 4: 2.57%
Cleveland Cavaliers win in 5: 5.45%
Cleveland Cavaliers win in 6: 10.76%
Cleveland Cavaliers win in 7: 9.14%
Cleveland Cavaliers win series: 27.92%
Golden State Warriors win in 4: 11.27%
Golden State Warriors win in 5: 22.51%
Golden State Warriors win in 6: 18.53%
Golden State Warriors win in 7: 19.77%
Golden State Warriors win series: 72.08%
The Cavaliers' 27.92% chance at winning the NBA Finals this year is better than the 21.24% they held in 2015, but that's still a relative chasm between two teams playing peak basketball.
The truth of the matter is that the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors are on another level of existence right now. They set the NBA record for wins in a single season with 73 this year, while becoming one of only 10 teams in league history to have an average margin of victory north of 10 (10.76). The Cavaliers, while having a great season themselves, only won 57 games in a weaker Eastern Conference, while beating their opponents by more than four points fewer on average (6.00).
Golden State had a team nERD -- our proprietary team ranking, set on a scale from 0-100 with 50 as the league average, that is predictive of a team's ultimate winning percentage -- of 80.6 this season. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, came in a 65.8, a nearly 15% swing in projected winning percentage.
These teams just might not be as close as you think.
Then again, odds are made to be broken. We'll see if LeBron and co. have it in them when the Finals get under way on Thursday night.