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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 7:00 PM

There’s really no doubt that…RIGHT NOW…the Golden State Warriors are playing the best basketball in the Western Conference…and the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing the best basketball in the Eastern Conference. Barring injuries to Steph Curry and LeBron James, these teams will be the frontrunners to win their halves of the brackets and meet for the championship trophy.

It’s true that Cleveland won’t be the #1 seed. Atlanta has that virtually locked up already. But, in terms of “recent form,” Cleveland is playing at a championship level while the Hawks have lost a step. You can’t have a more exciting game right now than Warriors/Cavs…and that’s what fans and sports bettors will be treated to Thursday Night on TNT!

Let’s take a look at the key indicator stats in this one. We’ll have to make some mental adjustments because Cleveland’s full season stats are weighted down by struggles that are long gone in the rearview mirror. Trades fixed some areas of weakness, and getting rid of Dion Waiters eliminated an impediment to offensive flow and overall cohesion.


Offensive Efficiency

Golden State: 109.6 per 100 possessions (ranked #2 in the NBA)

Cleveland: 107.4 per 100 possessions (ranked #5 in the NBA)

These are fantastic offenses. Cleveland would rank better than this if you only counted what happened after the trades. They were actually grading out fairly well even during sluggishness just because their weaponry (LeBron, Love, Kyrie) are so potent one-on-one. Now, with more teamwork and spacing, they’re unstoppable some nights. Golden State is almost always unstoppable unless their three-pointers aren’t falling on an off-night. Very high level stuff from both.


Defensive Efficiency

Golden State: 97.7 per 100 possessions (ranked #1 in the NBA)

Cleveland: 104.3 per 100 possessions (ranked #20 in the NBA)

The biggest misconception about Golden State is that they’re a great offensive team that doesn’t play enough defense. They have a FANTASTIC defense that’s hidden by pace. On a per-possession basis, nobody’s better at getting stops and forcing bad looks. If you take nothing else from today’s preview…learn that Golden State has the best defense in the NBA! Cleveland has been a disappointment…but their rim protection has improved with the acquisition of Mozgov. Will it be enough to win the East…or the whole league? Tonight’s game will tell us a lot about that.


Pace Ranking

Golden State: #1 (fastest in the NBA)

Cleveland: #24

Huge extremes here. Golden State runs and guns…which may cause a problem down the stretch because they’ll wear themselves out. There’s already some concern with that regarding Curry’s historically tender ankles. Cleveland is a classic halfcourt team because LeBron prefers playing halfcourt basketball. He knows he’s un-guardable. He knows you have to pace yourself over the long haul. And, he knows that halfcourt basketball wins in the playoffs! It will be very interesting to see how that clash of styles plays out tonight. And, we’ll learn a lot about Golden State’s true championship hopes if Cleveland is able to slow this game down to a crawl.


Against the Spread

Golden State: 33-20-1

Cleveland: 28-30

Vegas often underrates champions. They keep assuming the best teams will fall back to earth, and they don’t. Golden State has covered at better than a 60% rate for well over half a season even though they announced their greatness very early. Be aware that Cleveland is 15-4 ATS its last 19 games! Same story there. The market keeps expecting them to cool off. But, they are playing like true champions since getting the pieces that fit. Scary how overrated they were before that 15-4 ATS run (13-26 ATS…for 33%!).

As fans we’re really looking forward to this game. As handicappers…we’ll have to see where the number settles on game day. NETWORK clients only get BEST BETS! We’re also looking at Oklahoma City/Phoenix in the NBA, and a few dozen games on the college board. You’ll be able to purchase the final word for Thursday right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours.

It’s back to intense college basketball study as February turns to March this weekend. We had to interrupt our travelogue for that HUGE Warriors/Cavaliers game. Here’s the NOTEBOOK schedule for the next seven days…

Friday: Early Look for Saturday…Syracuse at Duke in the ACC

Saturday: College Basketball…Arizona at Utah in the Pac 12

Sunday: College Basketball…Michigan State at Wisconsin in the Big 10

Monday: College Basketball…Oklahoma at Iowa State in the Big 12

Tuesday: College Basketball…Kentucky at Georgia in the SEC

Wednesday: College Basketball…Notre Dame at Louisville in the ACC

Thursday: College Basketball…Wisconsin at Minnesota in the Big 10

Can you believe we’re just a week-and-a-half away from the end of the regular season for the major conferences?! The speed limit is getting faster on THE ROAD TO MARCH MADNESS. Fasten your seat belts as JIM HURLEY drives you to the Promised Land!


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Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley

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