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Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Saturday, December 31, 2016 at 11:48 AM

The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the great stories of the year we’re about to say goodbye too tonight, with their NBA championship in June going right alongside the Chicago Cubs’ historic World Series title as the truly memorable sports moments of 2016. As expected, the Cavs have picked up where they left off, jumping out to a 24-7 record, leading the Eastern Conference and winning a 109-108 thriller over Golden State on Christmas Day.

So what are we to make of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA championship chances, given the short 2-1 price that’s currently on the board?

There are good reasons to think this Cavs team could be better than last year. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving have done what’s expected of them. LeBron averages 25ppg, gets eight rebounds per game and with nine assists a night on average, he’s added to his deserved reputation as the best passing forward to ever play the game. Kyrie knocks down 24 a game and hits a sizzling 42 percent from three-point range.

That’s what we knew to expect from Cleveland. What’s more important from a long-term perspective is that Kevin Love finally appears comfortable in this lineup. Maybe it’s the security of a new contract. Maybe it’s the confidence that comes from his 14-rebound performance in Game 7 of last year’s NBA Finals. Whatever the reason, the Love we knew from his Minnesota days is back. He averages 22 points/11 rebounds per game and stretches the floor with 41% accuracy from three-point range.

Floor-stretching is a common theme as you go through this lineup. Even with J.R. Smith out until at least the latter part of March, there are three-point shooters up and down the bench. Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye each hit better than 40 percent from behind the arc.

A team that has a couple shooters in its starting lineup that shoot the three-ball that well is in good shape. To start with that and then pull a couple more off the bench, even after losing another to injury? That’s a team that can shoot and Tristan Thompson’s relentless crashing off the offensive glass helps create more open looks from the perimeter.

The 2-1 price is short, but given the complete lack of serious competition to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference, it’s understandable and actually offers value. Futures bettors that want to challenge Golden State, the 4-5 favorite, can use Cleveland as a break-even hedge at 2-1. Bet the Cavs, then bet an equal amount on another team you believe in (e.g. the Spurs or Clippers).

You’re in position to break even if Cleveland—a virtual lock to at least be in the Finals, wins it again and to make a substantial profit if your darkhorse team wins it. And of course you can also exclusively bet Cleveland, put a dollar amount down healthy enough to be worth your while and just hope LeBron and Kyrie stay healthy between now and June.

There’s only rub to watch for—the Cavs rank 14th in defensive efficiency and that won’t get it done. So monitor Cleveland’s defensive performance through the year as you make your handicapping decisions on their chances to repeat.  

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