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Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Thursday, February 8, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Thursday morning Las Vegas time, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded about half their roster in hopes of making another run at the Eastern Conference championship…and possibly even the NBA title (though that’s still a longshot).

It was a startling, but much needed series of trades that tossed way a bunch of defensive dead weight. This team had become an absolute joke on defense.

*Cleveland traded Isaiah Thomas…the worst defensive player in the league and suddenly a cancer in the locker room, and Channing Frye…to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.

*Cleveland traded Dwyane Wade back to Miami for a second-round draft pick.

*Cleveland traded Derrick Rose, disappointing Jae Crowder, and Iman Shumpert while acquiring Rodney Hood and George Hill in a three-way trade that involved Utah and Sacramento.

It’s hard to know how long it will take for the new teammates to gel. What’s obvious is that Cleveland is now MUCH better on defense. Thomas was horrible. Wade had aged so much he could only pick his spots. Rose is just a shadow of his former self and he was poor on defense before all of his injuries. It seemed like LeBron had wanted to gather experienced hands this past offseason in hopes that would sustain the excellence of the past few seasons. But, you can’t compete for championships if NOBODY plays defense!

I was most surprised by the trade of Wade back to Miami. They had hoped to have one last great run together after their time together by South Beach. You’d figure they could have dumped the other guys and kept Wade’s experience around. Maybe the relationship soured. Or, management is convinced LeBron is going to leave down the road anyway, and they might as well get something for Wade when they could.

There are two groups of sad bettors right now here in Las Vegas. Those who had been fading Cleveland every time out for a massive profit this season, and those who had bet on either Boston or Toronto on futures tickets to win the East.

*Cleveland had one of the worst point spread runs I’ve ever seen this season. The market kept pricing them like a champion. Oddsmakers wouldn’t budge…sharps weren’t aggressively fading the Cavs. So, this horrible defense could only cover spreads if the offense shot lights out (like Wednesday night vs. Minnesota), or the other team just had a bad game. Free money for a few months. A virtual ATM machine.

*Cleveland was playing so poorly, that it seemed impossible for them to find that extra gear this season that usually shows up in the playoffs. They got crushed by Orlando the other night when the Magic were in a back-to-back. Toronto or Boston seemed like great value bets to win the East. Maybe they still are. But, the Raptors and Celtics will be dealing with a real threat come playoff time when Kevin Love is back and the new Cavs will have acclimated. Bettors who had taken shots on Toronto or Boston are less confident today about those tickets than they were yesterday. 

I’ll be very interested to see how the market adjusts to this new roster, particularly on Over/Unders. Here’s Cleveland’s upcoming schedule:

Friday: at Atlanta

Sunday: at Boston

Tuesday: at Oklahoma City

All-Star Break

Brutal to have to visit the Celtics and Thunder while everyone’s introducing themselves. But, the Break comes at a good time for extended relationship building and practice. Cleveland won’t play a game from February 13 to February 22.

I texted a few sharps I know to see what they thought of the trades. They all agree that the new unit will play much better than what we had seen in recent weeks. Though, that just means better than the lowest class of the league because the Cavs had been getting blown out so often. They obviously won’t talk about possible bets until they see what openers go up on the board. The guys who run simulations are projecting much lower scoring games because of better defense, and probably slower tempos because LeBron prefers attacking in the halfcourt in games that matter.

I didn’t talk to anybody who thinks Cleveland offers value on futures tickets. That team is always overpriced in futures anyway because the public likes betting on LeBron. Even with immediate improvement, the team isn’t a bargain to win the East or stun Golden State (or Houston) in the Finals. Toronto is the team most sharps have their eyes on right now. And, a few actually like Philadelphia to close strong rather than Boston.

I’m looking forward to seeing how all that plays out. You regulars know that COLLEGE basketball is my favorite sport to handicap and bet. Thursday night brings Duke/North Carolina…and then we have more blockbusters all through the weekend. You can purchase my nightly BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions call the VSM office at 1-888-777-4155. I have very affordable rates for basketball through March Madness or the NBA Championships.

Football season is now in the books. It’s time to focus on basketball. I’ll be back with you Friday to talk more about the colleges. February is a great month to handicap college hoops because motivation becomes a big factor. A few powers get distracted (which we saw Wednesday with #1 Villanova, #3 Purdue, and #8 Auburn all losing outright at home.) Many mid-level teams find their groove and start building a late-season resume for the big Dance. More on that Friday.

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