High-flying Raptors remain under NBA Championship betting radar
Daniel Coyle, American Sports Correspondent | January 19, 2015
Toronto Raptors returned home from their visit to London on Monday night to take on Brooklyn, remaining perfect in their past five outings with a 112-100 win over the Nets to pull within three games of Cleveland Cavaliers for top spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
With a widening lead atop the Atlantic Division, the Raptors look poised to pay out as 2/9 pre-season favourites with Coral to win their third straight divisional crown but, after making quick exits in their past five post-season appearances, the ghosts of playoff failures past continue to haunt the club, which continues to lag far behind those fancied for the NBA championship, at 50/1.
Despite the current scepticism at the sportsbook, there are plenty of reasons for Raptors fans and loyal punters to be optimistic, if not downright excited about the Dinos’ playoff aspirations this season.
Toronto come out of their contest with the Nets with the best road record in the Eastern Conference, going 14-9 SU, rewarding Coral customers with a 13-9-1 against the spread record, and intriguing 14/1 chances to win emerge as Conference champs.
The Raptors have built their success on a strong defense, ranked fourth in the Association with just 96.9 points allowed per game this season, and just 92.9 ppg over their past five.
The dynamic duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have matured into legitimate offensive threats, with 22.8 and 21.0 ppg, respectively, while DeRozan sits among the league leaders in steals.
Toronto’s steady performance has quickly set them apart this season in an Eastern Conference race that is looking wide open entering the second half of the campaign.
Cleveland tops odds despite middling performance
As evidenced by their shocking 132-98 loss to Golden State Warriors at home on Monday night, Cleveland Cavaliers can be beaten.
Currently trailing only the favoured Warriors in the NBA Championship betting with 5/2 odds, Cleveland remain heavy odds-on 1/3 favourites chalk to claim a second straight Eastern Conference crown, but cracks are clearly evident in the Cavaliers’ armour, who are an ordinary 13-9 SU on the road this season, and a major disappointment to punters, with a middling 9-12-1 ATS record.
The club has struggled with consistency all season, stringing together three straight ATS wins just twice, and are a brutal 6-14-1 ATS when favoured by six or more points.
LeBron James remains the straw that stirs the drink in Cleveland, leading the Cavaliers in most offensive categories. But, with the 31 year-old superstar moving beyond his prime, and regularly nursing a bad back, real concerns exist as to whether King James can once again carry this team to the NBA Finals.
Bulls, Hawks, Heat all struggling
Injuries are also a concern for Chicago Bulls, who remain a 9/1 bet to win the East despite losing four of their past six SU, and five of six ATS.
All-Star Joakim Noah will be lost for the season with a shoulder injury, and Derrick Rose has failed to return to his MVP form, leaving role players like Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol to carry the mail for the Bulls.
Atlanta Hawks hold the edge over Miami in the Southeast Division standings, and are deadlocked at 12/1 with the Heat in Eastern Conference futures, but neither club has inspired confidence with .500 ATS records.
All this bodes well for Toronto, SU winners in 14 of their last 20 heading into their Wednesday night date with Boston Celtics.
Claiming their first NBA title in franchise history means the Raptors must eventually face a Western Conference juggernaut like the defending champions Golden State, San Antonio Spurs, or Los Angeles Clippers.
But with the continued development of young stars like Lowry and DeRozan, and the good fortune of an injury-free playoff run, this may finally be the year that the Raptors fulfil the promise.