Cavaliers vs. Celtics series prediction, preview: NBA playoffs odds, picks

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Despite facing an 18-point deficit in Game 7, the Cleveland Cavaliers showcased their resilience and kept their playoff hopes alive with a remarkable 106-94 win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday. 

Now, the Cavaliers face a formidable challenge in the Celtics, a team that finished the regular season with the fifth-highest point differential (11.34) in the history of the NBA.

As a result, it’s no surprise that Boston is an overwhelming favorite to win the series with odds as high as -3000 at FanDuel.

However, the Celtics will face a significant challenge as they begin the series without Kristaps Porzingis. The Latvian center’s absence, due to a right calf strain suffered in Game 4 of their first-round series against Miami, could shift the dynamics of the series.

While his rehab is already underway, there is still no timetable for his return. Will his absence be enough to level the playing field in this series? 

Let’s take a look.

Cavaliers vs. Celtics Eastern Conference semifinals

Team Series Winner Series Spread Total Games
Cavaliers +1120 +2.5 (+145) o4.5 (-240)
Celtics -3000 -2.5 (-170) u4.5 (+160)
Odds via FanDuel

No Porzingis, no problem

The first step to analyzing this series is to examine how the Porzingis injury will impact the Celtics. Boston played 25 games without him during the regular season and went 21-4.

Although the sample size is small, they had a higher winning percentage (.840) in games without him than when he was on the court (43-14, .754).

Furthermore, the Celtics still posted a higher net rating (+12.6 vs. +11.3) in the games he missed than when he was available.

Thus, the numbers suggest the Celtics should have enough depth to overcome the Porzingis injury.

In the three games between the Celtics and Cavs this season, Boston was at full strength; Cleveland was not. Getty Images

Cavs vs. Celtics regular-season series

These teams played three games during the regular season, and Boston went 2-1 with a +5.3 net rating.

However, both Celtics victories might have been aided by a scheduling quirk, as the teams played two games in Boston over three days. And both meetings occurred in December when Cleveland wasn’t playing its best basketball.

The Cavaliers were amidst a 1-3 road trip that dropped their record to 13-12. Cleveland then went on a 22-4 run over its next 26 games.

In the third meeting, the Cavaliers held serve at home, winning 105-104 to snap Boston’s 11-game winning streak. Cleveland won the game without its best player, Donovan Mitchell, who was out with a knee injury. 

The Cavaliers also lost forward Evan Mobley in the third quarter of the game to an ankle injury. Mobley was also inactive (knee) for the two December losses against the Celtics.

Interestingly, the Celtics were essentially at full strength for each of their meetings this season as their three best players — Porzingis, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — were all involved in the action.

Cleveland can benefit from perimeter shooting

The Porzingis injury will undoubtedly impact Boston’s floor spacing, particularly on the perimeter. Porzingis took 39% (5.1) of his shot attempts (13.2) from beyond the arc while posting a 37.5% three-point percentage.

With Al Horford (8.6 PPG) likely to replace Porzingis (20.1 PPG) in the starting lineup, look for Tatum and Brown to play a more prominent role offensively. 

We know the Celtics will likely follow their preferred playing style of being aggressive offensively on the perimeter. Cleveland must be able to match that aggression with their perimeter defense or match Boston shot for shot.

The Cavaliers will likely opt for the latter, considering they outshot Boston in the three games from beyond the arc (50-of-120, 41.7% vs. 47-of-118, 39.8%).

Al Horford will need to pick up the slack in the absence of Kristaps Porzingis.
Al Horford will need to pick up the slack in the absence of Kristaps Porzingis. NBAE via Getty Images

Cavaliers vs. Celtics series prediction

Cleveland has a path to be competitive in this series, especially with Porzingis sidelined. However, according to ESPN Bet, teams that are -1400 or higher to win a series are on an 18-0 run dating back to 1990. 

Based on those overwhelming numbers, it’s tough to look anywhere else but the Celtics in this matchup. Their homecourt advantage should be enough to help them emerge victorious and advance to the next round. 

Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be a cakewalk, as the Cavaliers are good enough to win some games in this series.

Betting on the NBA?

Cavaliers vs. Celtics best bets

Cleveland’s series price of +3.5 games is too good to pass up, even with the juice up to -225. 

Bettors can also find additional value in picking the exact number of games in the series. If we’re projecting the Cavaliers to pick up some games, we’re essentially saying they’re unlikely to get swept.

There’s a decent chance this series goes six or seven games, and bettors can still profit even if they wager on both outcomes.

The odds for a six-game series are +400, and the odds for seven games are +550. Both options offer value as a half-unit wager.

Here are my betting recommendations for this series (odds via FanDuel):

  • Cavaliers +3.5 games (-225)
  • Series to go six games (+400)
  • Series to go seven games (+550)
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