Game 1 of the NBA Finals tips off Thursday night in a rematch of last year's title series. Basketball prognisticators are mostly siding with Las Vegas oddsmakers, picking the defending champion Golden State Warriors to triumph again over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Many expect the best-of-seven series to either go the distance or a champion to be crowned after six games. The 2015 NBA Finals ended with the Warriors prevailing in six games.
It’s a matchup that oddsmakers had been predicting for several months. The Cavaliers were tabbed as favorites to claim the 2016 crown just after Golden State won the title. Last week, the Warriors had just +300 odds to win the title after trailing the Oklahoma City Thunder 3-1 in the Western Conference finals, and were behind both the Cavs (+140) and the Thunder (+160).
With the stellar backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and do-it-all forward Draymond Green, the Warriors eventually became resounding favorites after they secured a record 73 victories during the regular season, surpassing the legendary 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls.
Meanwhile, the Cavs stayed atop of the Eastern Conference but dealt with some internal team struggles. Head coach David Blatt was fired despite going 30-11 to start the season and Tyronn Lue was promoted, while LeBron James and forward Kevin Love worked out their reported differences and figured out a way to play together.
If successful, the Warriors would be the first team since the Miami Heat in 2013 to secure consecutive NBA titles and just the third in the last 14 years. Since the NBA Finals began in 1950, 11 teams have claimed back-to-back titles.
The Cavaliers are seeking their first title since joining the NBA in 1970. The trio of James, Love, and Kyrie Irving, have gone 12-2 in the postseason in 2016 and recently cast aside the Toronto Raptors in six games to reach the finals for the third time in franchise history.
The Cavaliers enter the finals as the more rested team. The stacked Warriors triumvirate of two-time MVP Curry, Thompson, and Green, along with the highest scoring bench in these playoffs, are coming off a tiring and difficult Western Conference finals that nearly saw them eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With Curry playing through a knee injury and Green struggling from the floor and with foul trouble, the Thunder's 3-1 series advantage forced the Warriors to battle back from a deficit that only nine teams in league history had previously overcome. Behind Thompson’s record-setting 11 three-point shots in Game 6, and Curry’s clutch buckets in the closing minutes of Game 7, the Warriors became the first team to win a conference finals after trailing 3-1 since the Boston Celtics in 1981.
2016 NBA Finals Expert Predictions
Sam Amick, USA Today: Warriors in 7
Sean Deveney, Sporting News: Warriors in 7
Ben Golliver, Sports Illustrated: Warriors in 6
Adi Joseph, Sporting News: Warriors in 5
Tim Legler, ESPN: Warriors (N/A)
Jeff Zillgitt, USA Today: Warriors in 7
Bobby Ilich, International Business Times: Cavaliers in 6
Greg Price, International Business Times: Cavaliers in 6
Anthony Riccobono, International Business Times: Warriors in 6