It’s no secret that the Warriors are overwhelming favorite over the Cavaliers in the upcoming NBA Finals. Golden State beat Cleveland in five games last spring, then cruised through the regular season and beat a tough (if banged up) Rockets team in the Western Conference Finals. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, limped through the season after trading Kyrie Irving, then needed seven games to beat both the Pacers and the severely undermanned Celtics in the playoffs. On paper at least, this is a massive mismatch.
Still, we weren’t quite prepared for just how hugely Golden State would favored. Per ESPN, the Warriors are a -1000 favorite in the series, while the Cavaliers are +650 underdogs. That makes Steph Curry and company easily the largest favorites since 2002, which is as far back as SportsOddsHistory’s records go.
This marks the fourth straight year the Warriors have been significant favorites over the Cavs in the Finals. They were -220 in 2015 (when they won in six games), -220 again in 2016 (when they lost in seven), and -300 last year (when they won in five). But never before anything close to -1000.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, were +250 underdogs last year, far less extreme than their +650 line this time around.
(Side note: A glance at NBA Finals odds over the past decade or so paints an interesting picture about LeBron James’ career. LeBron’s detractors often ding the four-time MVP for his 3-5 career record in the NBA Finals, but looking at the pre-series odds provides some useful context. LeBron’s teams have been underdogs (and often substantial ones) in seven of the nine Finals series they have appeared in. That means the three titles LeBron has won actually exceeds the two oddsmakers would have expected him to win.)
In all likelihood, the Warriors will storm past the Cavaliers in four or five games, validating the oddsmakers who made them preposterously large favorites. But at the same time, Golden State hasn’t played that well lately, and LeBron James suits up for the other team, making that +650 sound like some pretty good value.
The Finals start Thursday with Game 1 in Oakland.