The top two teams in the Eastern Conference square off for the third time this season tonight, as the 38-22 Boston Celtics host the 41-17 Cleveland Cavaliers (8pm ET Wednesday on ESPN). Boston enters the contest with three losses in its last four games, while Cleveland has won five of its last six contests.
The Celtics have dark-horse MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas leading them, but his play has tailed off slightly in recent weeks. He has shot below 50 percent from the field in six straight games, and his assist-to-turnover ratio in that span is a lackluster 1.59.
Cleveland is missing injured All-Star power forward Kevin Love, but LeBron James and Kyrie Irving have picked up the slack. Both players averaged better than 25 points per game in the month of February and have gotten more than adequate help from players like Tristan Thompson (pictured), Kyle Korver and Derrick Williams.
The Cavs have won both meetings of the season by just six points, but both games were played in Cleveland. Boston will have a chance to get revenge on their home court tonight.
There are three questions with answers that will significantly impact the result of tonight’s game. Let’s dive into those questions with this preview and then make betting predictions and picks based on the listed spread and over/under for the contest.
Which Point Guard Defends His Counterpart Better?
The matchup between the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving and the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas is bound to produce a lot of points. That’s mostly due to the point guards’ scoring ability, but neither guy is known for playing good defense, either.
If Irving and Thomas guard each other for most of the game, there will be offensive fireworks, so it’ll come down to which guy is more willing to get after it on the defensive end. Irving, as the bigger and slightly more effective defender with a smaller offensive load, is the favorite to do so.
It’s likely there will be some cross matchups throughout the game, too, so this matchup could come down to which coach finds the right defensive player to limit the opponent’s scoring floor general.
Can the Celtics Keep Tristan Thompson Off the Offensive Glass?
One of Boston’s biggest weaknesses as a team is recovering other teams’ misses. The Celtics have the second-worst defensive rebounding percentage in the NBA. Starting big men Amir Johnson and Al Horford both do a below-average job at preventing the other team from extending possessions.
Tristan Thompson is going to test this problem. The Celtics get a break here because Kevin Love is out with a knee injury, but Thompson and his 3.7 offensive rebounds per game still will not be easy to contend with. He also draws plenty of loose ball fouls when players have to get too physical in boxing him out. Boston needs to keep a body (or bodies) on Thompson on all times when their shots go up.
What Sort of Impact is Avery Bradley Ready to Make?
Bradley is the third-best player on the Celtics (after Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford), and he just played his first game on Monday after an 18-contest absence because of an Achilles injury. The results were modest — the 26-year-old shooting guard tallied six points in 15 minutes of action in a 98-114 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. However, with one game under his belt, Bradley may be in line for a bigger role and performance now.
Bradley is valuable as a court-spacer with his 41.3 percent mark from three-point range, and he’s also an elite perimeter defender. If he can play more minutes and look like himself on both ends of the floor, Boston will be difficult to beat.
Our Preview’s Cleveland Cavaliers vs Boston Celtics Betting Predictions & Picks
Cleveland is the better team. However, the Cavs are on the road, are without Love and have some new pieces they’re hoping to integrate (Deron Williams, most notably). This matchup will mean less to the Cavs than it does to the Celtics.
However, Cleveland has been playing better as of late, so I doubt Boston will run away with this contest.
- Most of the sports betting sites for Americans have the Cavaliers favored by one point, though one makes it 1.5pts. I’m going to make the slightly bold prediction that the Celtics will win this game by single digits, so they are my pick. The betting advice is to bet on Boston +1.5pts @ -110 with Bovada. It is +1pt for -105 with BetOnline.
- You’ll find that 222pts is the most common over-under for this game. The totals of the other two games this season have been 250 and 242, respectively, and neither game went into overtime. Boston will dictate the pace on its home court and make sure the teams combine for at least this amount, so go over 222pts @ -110 with MyBookie, BetOnline or 5Dimes sportsbooks.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.