The Cleveland Cavaliers are the NBA’s best team against the spread this season while the Los Angeles Lakers happen to be the worst. That would have sounded normal back when LeBron James was still in Cleveland and the Lakers were also-rans. Yet 2021 is coming to a close and here we are - the Cavs are actually doing very well in the Eastern Conference, which is more than can be said for Los Angeles on their own side of the States.
The Lakers are the fifth favorite team to win the NBA title and, according to the current NBA odds and scores for the end of the season, are at 10/1. They came into the campaign as the second favorite for the championship but poor form has seen their odds continue to widen.
Their misery is likely to be compounded by the loss of Anthony Davis, who will be out for a month at the very least, having suffered a sprained MCL against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.
The Cavs, meanwhile, are the league’s best team when it comes to covering the spread but their title odds are a lot longer at 80/1.
In case you aren’t sure what covering the spread means, here’s a quick explanation. Bookmakers, while offering outright odds on winners, also come up with a margin of victory for every game called the point spread. The bookie will decide by how many points one team is supposed to win by.
Say the Cavaliers are expected to beat the Detroit Pistons by 10 points, if they win but by a margin fewer than 10 points, it would mean they did not cover the spread. The Pistons, on the other hand, would have covered by not losing by 10 or more and, if they win, would also have covered.
This means bettors can still win some money even if the team they bet on outright loses.
The Cavs are currently the NBA's best team at covering at 24-6-1 while the Lakers are 11-18-1. If you’re wondering why Cleveland has been able to best a star-studded Lakers team in that department, you might be tempted not to look further than their records in the standings. The Eastern Conference side boasts a 19-12 record good enough for third place while the Lakers are just a game above .500 at 16-15.
When you dig deeper, however, you see the Cavaliers’ defense is chiefly responsible. They are the second-best defensive team in the NBA at the moment, allowing opponents just 101.9 points per game.
Jarret Allen and rookie Evan Mobley have been excellent rim protectors this season, averaging 1.4 and 1.8 blocks per game respectively.
It’s quite clear that this year’s Cavaliers team is the best Cleveland has put out since LeBron departed for Los Angeles.
"In Cleveland, we've got breakout seasons from Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley leading the Rookie of the Year race, and both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are rejuvenated," Fox Bet sports trader Dylan Brossman was quoted as saying on the team’s output so far this term. "All these factors have made it difficult to value this year’s squad through just 30 games.
"Is Cleveland due for some mean reversion? Or do they simply deserve more respect? The answer is most likely both."
The Lakers are, by far, the bigger market team and, as such, bookies make punters pay premiums for lines pertaining to them as they’re well aware that they will gravitate towards bets on bigger-name teams.
LBJ is still the most popular player in the game but Brossman reckons his age will soon become a factor, with his efficiency rating and box plus-minus already the lowest he’s posted since his rookie season.
"There are serious doubts if LeBron, who turns 37 at the end of December, will be able to salvage the Lakers roster as it stands," he added.
"Barring a Russell Westbrook trade or Anthony Davis awakening, expect oddsmakers to begin adjusting their expectations for the Lakers as a mediocre Western Conference team."
It’s also worth noting that the Lakers, who are historically the best team in the NBA and won a title only last year, can afford to take their feet off the gas and coast to the playoffs, as James is known to do.
The Cavs, though, are a much younger squad intent on returning Cleveland to former glories. There’s a lot more spring in their step than one could expect of Los Angeles and they’re out there giving max effort night in and night out.
The best teams in the league aren’t necessarily the ones who are the best at covering the spread, as the Cavs have shown this season. For Emphasis, the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors, who boast the best records so far this season, are 15-13-0 and 18-11-1 ATS respectively.