While the Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies aren’t mirror images of each other, they boast many of the same strengths and deficiencies.
Each squad is relatively young and deep, relying on perimeter playmaking to ignite its offense while depending on elite interior rim protection to clean up whatever messes there might be on the other end of the floor. Both are considered by Ohio’s mobile sportsbooks to be among the 10 likeliest contenders to win this year’s NBA title and the top five favorites to win their respective conferences, in which they rank among the top two teams in positive point differential.
And with the Feb. 9 trade deadline fast approaching, an upgrade at small forward would likely shorten those odds for either of the two squads, who face off in Cleveland on Thursday in a nationally televised tilt on TNT.
Memphis and Cleveland’s only previous meeting this season was a 115-114 Grizzlies victory down in Tennessee on Jan. 18. Memphis was favored by 7.5 points at Caesars Sportsbook in that game, which Cleveland played without the services of leading scorer Donovan Mitchell, who will participate in Thursday’s proceedings.
The Grizzlies were paced by their backcourt of Desmond Bane (25 points) and Ja Morant (24 points) in the Jan. 18 victory, which established a franchise record of 11 straight wins. But Memphis went on to lose its next five games on the road against Western Conference rivals before righting the ship with a win over the Pacers this past Sunday.
Caris LeVert started for Mitchell and put 23 points in the bucket in Cleveland’s Jan. 18 loss, while point guard Darius Garland led the team with 24. With Memphis playing the second game of a back-to-back set after losing to Portland on Wednesday, the fully healthy Cavs are 4.5-point favorites (-190 on the moneyline) at DraftKings at home Thursday.
Will either team pull the trigger?
Despite his success filling in for Mitchell, LeVert remains most effective as a microwave scorer off the bench. And while Dean Wade has played decently since returning from an injury that cost him half a season, the Cavs remain a wing away from making a deep postseason run, in the eyes of oddsmakers.
“If they had a genuinely starting-quality wing, they’d be right in the mix,” PointsBet Senior Trader Sam Garriock told OH Bets last month. “It’s tough, though, because they basically gave up everything they could in the Mitchell trade. Can you trade Caris LeVert and a second-round pick to take on Gary Trent Jr.? How much of an upgrade would that be? But they’d be even smaller starting Trent Jr. next to Garland and Mitchell. So it’s really tough to make one of these smaller moves.”
Memphis, with a steeper stockpile of draft picks and young talent, could push several chips into the center of the table should it determine that it could win an NBA championship in the here and now. Last year’s playoffs made it all too clear that Memphis needs a second off-the-dribble creator to complement Morant, and current starting small forward Dillon Brooks ain’t it.
Sitting second behind Denver in the wide open Western Conference, Memphis would be wise to explore an upgrade over the course of the next week. The Cavs, though, may want to stand pat. They’re looking up at three of the four top title contenders (Celtics +375, Bucks 8/1, Nets 9/1 at the SuperBook) in the Eastern Conference standings and would likely have to deal Garland if they wanted to fetch a substantial return. And it’s probably at least a year too early in his and Evan Mobley’s development to make such a dramatic move.
Futures so bright, you gotta wear shades
As it stands, the Cavs are priced at 20/1 to win their second NBA championship at the SuperBook and BetMGM, a consensus 9/1 to win the Eastern Conference, and 3/1 at the SuperBook (behind the Bucks at -400) to win the Central Division.
The Grizzlies, meanwhile, are 11/1 to win it all at BetMGM, +475 to win the Western Conference at the SuperBook, and an overwhelming -900 favorite to win the Southwest Division at Betfred and FanDuel.
Both teams have longshot MVP candidates in Mitchell (150/1 at the SuperBook) and Morant (35/1 at the SuperBook), while Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. is a -175 favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year at Betfred, BetMGM, and FanDuel.
If Cleveland’s twin-tower duo of Mobley and Jarrett Allen were separated and either was able to anchor the Cavs’ defense himself, they’d likely be priced far shorter than odds of 50/1 to 60/1, which is where they’re at now.
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