NBA Championship Odds (As of March 7):
Cleveland Cavaliers (8.50)
It was a trade deadline for the ages - one of those days when you follow along as best you can with the incoming trades and instant analysis, constantly hitting the 'Refresh' button for Twitter, and wondering what on Earth the Cleveland Cavaliers were capable of doing next.
Scary thought at the time, because from early in the morning on Feb. 8 until the deadline at 12 p.m. PT, general manager Koby Altman was busy dismantling the then-current look of the Cavaliers, and trying to revamp the roster for a playoff push and the possibility of a fourth straight Eastern Conference title.
The Cavaliers had been caught in a downward spiral and drastic action needed to be taken. An almost complete overhaul was next.
NBA Betting Breakdown:
And for a few days, anyway, it looked like those blockbuster moves had sparked the Cavaliers and pointed them in the right direction. They went on the road and dropped the Boston Celtics by 22 points, with LeBron James once again leading the way with a dominant performance, just shy of the triple-double.
Two nights later, they went into Oklahoma City and dealt the Thunder an eight-point defeat with LeBron posting another strong performance with 37 points. And suddenly the Cavaliers were going into the All-Star break with four straight wins and a rejuvenated roster - quite an accomplishment considering their struggles that had persisted since Christmas.
They did, however, emerge from the All-Star break with only four wins in their last eight games - those victories coming against Memphis, Brooklyn, Detroit and Denver. Each of those teams is on the outside of the playoff picture in both the Eastern and Western conferences.
That may not inspire much confidence in the Cavaliers going forward for the remainder of the season. Of course, it's a tad unrealistic to think their three-game winning streak immediately following the deadline was sustainable given the number of changes to their lineup and new faces in their locker room.
When it comes to the NBA Championship odds, the Golden State Warriors remain the favourites, while the Houston Rockets have vaulted into second on the list, courtesy a 16-game winning streak as of Wednesday afternoon prior to their road game versus the Bucks. The Cavaliers remain third on that list (8.50 to win), which is certainly a factor of having LeBron James, because the two teams ahead of Cleveland in the Eastern Conference - Boston and Toronto - are putting some serious distance between them and the rest of the pack in the standings.
The good news is that the Cavaliers have 18 games to figure things out heading into the playoffs. King James isn't the favourite for the NBA's Most Valuable Player this season (more on that in the next segment), but he remains the catalyst for Cleveland essentially at both ends of the court, and will certainly be counted on to carry this team as far as he can this spring.
More good news: Per reports last Friday, forward Kevin Love (broken hand) was taking shots last week, which presents some optimism that maybe he returns to the Cavaliers lineup ahead of schedule. He was originally expected to be out eight weeks with the injury.
Harden the clear MVP favourite
NBA Regular Season MVP Odds: 1.10 (As of March 7)
At this point, James Harden could be considered a runaway favourite for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award.
LeBron James is having another strong season. He's leading the Cavaliers, all while rumours persist about his future in Cleveland following this season.
James is averaging 26.8 points per game and is second in the league in assists per game.
Yet, Harden continues to pull away as the favourite to win the NBA's regular season MVP, with LeBron in second (7.50), and Anthony Davis a distant third (20.00) as of Wednesday.
Harden, 28, is having a season to remember. So, too, are the Houston Rockets.
He leads the league in points per game at 31.0 - 2.7 points per game more than the next challenger in that particular category, the aforementioned Davis. His list of personal achievements this season also includes a 60-point effort. He's also third in the league in assists per game (8.9), which is right behind James and just ahead of his Houston teammate Chris Paul.
What should further drive home the 'Harden for MVP' conversation is that Houston could pose a serious challenge to the Golden State
Warriors for the Western Conference. As of Wednesday, the Rockets had run their winning streak to 16 games, and Harden was a constant factor in every effort over that span, leading the team in at least one major category (points, assists and rebounds) in 14 of those games. In a number of cases, he's led the team in two or all three of those categories.
At this point, it's essentially a two-player race for the award. And Harden is pulling away from King James.