Cavaliers vs. Warriors Preview: Back Cleveland in First Half Despite Return of Klay Thompson

Austin Wang gives his detailed thoughts, plus his top pick, for Sunday’s game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors.

Cavaliers vs. Warriors Odds

Cavaliers Odds +9.5
Warriors Odds -9.5
Over/Under 217.5
Time 8:30 p.m. ET
TV NBA League Pass
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

Get ready, NBA fans. The much-anticipated “Klay Day” has arrived.

Klay Thompson, the five-time NBA All-Star guard, announced on Instagram on Saturday he would be making his season debut with the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Chase Center.

The 31-year-old standout has missed the last two seasons with an Achilles injury. The last NBA basketball game he played in was on June 13, 2019, which was Game 6 of the 2018-2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors. It has been 941 days since then.

Thompson’s return will be a special moment. He is a fierce competitor and one of the best shooters in NBA history.

However, the Warriors won’t face an easy task. The Cavaliers, one of the NBA’s biggest surprises, will be coming to town looking to spoil Thompson’s big day. They’re a league-best 27-12 (69.2%) against the spread (ATS) this season. The market repeatedly underrates this team, and they continue to overachieve and exceed expectations.

The Warriors are currently hefty 9.5-point favorites. That said, is the market overrating the impact of Klay’s return or continuing to underrate the Cavaliers? Let’s break down this historic matchup below.

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Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers are having a magical season. They boast a 22-17 record and currently sit as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Their regular-season win total line was set at 26.5 before the season. For them to be in the playoff hunt has been an incredible surprise.

Cleveland has hit a bit of a snag lately, though, losing four of its last six games, but the team been getting hit hard with injuries. Ricky Rubio is out for the season with a torn ACL, plus Darius Garland in COVID-19 health and safety protocol are examples.

The Cavaliers were able to bounce back nicely against the Portland Trail Blazers last game as the franchise began this six-game Western Conference road trip.

Third-year guard Garland returned from health and safety protocol two games ago, though. and picked up right where he left off in his impressive season. Garland is Cleveland’s leading scorer at 19.9 points per game and is doing so efficiently (47.6% from the field, 38.9% from behind the arc).

The Cavaliers recently traded for Rajon Rondo on Dec. 31 to help get some bodies in the backcourt. He seems to be very energized and eager to contribute, and should be more productive than the rookies who were thrust into the spotlight with their injuries.

Cedi Osman made his return last game, hitting four 3-pointers and some big shots in the fourth quarter. Rondo and Osman give the Cavaliers’ backcourt depth a much-needed boost.

I think the twin towers of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen will make life tough for the Warriors’ frontcourt. While Golden State’s defense is excellent, it lacks height and length to compete with the two impressive seven-foot big men.

The Cavaliers are a beast against the spread, but they’re even better in the first half. They’re an incredible 28-11 ATS in the first half, per our Bet Labs tool. They do especially well in this spot, and this could be an angle to exploit against the Warriors.

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are 29-9 overall, which is good for second in the league, and adding one of the league’s most potent offensive forces will instantly send shivers down their opponents’ spines. The Warriors have the best Defensive Rating (102.2) in the league, per NBA Advanced Stats, as well.

However, their offense has been struggling of late. In their previous five games, Golden State’s Offensive Rating is 29th (101.8) in the league. It feels weird to say, but Stephen Curry is in the midst of a terrible shooting slump. He is 32 for 102 (31.3%) in this five-game time frame and these shooting woes have been going on since the beginning of December and getting progressively worse.

This is a clear sign that shouldering the offensive burden the previous two seasons has been wearing Curry down. Opposing defenses have really thrown all they can at Curry to stop his 3-point shooting and force his teammates to step up.

Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole are his only teammates that averaging double-digit points, so he’s not getting much help. Poole was recently out a few games due to COVID-19 health and safety protocol, so there was even more pressure on Curry during that time.

Thompson will give them a nice boost. He has shot 41.9% from behind the arc in his career. His ability to spread the floor and initiate the offense will make it tough for defenses, as they won’t be able to simply focus their attention on Curry. With so much time off, it will take Thompson time to get used to playing at the NBA level again. That said, expect some rust and nerves in his first game back.

The Warriors have done well in covering full-game spreads, boasting a 22-16 ATS record. However, they’re slow starters and only 15-21-2 ATS in the first half. The third quarter is where Golden State does its most damage, as it has a league-best average third quarter margin of +4.1, per Team Rankings.

Cavaliers-Warriors Pick

The majority of the public will be betting on the Warriors. They will be paying a huge premium, which I think will be a mistake against the league’s best ATS team.

I’ll go one step further and point out the Cavaliers’ excellence and the contrasting Warriors’ ATS records in the first half is an angle that’s perfect to take advantage of. This will hold especially true, as I think Thompson comes with some rust and nerves, while the market overreacts to the impact of his return.

In addition, head coach Steve Kerr of Golden State has mentioned that Thompson will be limited in his return. He estimates his playing time will be around 15-20 minutes, so don’t expect an immediate, dramatic impact.

My pick is on the Cavaliers to cover the spread in the first half. Then, you can sit back and enjoy the second-half fireworks from the Warriors and cheer on Thompson’s storybook NBA comeback.

Pick: Cavaliers 1H +5.5 (down to +4)