The Cleveland Cavaliers enter this year’s NBA Finals as a rare combination. The Cavs are both the defending champions and also heavy underdogs to a Golden State team that they defeated last year. The Cavaliers’ underdog status doesn’t come as a surprise — the Warriors have been the title favorites all season — but it is a bit unusual for the defending champs, with pretty much the same key players, to find themselves as significant underdogs to anyone.
The addition of Kevin Durant to the Warriors precipitated their rise to heavy favorites this season, and their 12-0 performance through the first three rounds of the playoffs has done nothing to dissuade sports-books from making them the prohibitive favorites against LeBron James and the Cavs. However, Cleveland doesn’t plan on leaning into the role of underdogs, and as Kevin Love told Tom Withers of the Associated Press, the Cavs find it a bit funny that they are regarded as underdogs.
“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel. We will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs.
“We match up well with them and I think they’d say the same about us.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue echoed those sentiments from Love, noting that being in the NBA Finals is motivation enough to play their best.
“We’re not going to use that as motivation,” Lue said. “We’re in the NBA Finals. That’s enough motivation alone. Not worry about what it says in Vegas or what people are saying about underdogs.”
The best response to the underdog question came from LeBron James, though, who joked that he only plays blackjack in Las Vegas, which I guess is his (weird) way of saying he doesn’t think much of what Vegas odds-makers have to say.
The Cavs will look to assert themselves as equals to the Warriors, not underdogs, in Game 1 in Oakland on Thursday, in which the Warriors will enter as 7-point favorites to take a 1-0 series lead.