This evening, the Warriors will have their chance to send the Denver Nuggets to an early summer vacation. Such a possibility certainly seemed unlikely just a week or so ago, when the Warriors lost game 1 of the series and also All-Star forward David Lee to a season-ending hip flexor tear.
Even more unlikely has been the way they won: dominating the Nuggets in game two in their arena, where they had won 38 of 41 games in the regular season, including 23 straight; overcoming Denver's 13-point lead to pull out a two-point home win in game 3; and then eviscerating the Nuggets with a soul-crushing second half in game 4.
Steph Curry has strung together one of the greatest stretch of playoff performances in franchise history, and the series has been surprisingly one-sided through four games. The fans believe. Charles Barkley believes. Even Nuggets coach George Karl seems to believe at least a little bit.
But there is still one place where you can find non-believers: Las Vegas.
The Dubs were betting underdogs in each of the series' four games. And they covered the point-spread in each of those games, winning three outright. But, somehow, that hasn't been enough to sway the odds-makers: coming into game 5, the Nuggets are favored to win by 7.5 points.
That's not much difference from the spread in Denver's first two home games. You can understand those. Coming into game 1, the Nuggets had been a terror at the Pepsi Center in Denver, with the best home record in the NBA -- winning 38 of 41 games, including 22 straight to end the regular season. They had the third-best record in the Western Conference, with 57 wins, which was 10 more than the Warriors. Plus they had beaten the Warriors three out of four times during the season. So the spread was set at 7.5.
With David Lee out and the Nuggets confirming their home-court invincibility in game 1, the spread stretched to 8.5 for game 2. The Warriors ended up winning that game by 14 -- a 22.5 swing from the spread.
Still, the health of Curry's ankle was in question as Game 3 approached. So, with Golden State's home court advantage taken into consideration, the Nuggets entered game 3 as one-point favorites. The Warriors grinded out a two-point win.
That didn't change the spread for game 4, though. Perhaps the betting public was confident that the powerful Nuggets would not allow themselves to fall behind three games to one against a team that was missing its only All-Star; perhaps people figured that Curry had to cool down some time. Whatever the reason, the Nuggets remained one-point favorites for game 4. And, behind a legendary NBA-Jam-He's-On-Fire shooting spree by Curry, the Warriors whooped the Nuggets by 14.
So here we are. For three straight games -- and arguably four straight -- the Warriors have been a better team than the Nuggets, slapping around the point-spreads in the process. And still they will enter the Pepsi Center as 7.5-point underdogs.
The oddsmakers, of course, do not base their betting lines on what they collectively think will happen in the game. They adjust point spreads in a way that gives bookies and casinos the best chance at profiting. When heavy money comes in for one team, the oddsmakers tilt the spread toward that team, in hopes of inducing more bets for the opponent, to hedge the house's risk.
Apparently, a lot of bettors are putting their money on Denver tonight. Which is probably just how GSW coach Mark Jackson wants it.