Las Vegas bookies say it's a slam dunk for LeBron James and the Cavaliers to win the NBA East ... again

Las Vegas bookies say it's a slam dunk for LeBron James and the Cavaliers to win the NBA East ... again
LeBron James holds the Larry O'Brien trophy after the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched their first NBA title on June 19. (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

The apparent inevitability of the Cleveland Cavaliers' meeting the Golden State Warriors in a third consecutive NBA Finals is more likely than the legendary Lakers-Celtics matchups at the height of the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird rivalry.

"There's not too much parity in the NBA right now," said Jay Kornegay, director of the respected Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.


LeBron James is hoping to be the first NBA player with seven consecutive finals appearances since the Bill Russell-led Celtics teams of the 1960s.

Cleveland is a staggering 1-4 favorite at Kornegay's book to come out of the East, with the next-best-odds belonging to the Boston Celtics at 8-1 and the Toronto Raptors at 13-1.

Cleveland shed its history of futility and heartbreak last season, as prodigal son James directed the Cavaliers' title run with a dramatic Game 7 victory.

Complemented by guard Kyrie Irving and UCLA product Kevin Love, James and Cleveland seem bound for a stiffer title test with Kevin Durant joining the Warriors.

The Cavaliers are the 11-4 second choice to win the NBA title, behind the favored Warriors at 2-3, and Cleveland's preseason over-under regular season win total is an East-best 56 1/2.

"We're approaching the territory we haven't seen since the Lakers and Celtics, or when [Michael Jordan and] the Bulls dominated. … Is it good for the league or not? It depends on who you ask," Kornegay said.

"The league is so popular in Las Vegas, and the moves that took place bring even more intrigue to the league. For both Golden State and Cleveland, there's such overwhelming [title] pressure to do this."

Any concerns before then?

"Barring injuries, the Cavaliers are a slam dunk to win the East," Kornegay said.

Las Vegas bettors are turning in a bundle of future-book tickets on the Celtics, who added free agent center Al Horford from the Atlanta Hawks to Boston Coach Brad Stevens' roster, which includes gifted point guard Isaiah Thomas.

"The coach has them playing team before individual. They have youth on their side," said Jay Rood, race and sports director for MGM Resorts, which counts MGM Grand, the Mirage and Mandalay Bay on the Strip among its properties.

"The gamblers think there's something to be had with Boston, that if James gets hurt … with Stevens, the Celtics are trying to mold themselves after the Spurs."

The Toronto Raptors, led by Compton's DeMar DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry, took the Cavaliers to six games in last season's Eastern Conference Finals and are the third betting choice ahead of the Horford-less Hawks (20-1 to win the East) and Phil Jackson's New York Knicks (25-1).

"Toronto seems like they're missing a piece or two. I guess that could change, but they need more bulk underneath to compete," Kornegay said. "The Knicks could be a surprise team, but I wouldn't bet on it."


The additions of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings to a roster that includes Carmelo Anthony and second-year center Kristaps Porzingis (along with their massive fan base) has made the Knicks the fifth-most-popular preseason pick in the East, Rood said.

"I'm not a fan of them right now. … The Zen-master makes it look like nothing happening. But maybe it will, quickly," Rood said.

Otherwise, Rood said, the top-heavy action reveals why "the NBA futures don't get very good backing" from bettors.

"The NHL gets double the amount of futures bets. Because in the NBA, realistically, I can't go more than four deep in regard to teams that can win the title. In NHL, I can make the case to go 20 deep when the season starts."

While Atlanta and Miami may get some attention from bettors, Kornegay said he sees little room to doubt the Cavaliers in the East.

"Injuries always play a role, and you have the target on your back being a defending champion. … We're foreseeing a big revenge factor in the Warriors' eyes, but that's the only thing I can see stopping Cleveland," he said.

Twitter: @latimespugmire