CLEVELAND -- Despite having been the best player in the NBA for the better part of the past decade, LeBron James is no stranger to underdog status. In the first eight NBA Finals appearances of his storied career, James' team has been favored just twice -- a trend that will continue this week, with the Cleveland Cavaliers opening up as underdogs to the Golden State Warriors for the fourth straight year.
Never before, however, have the odds been stacked so heavily against a James-led team.
After advancing to the NBA's championship round with a Western Conference Finals Game 7 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday night, Golden State opened up as somewhere between a -900 and -1100 favorite to beat the Cavs in the NBA Finals. As of Tuesday afternoon, Sportsbook.ag listed the Warriors as a -1000 Finals favorite. To put that number in perspective, one would have to bet $1,000 to win $100 on a Golden State series victory.
According to SportsOddsHistory.com, the Cavs, who currently possess +650 (bet $100 to win $650) odds of winning the series, are the biggest Finals underdog since the website began tracking such data since 2002. Asked about the disparity on Tuesday, Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue declined to play into the narrative that his team is a long shot.
"We approach the series looking to win," Lue said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, just prior to the Cavs' departure to Oakland. "Our focus is winning a championship, playing our best basketball heading into the playoffs, which I thought we got better and better over the course of the playoffs. Our main focus and main objective is to win a championship."
Doing that this year, of course, will be easier said than done for the Cavs, who never entered any of the three previous Finals as more than a +250 underdog. By comparison, coming off their 73-9 regular season, the Warriors entered the 2016 Finals as a -220 favorite -- a number nearly five times less than the favorite they are now.
In the time since the Cavs came back from a 3-1 deficit to win that series, Golden State has added All-NBA forward Kevin Durant and won another title, while Kyrie Irving has left the Cleveland roster. All things considered, it should hardly come as much of a surprise that the Cavs are as big of underdogs as they are.
But then again, there's a reason these games are decided on the court and not at the sportsbook.
"We can't worry about what the outside guys are saying and who's being picked," said Lue. "We know what we have here and what we're trying to do."