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Western Conference Shootouts

   by Al McMordie - 05/07/2007

It's hard to believe we're in Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs and the Finals are pretty much taking place. San Antonio and Phoenix are facing off, and they find themselves the favorites after the stunning collapse of the Mavericks. It's been a first-round of wild upsets.

Surprises happen less frequently in the NBA Playoffs than in other sports, but not this season. The Houston Rockets were strong defensively, yet in Game 7 on their home floor, the visiting Jazz shot 51% from the field in a 103-99 upset. Carlos Boozer was the hero with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists in the Jazz' win. The Jazz became just the 19th visiting team to win in 97 Game 7s in playoff history.

How to explain it? The home team had won every game UNTIL Game 7! How could Houston get outrebounded 40-33 at home? And how could 7-foot-6 Yao Ming finish with only six rebounds in Game 7? Before we point fingers, let's remember that Utah was tops in the NBA in rebound margin. There are always reasons behind an upset and it's up to handicappers to piece things together, before and after the upsets happen.

Utah will open the Western Conference semifinals against Golden State, with home-court advantage over the eighth-seeded Warriors. And speaking of surprise endings, how are the Warriors still alive? In the biggest upset ever, Golden State, in its first playoff appearance in 13 years, is moving onto the second round after ripping the Mavericks 111-86 in Game 6 for a stunning 4-2 series win.

This is another example of why, in the sports wagering world, it's not smart to lay money on big favorites to win a small amount. Sure, you can get away with it for a short while, but the return is so miniscule that you need to win 10 or 20 huge favorites in a row to offset one big upset. And those big upsets do happen. The Warriors shocking the Mavericks in 2007 goes right up there with Tyson/Douglas 1990, the Patriots/Rams 2002 Super Bowl and countless other stunning upsets.

I recall standing in line at a Vegas sports book the morning the Patriots were playing the Rams 5 years ago and hearing the guy in front of me wagering several thousand dollars on the Rams on the money-line. I didn't see him after the game, but I'm sure he was not happy with the 20-17 Patriots upset (I know I wasn't, and I just laid the points at -110 odds). And anyone who wagered a lot on the Dallas Mavericks to beat the Warriors suffered even more of a shocking surprise.

Sometimes players can blossom from young talents into superstars; sometimes a key player can get injured; and other times a coach might pull some strategic surprises to outcoach the other team. Baron Davis ended up outplaying probable MVP Dirk Nowitzki all series long. In the Game 6 finale, he overcame an early hamstring strain to post a near-triple double with 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. And where did Stephen Jackson come from? Jackson fired in four consecutive three-pointers en route to a playoff career-high 33 points, while adding five rebounds, three assists and three steals. We haven't seen this kind of play by him in a big game since the 2003 NBA Finals when he wore a Spurs uniform. And to think Indiana couldn't wait to move him before the break?

No eighth seed had ever won a seven-game NBA playoff series until now. One point that also shouldn't be overlooked was the home court. In Game 5 at Dallas, the Mavericks blew a 21-point lead and the Warriors led by 9 with two minutes left. The Dallas crowd was silent, in shock, until Nowitzki hit a pair of threes to get them back in it. In Game 6, the Golden State crowd was in a frenzy for almost the entire game. The Warriors said after that game, that the crowd 'willed them' to victory, and definitely gave them a jump-start when they broke out to an early 9-point lead.

Notice also what Coach Don Nelson had to say about it. Nelson, who broke into the NBA as a player in 1962 and began his coaching career in '76, called the home-court scene against Dallas "three of the loudest games (he's) ever been associated with." Golden State is now 33-11 SU, 28-16 ATS at home, including the playoffs! Home court can be a very real edge in basketball, both straight up and against the number. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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