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NBA Playoff Notebook
by Larry Ness - 05/22/2008
The NBA's version of its "Final 4" is underway and as we've come to expect this postseason, both home teams won Game 1. The two conference finals mark the 13th and 14th series to be contested in this year's playoffs and the home team has won Game 1 of each series 12 times (12-2 SU and 9-5 ATS). Both exceptions game in the first round, when the jazz won at Houston 93-82 and the 76ers shocked the Pistons in Detroit, 95-86.
As most people are aware (surely bettors are), home teams have won this postseason at the highest rate since they completed the 1990 postseason at 54-18 (.750). Home teams went a combined 22-3 SU and 16-8-1 ATS in the second round, giving them a 54-17 SU and 42-27-2 ATS mark in games played through May 21. That's a SU winning percentage of .761 and an ATS mark of 60.9 percent. However, it should be noted that while home teams have gone 9-2 SU the last 11 games (again thru May 21), they are just 4-7 ATS in those contests. Does this mean "the tide is turning?"
I'll point out that the previous 12 Game 1 winners this postseason (I'm writing this on the morning before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals) have gone 11-1 SU and 9-2 ATS in their collective Game 2s. The only outright loser was the Philadelphia 76ers, who upset Detroit as a 9 1/2-point underdog in Game 1 of that first-round series and was a 10 1/2-point underdog in Game 2. The only other ATS loser was Orlando in its first-round series with Toronto, when the Magic beat the Raptors 104-103 in Game 2, as 6 1/2-point favorites!
The first two games of the conference finals went 'under,' which gives under players a winning percentage of 56.5 percent through May 21 (30 overs / 39 unders / two pushes). Updating those following the "Zig-Zag" theory (ie: playing 'on' the SU loser of the previous game), things didn't go well in the second round. Zig-Zaggers opened the first round just 2-6 ATS but finished "with a rush," going 19-8-1 the last 28 opportunities to finish the first round at 21-14-1 or up 5.6 net games. However, the Zig-Zag theory is just 7-13-1 ATS in the second round, leaving players 28-27-2 for the entire postseason (a net loser).
It really shouldn't come as much of a surprise that this year's "Final 4" is comprised of Boston, Detroit, LA and San Antonio. In that order, those teams had the four-best regular season records (Hornets matched the Spurs with 56 wins). A quick check of NBA playoff history reveals this. From the 1979-80 season (Bird and Magic's rookie season) through the 2002-03 season (24 years), the only NBA champion which didn't have one of the league's three-best records during the regular season was the Houston Rockets in the 1994-95 season.
A recap shows that 14 teams won an NBA title after finishing with the league's best regular season record (or tied), seven others won it after finishing with the league's second-best mark and two teams won it with the third-best regular record. The 1994-95 Rockets, which marked their second straight NBA title, finished with only the 10th-best regular season mark that year (quite an achievement).
There have been some "minor" surprise winners in two of the last four seasons (the Pistons had only the 6th-best regular season mark when they won in '04 and the Heat had just the 5th-best regular season mark when they won in '06) but it looks as if the 2008 postseason has seen a "return to form," with the best teams during the regular season, carrying their dominance over into the postseason.
Will the NBA Finals feature another Boston/LA matchup (last came in 1987)? Will the Spurs make it back to The Finals with a chance at their fifth championship in the last 10 years and first-ever back-to-back titles? How about the Pistons, who are playing in their sixth consecutive Eastern Conference Finals? Will they make it to their third NBA Finals in the last five years? And if so, will it be a rematch of the '04 Finals when they beat the Lakers, or of the '05 Finals when they lost to the Spurs? Stay tuned.
Good luck, Larry.