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Playoff Notebook, Final 4 Update

   by Larry Ness - 05/28/2008

This year's two conference finals are only a missed Brent Barry three-pointer away from having both series tied a two-all. However, Barry's shot missed on Tuesday night and the Lakers will take a 3-1 lead into their Game 5 meeting with the Spurs in LA. As for the East, the Celtics and Pistons have alternated wins in their series. Game 5 of that series is set for Wednesday in Boston, where the Celtics are 9-1 SU this postseason but have failed to cover in four of their last six games. As for the Pistons, they had averaged only 87.2 PPG in their first six playoff road games, before 'exploding' for 103 points in their Game 2 win at Boston. Stay tuned.

After watching home teams dominate the play in the second round (22-3 SU and 16-8-1 ATS), things have evened out here in the conference finals. Home teams are 5-3 SU and just 4-4 ATS through the first eight games. Defense has also been 'king,' as seven of the eight games have gone 'under.' Under players are doing quite well in the playoffs to-date, going 44-31-2 (plus-9.9 net games).

Those following the Zig-Zag theory (playing 'on' the SU loser of the previous game) have made a comeback in the conference finals, going 5-1 through May 27, after getting 'killed' in the second round with a 7-13-1 mark. Overall, Zig-Zaggers are just 33-28-2 in the postseason through May 27, up just 2.2 net games.

There have been two 'constants' in the first three rounds of this year's playoffs and it will be interesting to see if they continue when The Finals come around. Game 1 winners of the 14 series played so far have gone 12-2 SU and even more surprisingly, 11-3 ATS in their respective Game 2s. That meant that 12 series saw one team take a 2-0 lead. In those 12 Game 3s, the team down 0-2 went 10-2 SU and 9-2-1 ATS. The Pistons have been involved in both series in which the teams split the first two games.

The Pistons lost Game 1 at home to the 76ers in the first round but won Game 2 and then against the Celtics, lost Game 1 in Boston but bounced back to take Game 2. Detroit and Boston will play an all-important Game 5 on Wednesday and Game 5 winners of a seven-game series tied at two-all, have gone on to win that series 120 of the 144 previous times (83.3 percent).

The Detroit/Boston series has an interesting coaching angle to it. Flip Saunders (Detroit) has been best-known for his playoff failures in the past and Doc Rivers (Boston) entered this year's postseason without a playoff series win. Saunders took over in Minnesota during the 1995-96 season and the following year, began a run of eight straight playoff appearances. However, the T-wolves got eliminated in the first round the first seven years, before finishing with the West's best record in the 2003-04 season.

That year, the T-wolves lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals (4-2), despite owning the homecourt edge. Saunders was fired 51 games (25-26) into the next season. He landed in Detroit three years ago and has taken the Pistons to three straight Eastern Conference Finals but has lost each of the first two. The worst of which was last year, when Detroit took a 2-0 lead over Cleveland, only to lose four straight to LeBron and the Cavs. What happens if he loses again here?

As for Rivers, he took over in Orlando the 1999-2000 season and went 41-41. He took the team to the playoffs in each of the next three years but never made it past the first round. His worst failure came against this Detroit team in 2003, when the Magic took a 3-1 lead over the Pistons but then lost the final three games of that series by margins of 31, 15 and 15 points. Doc was fired 11 games (1-10) into the next season. Rivers landed in Boston in 2004-05.

He led the Celtics to a 45-37 mark that year but then lost in the first round of the playoffs again, this time to the Pacers. The series went seven games. Boston lost Game 5 at home (90-85), rallied to win Game 6 in Indiana (92-89 in OT) but then lost Game 7 in Boston, by the embarrassing score of 97-70. The Celtics then fell to 24-58 in the 2006-7 season. However, you all know what happened this year, as Boston managed the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history, going 66-16, with a very impressive scoring differential of plus-10.3 PPG. What happens to Doc if Boston can't at least make The Finals?

Over in the West, the storyline is about Kobe and Phil. Can Kobe win an NBA title without Shaq? Shaq was able to snare a fourth title (Lakers won three straight NBA titles with Shaq and Kobe leading the way from 2000-02) with the Heat in 2005, thanks to Dwayne Wade and the 'choking' Mavs. Kobe won his first-ever regular season MVP award this season and would likely be the MVP of The Finals if the Lakers were able to "go all the way," which would be a sweet 'daily-double.'

As for Jackson, he enters LA's Game 5 with San Antonio with a career postseason record of 190-80. That puts him 19 games ahead of Pat Riley, who ranks second in wins with 171. His winning percentage of .704 is also far ahead of his nearest challenger (minimum 40 games), who just happens to be San Antonio's Gregg Popovich (101-58, .635). Of course, the number Phil is chasing is 10. He's been tied with Red Auerbach for most titles (nine) since he last won with the Lakers in 2002.

We know the NBA and ABC is rooting for a Boston/LA championship series but we'll have to see.

Good luck, Larry

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