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Playoff Notebook: NBA Finals

   by Larry Ness - 06/04/2008

There is little doubt that the NBA and ABC are thrilled with a Lakers/Celtics matchup in The Finals. Now, it just has to "live up" to its billing. The Celtics were the NBA's best team (by far) during the regular season, going 66-16 (that's nine more wins than the Lakers had) with a very impressive point-differential of plus-10.3 PPG. However, the Celtics needed seven games to get past the 37-win Hawks in the first round and another seven games to oust the Cavs in the semifinals, a team which had a regular season point-differential of minus-0.4 PPG.

The Celtics lost their first six road games in this year's postseason (also 0-6 ATS), before winning Games 3 and 6 in Detroit, in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston's win over the Pistons cannot be discounted but LA's "journey to the Finals" has been much more impressive. First of all, is there anyone who doubts that if LA had played with Gasol for the entire season, there would not have been a nine-game gap between these two teams' regular season records?

As for the postseason, the Lakers dispatched of the 50-win Nuggets in a four-game sweep, the 54-win Jazz in six games and the defending champion Spurs in five games. The Lakers are 12-3 SU and 10-4-1 ATS in the postseason, going 8-0 (6-2 ATS) at home and 5-3 SU (4-2-1 ATS) on the road. As for the Celtics, they've gone just 12-8 SU and 8-12 ATS, which includes a 4-9 ATS mark against the Cavs and Pistons. That breaks down to 10-1 SU (6-5 ATS) at home and 2-7 SU (2-7 ATS) on the road.

I don't make series predictions, as I prefer to play things one game at a time and adjust accordingly, but I will make this comment. While there was a lot of "parity talk" this year, especially in the West where all eight playoff teams won 50 or more games (first time ever), not one underdog has won a single one of the 14 playoff series contested so far. That's right, teams favored at the start of each series this postseason are 14-0. FYI, the Lakers opened minus-$1.60 to win The Finals and are up to about minus-$1.80 (or higher) as of June 4.

How about a playoff update? Home teams have been dominant this postseason, going 59-21 SU and 46-32-2 ATS. However, during the conference finals, home teams went 7-4 SU but only 5-6 ATS. Visiting teams started turning things around towards the end of the second round, as home teams went 7-2 SU the last nine games of the second round but only 3-6 ATS. Doing the math, home teams are 14-6 but just 8-12 ATS over the last 20 playoff games.

Here's something I haven't heard anyone else point out. While home teams are a collective 59-21 SU (46-32-2 ATS) this postseason, that record is largely the result of two of the 14 series contested. The Atl/Bos series in the first round saw home teams go 7-0 SU and ATS, while the SA/NO second-round series saw the home teams go 6-1 SU and ATS. Eliminate those two series from the playoff 'puzzle' and in the other 12 series, home teams are 46-20 SU and a very mediocre 33-31-2 ATS!

The conference finals were very good to 'under players,' as nine of the 11 games went under the total. Under bettors are 46-32-2 in the postseason to-date, which is a net gain of plus-10.8 units. Bettors following the "Zig Zag" theory did very poorly in the second round (7-13-1 ATS) and after a 5-1 start in the conference finals, lost the final three games. That leaves them 33-31-2 this postseason, minus-1.1 net games.

I pointed this out in a previous article but I'll repeat it here because its atypical of postseasons past. Game 1 winners of the 14 series contested so far have gone a quite amazing 12-2 SU and 11-3 ATS in Game 2. That meant that 12 of the 14 series opened with one team up 2-0. How did teams down 0-2 do in their respective Game 3s? Very well thank you, going 10-2 SU and 9-2-1 ATS. Will those trends hold true in the Finals? We'll have to see.

I'll close with a comment on the 2-3-2 format used in the NBA Finals, compared to the 2-2-1-1-1 format used in all other rounds. The biggest criticism of this format is that Game 5 is played on the homecourt of the team with the worst not the best record, giving the team with the worst record an advantage. NBA history shows that when a seven-game series is tied at two-all, the Game 5 winner has gone on to capture the series 121 of 145 times. That's 83.4 percent.

Now here's the rub! The NBA switched to this format back in 1985 and in the ensuing years, eight NBA Finals have been tied a two games apiece. Now while it's true that six of the eight Game 5 winners went on to eventually win the title, "the fly in the ointment" is that just two of the four teams to win a Game 5 at home did so. That means when a series has been tied 2-2 under this format, the team with the Game 5 at home has only gone on to win the title twice.

Good luck, Larry

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