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NBA Playoff Update

   by Larry Ness - 05/04/2009

The postseason began back on April 18 but most believe these early rounds are no more than preliminaries for an "all but guaranteed" NBA Finals matchup between LeBron and Kobe (Cavs vs Lakers). The Cavs toyed with the sad-sack Pistons, sweeping them in four games, all of which were 'covers.' The Lakers lost just once in their opening round series with the Jazz, 88-86 in Game 3, taking the series in five games.

Don't think the Lakers struggled though, as they blew a 13-point lead on a night when Kobe shot 5-of-24 in that Game 3 loss. While the Lakers were only 2-3 ATS in their series, note their other two ATS losses (along with that SU and ATS loss in Game 3) each came by less than a FG. LA is just fine (Utah is leaps and bounds better than Detroit at this point), although there remains a question surrounding how much Bynum (5.0-3.0) can contribute.

The first round of the 2009 postseason concluded on Sunday with the Hawks beating the Heat, 91-78.It marked the 100th Game 7 in NBA playoff history and Atlanta's win gives home teams 82 wins in those 100 contests. The Celtics won their Game 7 on Saturday night (109-99 over the Bulls), in the only other first-round series to go the distance. However, those two series couldn't have been more different.

The Bulls and Celtics played a record-setting seven overtimes in the first six games, with Chicago winning three of them. Five of those first six were decided by a total of just 11 points. As for the Heat-Hawks series, every game was decided by double digits, with the average margin of victory coming in at 19.1 PPG.

The Cavs taking out the Pistons in four games was the lone sweep in the first round and the only real upset (Houston a No. 5 over No. 4 Portland could hardly be considered an upset) was No. 6 Dallas beating No. 3 San Antonio in five games. Truth be told, that result was far from a major surprise, as the Spurs were without Ginobili.

Both the Nuggets and Rockets ended long streaks of not 'escaping' in the first round. Both teams had lost their previous six first-round series, with Denver advancing to the second round for the first time since 1994 and Houston advancing for the first time since 1997. However, neither of those franchises have anything on the Hawks. Atlanta's Game 7 win on Sunday, marked its first win in a seven-game series since 1970!

Back in the 1969-70 season, the Hawks played their final season in the NBA's Western Conference. They won the conference that season, going 48-34. They opened the NBA playoffs (eight-team field back then) by beating the Bulls 4-1 but believe it or not, the franchise had not won a seven-game series since, until yesterday! The Hawks got swept 4-0 by the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals back in 1970, the first of 14 consecutive losses in seven-game series by this franchise, including last year's loss to the Celtics in the opening round (Hawks lost at Boston in Game 7, 99-65). Sunday's win had to be 'sweet' for those long-suffering Hawks fans but up next for Atlanta, is LeBron and the Cavs. That series begins on Tuesday and I'll deal with it shortly.

Before moving on to the second round, which began Sunday with Denver beating Dallas 109-95, let's put this year's first round 'to bed.' Home teams finished 31-14 SU (.689) but just 21-23-1 ATS (48.8 percent). There were just six games featuring home 'dogs, with those underdogs going 2-4 SU and 3-3 ATS. The Pistons were 0-2 SU and ATS, themselves.

Followers of the Zig Zag theory (playing 'on' the SU loser of the previous game) didn't do very well, going 16-20-1 ATS, or minus-6.2 games. Over bettors cashed 12 of their first 16 'tickets' (one game was a no-play), an 80 percent win-rate. However, 21 of the final 29 games in the first round went under, leaving under bettors 24-20-1 (54.5 percent) through the 45 first-round games (up two net games).

The Nuggets lead the Mavs 1-0 and Game 2 is set for Tuesday. The Nuggets opened as 2-1 favorites to beat the Mavs. Second round series beginning on Monday are Houston-LA out West and Orlando-Boston in the East. The Lakers are 10-to-1 favorites in their series with the Rockets and 8 1/2-point choices in Game 1 (total is 193 1/2). The Celtics opened minus-$1.40 over the Magic in their series but the early money has been on Orlando, which is currently favored at minus-$1.20. Game 1 has Boston minus-2 1/2 with a total of 188 1/2.

The early number on Game 2 of the Mavs-Nuggets game is Denver minus-6 1/2, with a total of 206. The Hawks and Cavs open on Tuesday as well, with the top-seeded Cavs opening at minus-2300 to win the series (that's 23-to-1, folks!). In Game 1, the Cavs are favored by 11 1/2-points, with a total of 179 1/2.

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