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NBA's Final 4
by Larry Ness - 05/15/2010
The "you know what" hit the fan in Cleveland right after the Cavs lost 94-85 at Boston to the Celtics on Thursday night. NBA fans actually call Boston's win over Cleveland an upset. They hardly know upsets. To see "real upsets," they should watch the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs but then that's assuming they even have Versus or can actually find it. The Celtics beating the Cavs was an upset? Now I realize hindsight is always 20-20 but can anyone call it an upset after watching that series? Let's give the Cavs LeBron and call him the best player in the series. However, after King James, didn't Boston easily own the next "FOUR best players?"
Can NBA fans actually imagine the 44-38 Bobcats meeting the 41-41 Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals? Well, that's exactly what NHL fans have in the 7th-seeded Flyers meeting the 8th-seeded Canadiens in one-half of the NHL's version of its Final Four. In fairness I'll note, that this is the first time since the NHL went to a 16-team playoff field that a No. 7 and No. 8 seed have met in a conference final. The Canadiens have reached this point by winning two Game 7s on the road while the Flyers overcame an 0-3 deficit in their series with the Bruins, not to mention digging out of an 0-3 'hole' in last night's Game 7.
NBA playoff history says that no team has ever overcome an 0-3 deficit to win a seven-games series in 93 tries, while this year's Flyers become just the third NHL team to do so (the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs were the first and the 1975 New York Islanders were the second). Again, I'll note that the other 159 NHL teams which fell behind 0-3 in the first three games of a seven-game series all went on to lose. Now back to the 2010 NBA postseason.
The storyline of the first round was the domination of the home teams, as they went 32-13 SU (.711) and 29-16 ATS (64.4 percent). Just one of the opening round's eight series ended in a four-game sweep, Orlando over Charlotte. Home teams opened the second round in much the same manner in which they finished the first round, winning seven of the first eight games, while going 6-2 ATS. However, visiting teams would win EIGHT of the final 10 games of the second round (also 8-2 ATS), as three of the four semifinal series ended in four-game sweeps.
The Lakers swept the Jazz and the Suns swept the Spurs in the West, while the Magic swept the Hawks in the East, the team's second straight sweep of the 2010 postseason. As the conference finals get set to open (the East begins on Sunday and the West on Monday), home teams have gone a collective 41-22 SU (.651) through 63 playoff games, 37-26 ATS (58.7 percent). Incredibly, there have been exactly 30 overs and 30 unders with three pushes. Those following the Zig Zag theory survived the first round going 19-18 ATS but got buried' in the second round, going 3-11. The postseason to-date numbers stand at 22-29 or minus-9.9 net games (ouch!).
The Eastern Conference finals open Sunday in Orlando at 3:30 ET (ABC). It's a rematch of last year's semifinals in which the Magic came back to win Game 6 and then Game 7 in Boston (101-82!) to beat the Celtics. It should be noted that it marked the only time in Boston's postseason history that the Celtics have lost a series when leading 3-2 (Celtics are 32-1 all-time in that spot). However, it's also worth nothing that Kevin Garnett didn't play in that series. The Magic are favored by between 2 1/2 and 3-to-1 to win the series and are six-point favorites in Game 1 (total is 189).
One has to make the Magic the favorites, as they are 8-0 (7-1 ATS) this postseason, outscoring their two opponents by 101.0-to-83.8 PPG. The Magic haven't lost since April 2nd, winning 14 straight games (13-1 ATS) plus have won 28 of 31 games going back to February 28. Howard was in foul trouble in every game of Orlando's opening round series vs. the Bobcats, averaging a modest 9.8-9.3 in 26.5 MPG. However, he dominated the Hawks in round 2, staying on the court to average 21.0-13.3 on 27-of-32 shooting (84.4 percent). PG Nelson averaged just 12.6 PPG during the regular season but has been the team's leading scorer this postseason, averaging 20.5 PPG plus 5.3 APG.
Considering the play of Boston PG Rondo (18.0-6.3-11.1 this postseason, including 20.7-6.3-11.8 vs the Cavs), this series could come down to the play of the PGs. The Celtics are 8-3 SU and ATS this postseason and are 8-0 SU and ATS when holding opponents under 100 points. Do Boston's "Big Three" have another championship run in them? We'll find out shortly. The Magic look like the East's best team after becoming the third team in the last six postseasons to sweep both of their first two series. However, a word of caution to Orlando backers. The previous two teams to have done so (the Heat in '05 and the Cavs in '09), each lost in the conference finals!
The Western Conference finals finally get underway on Monday night in LA (9:00 ET on TNT). The Suns haven't played since May 9 and the Lakers since May 10. LA, the defending champs, are a 3-to-1 or 3 1/2-to-1 favorite to win the series and a six-point choice in Game 1 (total is 210 1/2). The Lakers found themselves tied with the youthful (and talented) Thunder after four games of their first round series (1-3 ATS) but LA's won six straight games since then, going 5-1 ATS while averaging 107.2 PPG. Kobe averaged just 21.8 PPG through his first five postseason games but has reached 30 points in each one of his last five, averaging 32.0 PPG.
The Lakers have a solid eight-man rotation but there can be little doubt that Gasoil has now joined Kobe as one of the NBA's elite players. He destroyed the Jazz (23.5-14.5) and is averaging 20.2-13.1 while shooting 56.4 percent from the floor this postseason. LA's "length" is an issue for most teams (Gasol, Bynum and Odom) and it will be a major challenge for the Suns. Richardson (21.9 PPG on 51.0 percent shooting) has led the Suns in scoring this postseason with standby's Stoudemire (20.5-7.0) and Nash (17.8-9.0 APG) still making major contributions.
Phoenix goes eight-deep (like LA) and after losing its first game of the postseason at home to the Blazers (105-100), has won EIGHT of its last nine (also 8-1 ATS). The Suns got their season turned around right before the break with a 5-1 SU and ATS spurt. They then DIDN'T trade Stoudemire and went 23-6 SU (20-8-1 ATS) after the break. Throw in the team's 8-2 SU and ATS mark this postseason and the Suns have gone 36-9 SU and 33-11-1 ATS over their last 45 games. With any luck, we'll have two great conference finals.