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NBA Conference Finals: Finesse vs. Phsyical

   by Al McMordie - 05/14/2011

There hasn't been an NBA playoff race like this in a long time. Upsets, surprise teams advancing, and longtime powerhouses (Lakers, Celtics and Spurs) long gone. A new era for the NBA? It sure looks like it, with all the impressive performances by so many young players.

It sets up a fascinating final run of finesse teams versus physical. The Dallas Mavericks are the only veteran team still standing, after their four-game blitz of the Lakers. Despite the fact that it was a stunner, and the Mavericks impressed in so many facets of the game (defense, comeback ability on the road, stellar three-point shooting), it wasn't quite the one-sided blowout that it may first appear.

The average betting public was blown away by what the Mavericks accomplished and they certainly were the buzz for a full week. And rightfully so. But a handicapper takes a different approach to analyzing games and odds. For instance, how dominant were the Mavericks, really?

In Game 1 at LA, the Lakers led by 16 in the second half and were really in command all the way until a late collapse at the end. Then, in game 3 at Dallas, the Lakers again led almost all the way until a collapse with four minutes remaining. Finally, in Game 4, the Lakers didn't even show up. But it's not a stretch to say that the Lakers should have been ahead 2-games-to-1 and even if they showed up and lost Game 4, they still would have had 2 of the final 3 games at home. The Lakers probably would have won the series if they had held on to win Games 1 and 3, so as impressive as the Mavericks' sweep was, it's not a stretch to imply that they are fortunate to be here.

That's not to denigrate the Mavs, but from a handicapping point of view, a break here or there and the Lakers would still be playing - and be the favorites in the West. Dallas got here with a terrific defense, 10th in the NBA in points allowed, a veteran team and a big frontcourt with 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki and 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler. Throw in sixth man extraordinaire Jason Terry, who was simply sensational in the LA series, and this is a formidable team. They are likely to try to slow the pace down and pound the ball inside in the Western Conference Finals against their younger, more athletic opponent (whether it be Memphis or OKC). The Mavericks are the only experienced team left, so is that a big plus? Or will youth be served. Championship experience certainly didn’t help the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs!

In the East, it's a battle of two teams that may be young, but the Bulls and Heat got here with DE-FENSE, and lots of it. For Miami, the challenge will be not to get beat on the boards by a tall, hard-working, physical Chicago frontcourt and to find a way to deal with the league's MVP, Derrick Rose. The Bulls also have legs younger than Boston's, including energizer Joakim Noah, who disrupts opposing offenses with arms so long they can stretch from here to Chicago.

Chicago won all three meetings between the teams, by scores of 99-96 (LeBron James missed that game with an ankle injury), 93-89 and 87-86 in the one game played in Miami. Rose averaged 29 points against Miami and is averaging 28.8 points during the playoffs. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Mike Bibby likely will remain Miami's starting point guard even though he is considered a subpar defender. James revealed that Bibby will start out defending Rose in Games 1 and 2, but Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade and James will all take turns on him. Now, THAT will be a fun match-up to watch!

The Heat is 7-2 ATS in its last 9 road games, but 9-21 ATS in its last 30 games playing on 3 or more days' of rest, including the last one, Game 3 at Boston. And then there's on-again, off-again Chris Bosh, the weak link of Miami's Big 3. Bosh shot 34 percent against the Bulls (17 for 50), due largely to a 1-for-18 debacle against Noah and Chicago in the Feb.?24 loss. Noah's averages were modest in two games against the Heat (9.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks). James averaged 27.5 points in the two games he played against Chicago, shooting 56.4 percent. Wade averaged 29 points and shot 46.9 percent in three games. Keith Bogans will defend Wade at the outset, with Deng defending James.

The Bulls are 15-5-1 ATS in their last 21 games vs. a team with a winning percentage above .600 and 36-16-2 ATS in their last 54 games vs. a team with a winning straight up record. One thing that's not in doubt is that elbows will be flying in what will be a physical series. Coach Spoelstra said, "Defensively, we're going to go after them. We're an aggressive, physical team. This will be a series of endurance." By the way, in the last 13 meetings between the Heat and Bulls, the under is 10-3 and the home team is 5-2-1 ATS in the last 8 meetings. If you like finesse basketball, don't watch the Eastern Conference Finals! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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