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Postseason Basketball and Earlier Meetings

   by Jim Feist - 05/01/2012

As the NBA playoffs roll on, handicappers should take careful note of how teams did against each other during the regular season. Examine head to head matchups individually and as a group. Does one team dominate another? If so, are the reasons for this, or was it merely a fluke during the long grind of the 66-game schedule?
Two weeks ago we saw a terrific game as the Thunder and Lakers played double overtime, with the Lakers winning, a possible playoff preview. However, the Thunder won the first two meetings easily, by 15 and 9 points. And it would have been an impressive 3-game sweep until LA outscoring Oklahoma City 30-14 in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
It’s difficult to read a lot into the Celtics meetings with the Hawks and Heat this season, especially the last month as Boston and Miami both rested start players. Note that the Celtics and Hawks went 2-1 under the total during the regular season, including two very low scoring games, 88-86 and 79-76. Not surprising with both ranking in the Top 5 in points allowed.
Last year the Celtics went 3-1 SU/ATS against the Miami Heat during the regular season. They won the first three games with relative ease when Miami was still trying to mesh Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron, before Miami whipped the Green late in the year, 100-77. Miami continued that dominance with an impressive playoff pounding of the Celtics, so the earlier meetings meant less.
Sometimes a team is missing key players for one or two of the meetings, which can explain why one team did poorly. Or, maybe the losing team played in difficult back-to-back spots. Other times, you may find that a team matches up well against an opponent. If a weaker rebounding team like Boston is playing Chicago, examine each regular season battle to see what was more important: Defense? Offense? Or rebounding?
Think back two years ago when LeBron was in Cleveland. The Cavs and Celtics split their season series 2-2, with the Celtics winning in Cleveland on opening night, the Cavs knocking off the Celtics by 20 in Boston in late February, then by 11 at home in mid-March, then losing 117-113 on Easter Sunday after the Cavs effortlessly wiped out a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
It was after that last meeting that LeBron proclaimed his dislike for the Celtics afterward: "We don't like them, and they don't like us." All of which sets the stage for a physical series with emotions likely running high as there is some recent history that stands out, including a Miami 4-1 series rout in the playoffs a year ago. The Bulls and Heat have had regular season wars, as well, with physical, defensive play, going 3-0 under the total so far this season.
Another angle is when one team dominates another during the regular season, then the two meet in the playoffs. The public perception is that the team that dominated during the season will easily rout the opponent, but this is not always the case. You may have heard professional bettors speak of the "GAD" theory, or "Go Against the Dominant team" during the postseason. It's not as simple as betting against the favored team that dominated during the regular season, but it's something to keep in mind as the playoffs commence.
For instance, a few years ago the Sacramento Kings swept the Utah Jazz during the regular season, going 4-0 straight up and against the spread. The Kings didn't just win – they rolled! Sacramento won those four regular season meetings by some frightful scores: 113-80, 114-90, 107-81 and 117-109. Utah was no pushover, though, with Stockton and Malone, plus hard driving coach Jerry Sloan. In their first round playoff battle, Utah went 3-0 against the spread in the first three games, even winning Game 2 at Sacramento, 93-86 as an 11-point dog.
The Kings were 12, 11 and 4-point favorites in those first three games, yet failed to cover winning 89-86 in Game 1, losing Game 2, and winning 90-87 in Game 3. During the four regular season meetings, the Kings were 10 and 8 point favorites at Sacramento – but now in the playoffs, they were bumped up to 12 and 11 point chalk – clearly public perception had something to do with that based on the regular season dominance. Utah didn't give in, even using their 0-4 regular season as a motivation factor.
Remember five years ago when No. 8 Golden State shocked top-seeded Dallas in the first round? Few recall that the Warriors went 2-1 SU/ATS against the mighty Mavs during the regular season, even winning the only game at Dallas. The smart handicapper saw an uptempo team that could run right with Dallas, which continued during their 6-game playoff upset. Examine regular season meetings carefully. Don't be fooled by regular season dominance, and take note of injuries, rebounding edges, free throw attempts and when a big dog played the favorite evenly (or better) all season. The real story -- and edges against the oddsmakers – can be found in the details.

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