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NBA Playoff Journal -- May 11

   by Larry Ness - 05/11/2012

This year's first round has featured two sweeps (Thunder over Mavs and Spurs over Jazz), three more ending in six games, one headed for a Game 7 and tonight, the Grizzlies will try to make it two, Game 7s in the first round, when they visit Staples Center to take on the Clippers (more on that, shortly). Last night, Philadelphia and Boston eliminated Chicago and Atlanta, respectively. In Thursday's third game, the Nuggets routed the Lakers 113-96, sending that series to a Game 7 Saturday night in LA.

Philly led Chicago (playing without Rose and Noah) 48-42 at the half in Game 6 but the Bulls outscored the 76ers 23-15 in the third quarter. However, once again, the Bulls were unable to "close out" the Sixers. Asik missed two FTs with seven seconds remaining in the game, which would have given Chicago a three-point lead. Iquodala grabbed the rebound and drove the length of the court, drawing a foul with 2.2 seconds left (Asik committed the foul, completing an ugly 'daily double'). Iquodala converted only 45% of his 4th-quarter free throws this year but made them both "when it mattered," giving Philly the 79-78 win. Despite shooting less than 40% in every game but one (76ers shot 59.0% in Game 2), the Sixers captured the series in six games, making it two straight years in which a No. 8 seed has eliminated a No. 1 seed.

Boston's Kevin Garnett had 28 points and 14 rebounds (his regular season-high was 25 points), leading the Celtics past the Hawks, 83-80. Pierce played through a sprained MCL in his left knee to score 18 points and Rondo chipped in 14 points along with eight assists. Horford started the last two games of the series for Atlanta and scored 34 points (also had 20 rebounds) while Marvin William added 31 & 12 is Game 5 and 6 starts, after scoring a total of 16 points in the series' first four games off the bench). The Celtics have now beaten the Hawks in 11 of 12 all-time playoff series meetings (Hawks lone win came back in the 1958 Finals, when the team was still located in St Louis).

The Atlanta/Boston series opens Saturday, with Game 1 in Boston at 8:05 ET. The early line on the series is Boston favored by minus-$2.50. The Celtics are 5 1/2-point favorites in Game 1, with a total of 170. The East's other semifinal opens Sunday in Miami (3:30 ET), with the Heat favored over the Pacers by 8 1/2 points (total is 188 1/2). Miami is a 9-to-1 favorite to win the series.

The Nuggets jumped out to 13-0 lead last night over the Lakers and never looked back. Denver led 54-45 at the half and then won the third quarter, 36-23. An 11-0 spurt to open the 4th-quarter was "all she wrote," as both benches were emptied. Lawson led Denver with 32 points while Kobe had 31 for the Lakers. Game 7 is set for Saturday night at Staples Center (10:35 ET), with LA favored by six and a total of 196 1/2 (note: Metta World Peace will be back from his suspension).

A Denver win in Game 7 would be something, as the Nuggets are desperately looking to turn around the team's poor playoff history over the last 2 1/2 decades. Denver has been to the postseason in 13 of the the last 24 years (going back to 1988-89) but heading into this year’s series with the Lakers, had been eliminated in the first round, 10 of 12 times (SIX of seven times under Karl). Meanwhile, LA opened this series 34-2 all-time when owning the home court edge in a first-round series. The Lakers never trailed in winning Games 1 and 2 at home and were aware of the fact that in Laker history, the team was 42-1 all-time after taking a 2-0 lead in any playoff series (11-0 with Kobe). Now, it all comes down to a Game 7.

Speaking of a Game 7, that's exactly what the Grizzlies are trying to force in their series with the Clippers, tonight. The Clippers lead the series 3-2 but both Paul (strained right hip flexor muscle) and Griffin (sprained his left knee) were hurt in LA's Game 5 loss in Memphis. If there's one thing NBA fans should know by now, when it comes to the Clippers, nothing comes easy. Both players are expected to play but who knows how effective either will be? A Clippers' win means the team would clinch only its SECOND playoff series since the Buffalo Braves relocated to California to begin the 1978-79 season. Memphis is favored by 1 1/2 points and the total is 179.

Home teams were 3-0 SU last night but just 1-2 ATS. That makes them 28-13 SU so far this postseason, but a much less impressive 22-19 ATS. There have been 17 overs and 24 unders after 41 games and those following the Zig Zag theory went 0-3 ATS last night. After a 5-1 start, "Zig-Zaggers" are now 15-18 ATS. My Playoff Journal returns Monday at 2:00 ET.

Good luck...Larry

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