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NBA Playoff Journal - June 19

   by Larry Ness - 06/19/2012

The NBA Finals have taken a dramatic turn. The Heat were expected to be drained from their seven-game series with the Celtics but that hardly looked like the case in the first half of Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Miami came out strong in the first half while OKC looked a little rusty and somewhat nervous. Miami would take a 54-47 lead at the half but it wouldn’t last long. Russell Westbrook led OKC with 12 points in the third quarter, one in which the Thunder won 27-19. Then in the fourth, Kevin Durant led the way with 17 points, as the Thunder outscored the Heat 31-21. When the ‘dust’ had settled, the Thunder won 105-94. OKC outscored Miami 58-40 in the second half with the dynamic duo of Durant and Westbrook outscoring Miami’s entire team, 41-40.


Heading into Game 2, the storyline was the HUGE advantage the Thunder owned in youth, athleticism and overall quickness. As for the Heat, questions abounded regarding the ability of Wade to regain his “big time performer” status and would (could) Bosh make an impact after a poor effort in Game 1. Then of course, there was always the “LeBron factor,” meaning could he lead a team to a championship, as the with that Game 1 loss, LBJ fell to 2-9 in career Finals’ games. The Thunder had opened the series as favorites of about minus-$1.50 but after the Game 1 win, were up to minus-$2.70. However, the Heat opened an 18-2 lead on the Thunder out of the gate in Game 2 and led 27-15 at the end of the first quarter. The teams each scored 28 points in the second and OKC was able to inch just one point closer in the third period, entering the 4th quarter down 11. The Thunder made a strong closing run and Durant’s runner from the baseline had a chance to tie the game at 98-all with about 10 seconds left but he missed (most saw a foul by LBJ). The Heat held on for a 100-96 win to even the series. All of a sudden, the series was a pick-em.


In Sunday’s Game 3, the Heat led 47-46 at the half. OKC would go up 10 points midway through the third quarter but Miami led 69-67 by the end of the third period. Despite NINE turnovers in that final period, Miami held on to win, 91-86. LBJ had 29 & 14 and Wade 25-7-7 but the Heat made only 37.8% from the floor (4-of-13 on threes). Bosh and Chalmers combined to shoot only 4-of-20 but the Heat made 31 of 35 free throws. Meanwhile, the NBA’s top free-throw shooting team (Thunder made 80.6% during the regular season), made only 15 of 24 from the line (62.5%). Durant had a modest 25 (had 36 & 32 in the 1st two games), Westbrook 19-5-4 and Harden had his second poor game (out of three), with nine points on 2-of-10 shooting (had five points in Game 1).


Now, with the Heat up 2-1 in games, Miami is the 2-to-1 favorite to win the series. History says that in a best-of-seven series tied at one-all, the Game 3 winner has gone to win that series, 85 percent of the time. More recent history says, that of the last 12 NBA Finals tied 1-1 after two games, the team winning Game 3 has gone on to capture the title 11 times. Now here’s the rub. The LONE exception came last year, when Miami was up 2-1 against Dallas but lost the final three games. The difference this year is that while LBJ averaged 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game against Dallas (plus had some well-chronicled fourth quarter struggles), he’s averaging 30.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists vs OKC, plus in the final minutes of Miami's two wins, he's done his part to help ‘close the door’ on the Thunder. We all knew that while this series was Miami vs OKC, it couldn’t help be at least partly about LBJ vs Durant. Durant is averaging 31.0 PPG to LBJ’s 30.3 and is shooting 57 percent to his 46 percent but while Durant is only 14-for-19 so far from the free throw line (including those two HUGE misses in the 4th quarter of Game 3), LBJ is 25-for-29! James has put together 13 straight games of 25-plus points so far in this postseason.


That sets the stage for tonight’s Game 4 from Miami, at 9:00 ET on ABC. Home teams are 54-28 (46-35-1 ATS) this postseason. EIGHT of the previous nine games had gone over prior to Game 2 and the fair ‘grade’ on Game 2 was a push. Game 3 went under, so that leaves it 40 overs and 41 unders (one push) after 82 postseason contests. Those following the Zig Zag theory went just 4-7 in the conference finals and are now 1-1 in the NBA Finals, pending a play on the Thunder tonight. It’s 33-33-1 ATS this postseason, or minus-3.3 net games. The Heat are favored by 3 1/2 points and the total is 192 1/2.


Good luck...Larry


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