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NBA's Second Season
by Larry Ness - 04/21/2005
After a two day respite on Thursday and Friday, the NBA will begin its "second season" this weekend. Unlike college basketball's "March Madness", the NBA playoffs are not a "one-and-done" deal, therefore producing far fewer upsets. You think Bucknell would have beaten Kansas in a best-of-seven series?
The NBA's rebirth began with Bird and Magic's rookie season (1979-80). That's now 25 years ago (boy, I am I OLD!). During that period, there have been very few 'surprise' champions in the NBA. A quick check of the record book shows that only TWO of the last 25 NBA champions finished with a regular season record that was NOT among the league's three-best in their title year. The short list includes the 1994-95 Houston Rockets and last year's Detroit Pistons.
The Rockets finished the '94-'95 season tied for the league's 10th-best record, even though they were defending champs. They then went on to beat Utah (60 wins), Phoenix (59 wins), San Antonio (62 wins) and Orlando (57 wins) to capture their second consecutive title. The team's playoff-run of beating four teams with a combined total of 238 regular season wins remains the most-impressive playoff performance since the league went to an 82-game schedule in the 1967-68 season.
The Pistons finished last year's regular season with 54 wins, the second-best win total in the East but just the sixth-best total in the league. Detroit faced early elimination (second round) when they were down three games-to-two against the Nets but they rallied to win Game 6 in New Jersey and Game 7 in Detroit to advance. The Pistons then beat the Pacers in six games in the Conference Finals and of course the Lakers (4-1) in the NBA Finals, to claim the franchise's third NBA crown and Larry Browns' first NBA title.
Detroit's win in last year's NBA Finals ended a five-year winning streak by the Western Conference. While the East has taken 13 titles and the West 12 since that 1979-80 season, there can be little argument that the West is again the stronger conference this year.
Phoenix owns the league's best overall record at 62-20, as well as the league's best road mark (31-10). The Suns average a league-high 110.4 PPG, the highest per game average since three teams topped the 110-point mark in the 1994-95 season. San Antonio's 59 regular season wins tied Miami for the second-best mark in the league this year. Despite Tim Duncan missing 16 games due to injury, the Spurs allowed the fewest points (88.4 PPG) and had the greatest margin of victory (plus-7.8 PPG) of any team in the league.
Six of the eight Western Conference playoff teams won at least 50 games this year (Denver won 49 and Memphis won 45) and all eight scored more points than they allowed. All but Sacramento (20-21), Memphis (19-22) and Denver (18-23) had winning records on the road. In comparison, the East had just two 50-game winners, Miami (59) and Detroit (54). Three teams, the Nets, Sixers and Wizards were outscored by their opponents. Only Miami (24-17) and Detroit (22-19) posted winning road records!
Handicapping the NBA playoffs is much different than in the regular season. Teams prepare for a single opponent with no "look-ahead" situations or real travel concerns as all series are now the best-of-seven and are spread out over a two week period (if the series were to go a full seven games).
Home favorites were an outstanding 19-8 ATS in last year's first round, after going 21-16-1 ATS the previous year (the first in which the opening round was expanded to a best-of-seven series). In comparison, home favorites were just 34-34-2 ATS over the final three rounds of the last two postseasons.
Just as I never fill out my brackets in the NCAA tournament (for fear of 'locking' myself into a 'pick'), I won't try to anticipate who will win this year's NBA title, either. This allows me to treat each series and more importantly each game, separately. I NEVER look ahead, rather I take each day, game-by-game.
This philosophy has produced some great playoff-runs for me over the years. Internet regulars might remember my 7-3 start to the 2003 playoffs or my 8-2 start last year that reached 17-8 through my first 25 playoff releases.
I'm 'armed and ready' to begin this year's NBA postseason and you can find my selections right here at BigAl.com beginning on Saturday.