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NBA's Final Four

   by Larry Ness - 05/24/2005

The NBA playoffs are down to its own version of a 'Final Four". I guess it should come as no surprise that the top-two seeds from each conference have advanced, as since the 1979-80 season, just two NBA champions have owned records not among the league's three-best during that year's regular season.

The Rockets of 1995 won it all with only the league's 10th-best record that year and last year's Pistons owned the league's sixth-best regular season mark. The Pistons could again be the 'interloper', as while Phoenix owned the league's best mark at 62-20 and San Antonio and Miami tied for the league's second-best record at 59-23, the Pistons finished with a 54-28 mark, just the fifth-best record this year. However, it should be noted that the Pistons are the defending champs!

Detroit is off to a good start in the Eastern Conference Finals, as the Pistons took Game 1 from the Heat in Miami, 90-81. Over in the West, the Spurs also won their Game 1 on the road, beating the Suns in Phoenix, 121-114. How good an omen is winning Game 1? Since the NBA expanded its playoff format to 16 teams in 1984, 37 of the 42 Game 1 winners in conference finals (that's 88.1 percent), have gone on to win the series!

The two wins on Sunday and Monday by the visiting teams, continued this postseason's troubles for the home teams. It's more than just a little surprising when you look at the league's playoff history.

First off, no NBA franchise owns a winning postseason record in road games! In fact, it's not even close. Just two franchises, the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics, own winning percentages of better than .400! The Lakers are 133-167 in their all-time road playoff games, for a percentage of .443. The Celtics have gone 97-135 in their away postseason games, a percentage of .418.

Home teams went 59-23 (.720) in last year's postseason, the third-best mark since the NBA adopted its current 16-team playoff format in 1984. The best record in any playoff year by the home teams came in 1990, when home teams went 54-18 (.750). Just four times in the past 21 years, have home teams failed to win at least 60 percent of their games. The all-time playoff-low came in 1995, when home teams went just 40-33 (.548).

So where do home teams stand through two rounds in 2005? Well, we could be headed for a new record-low! In the first round, home teams went just 23-20 (.535) and finished below .500 ATS (20-21-2). A breakdown shows that home favorites went just 18-16-1 ATS with home dogs going 2-5-1 ATS, including a pathetic 1-7 SU mark. Things really didn't improve much in the second round for home teams, as they finished just 13-9 (.542). Home teams finished a collective 12-10 ATS, with home favorites going 8-8 ATS and home dogs going 4-4 ATS (3-5 SU).

That left home teams at 36-29 (.554) through the postseason's first two rounds. One area in which home teams had done well, was in the opening game of a series. Home teams went 10-2 SU and ATS in Game 1 of each of the league's first 12 playoff series. However, that all came to a crashing halt with the respective Game 1 results of the conference finals. The losses by the Suns and the Heat in their Game 1s, leave home teams at just 36-31, a winning percentage of just .537 (below 1995's mark of .548).

If you believe in the phrase "defense wins championships", then maybe the Game 1 results were not so surprising. Last year San Antonio and Detroit tied for the fewest points allowed per game and this season San Antonio finished No. 1 with Detroit finishing No. 2. Through Monday night's games, Detroit leads all playoff teams this postseason allowing just 84.1 PPG, while San Antonio is second-best, allowing 93.0 PPG. The Heat are not far behind allowing 95.0 PPG but the Suns are allowing a ridiculous 108.8 PPG! They are however averaging 115.8 PPG themselves, 9.3 PPG higher than the Heat, whose 106.5 PPG average is second-best among the remaining for teams.

If coaching matters, you may also want to give the edge to the Game 1 winners. Detroit's Larry Brown won his first NBA title last year and Monday's win gives him 94 career playoff wins, ranking him fourth all-time (he could catch Auerbach this year, who ranks third with 99 wins). San Antonio's Gregg Popovich will be coaching his 100th career playoff game on Tuesday night and not only owns two titles but his 62-37 record places him 12th on the all-time wins list while his .626 winning percentage is 5th-best among coaches with more than 25 games.

CLOSING THOUGHT...Is the zig zag theory finally dead? Through the playoffs' first two rounds, playing 'on' the SU loser of the previous game has produced a record of just 27-24-2 for a net profit of .8 units! It's hard to make money with that kind of a return on investment!


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