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Playoff Journal, May 5

   by Larry Ness - 05/05/2014

The two-time defending champion Heat (East’s No. 2 seed) swept the Bobcats and both No. 5 seeds, Portland in the West and Washington in the East, won their respective series over the No. 4 seeds (Houston in the West and Chicago in the East). The Wizards won in five games (took all THREE games in Chicago) while the Blazers needed six games to oust the Rockets, with three of the six needing OT. However, the opening round’s lead story (after the Donald Sterling tapes, of course) was FIVE of the eight series going to a Game 7. The NBA expanded its first round to a best-of-seven format back in 2003 and this is the first time in which more than four series needed a seventh and deciding game.

Home teams have dominated in postseason Game 7s all-time and this year was no different, as home teams won FOUR of the five games (now stand at 95-24 all-time), with only the Raptors losing in 2014 (and just barely, falling 104-103). The Nets, the East’s No. 6 seed, won their Game 7 in Toronto and became the highest seed to advance to the conference semifinals this playoff season. Jason Kidd deserves a shout out for his team’s win, after Elias reported that he was the 19th first-year head coach to appear in a Game 7 on the road and became the FIRST to win. The previous 18 first-year NBA head coaches lost by an average margin of 11.2 points in their respective games. Pretty impressive!

Both No. 1 seeds were pushed to the limit, Indiana in the East and San Antonio in the West. However, both teams responded well in Game 7, as the Pacers won their Game 7, 92-80, holding the Hawks to 30.4% shooting, the third-worst shooting performance in a Game 7 in the shot-clock era. As for the Spurs, who entered Game 7 of their series with the Mavs 0-6 ATS, they jumped on the Mavs early and led 68-46 at the half, on the way to a dominating 24-point win. “Mr Unreliable” led OKC with 33 points in the Thunder’s 120-109 Game 7 win (Durant had 36 points in Game 6), as the Grizzlies played without Zach Randolph and were overmatched. And finally, the strangest postseason in a long time (if not all-time, due to the Donald Sterling mess), ended Saturday night at Staples Center, with the Clippers outlasting the Warriors in a 126-121 shoot-out.

With the first round now complete, home teams just barely won more games than they lost, going 26-24 SU (.520). However, they went a ‘money-burning’ 19-28-3 ATS, which is just 40.4% or minus-11.8 net games. I noted in my April 21 journal that those following the Zig-Zag Theory had been ‘treading water’ for years. Borrowing the following stats from the last edition of this year’s Gold Sheet, “Zig-Zaggers’ were 556-513-25 over the last 17 years, 43 games over .500. However, if all games were played at minus-$1.10, one would be down 8.1 net games in that span. Looking back over 30 years, the Gold Sheet reported that the record stands at 966-830-37, which is 136 games over .500. That is plus-53.0 net games but on a per year average, it comes to 1.8 net games.

So how have “Zig-Zaggers” done in the 2014 playoffs? How about go 25-14-3 ATS , for a profit of 9.6 net games? Go figure! Maybe even more surprising has been the high scoring in this year’s postseason, so far. The playoffs typical bring extra-intensity but after 50 games, over bettors have a HUGE smile on their collective faces, having cashed 32 of 50 tickets, a 64% win rate.

We now move to the conference semifinals with eight teams remaining, contested over four series. Beginning Monday will be Washington (No. 5 seed) taking on Indiana (No. 1 seed) in the East and the LA Clippers (No. 3) taking on Oklahoma City (No. 2) in the West. The Pacers are just under a 2-to-1 favorite to win the series and are favored by four points in Game 1 (total is 183 1/2). The Thunder are just over a 2-to-1 favorite to win their series and are a five-point choice in Game 1 (total is 212 1/2).

The Wizards are venturing into uncharted territory. This is the team's first playoff appearance since 2008 and the win over Chicago was its first series win since 2005. Can the Wizards now make it past the second round? It hasn’t since the 1970s! Washington has reached Round 2 only twice since then, getting swept by the Heat nine years ago and losing 4-1 to the Celtics in 1982. The team last won a second round game way back on April 28, 1982, when Spencer Haywood was one of its stars!
As for the Clippers, their first round win over the Warriors marked just the franchise's third playoff series win in the 38 years since the team moved West from Buffalo to California (first San Diego and then LA). Does any of that really matter in 2014? Or, is it just “old news?”

We begin the find out, tonight.

Good luck...Larry

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