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It's a Series Now!

   by Larry Ness - 06/17/2005

As Chris Berman states so eloquently, "That's why they play the games!"

After getting beat by 15 and 21 points in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals in San Antonio, the defending champs have responded at home with consecutive wins (by 17 and 31 points!) to tie the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

What's going on here? For some historical perspective, the Spurs became just the second team in NBA Finals history to win both Games 1 and 2 by at least 15 points, joining the 1950-'51 Rochester Royals. That year, the Royals opened the Finals by beating the Knicks 92-65 and 99-84. By the way, Rochester also won Game 3 of that series 79-75 but then lost three straight to the Knicks before winning Game 7!

When the Pistons won Game 3 96-79, it marked the first time in NBA Finals history that the first three games had all been decided by at least 15 points. Detroit's 31-point win in Game 4, further extends that record! Again I ask, "What's going on here?" Aren't these the two-best teams in the league? How can every game be a blowout?

Equally surprising is the fact that all of a sudden, the home court seems to mean EVERYTHING! Home teams had gone just 41-36 (just 37-38-2 ATS) through the first three rounds of this year's postseason, a winning percentage of .532 that was threatening to be the worst performance by home teams since the league went to a 16-team playoff format back in 1984 (previous low came in 1995 when home teams went just 40-33 .548).

At 4-0 SU and ATS through four games, will this be a series in which the home team wins every game? It's happened just once before in NBA Finals history! The Syracuse Nationals and the Fort Wayne Pistons met in the 1955 Finals with Syracuse capturing the title by winning all four home games and losing all three played away from home. The closest it's ever come to happening since then was in Bill Russell's final season of 1969 (his 11th title in 13 seasons!). The home team won the first six games of that series but the Celtics prevailed 108-106 over the Lakers in Game 7 at The Forum.

Another quite interesting trend has developed in this year's playoffs, from a point spread perspective. Believe it not, there have been 17 straight games played WITHOUT the point spread coming into play. The last time a team won but FAILED to cover was Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals when the Spurs beat the Sonics 98-96 as 5 1/2-point favorites!

Game 5 Preview

History has shown that the Game 5 winner of an NBA Finals tied at two games-all, has gone on to win 17 of 21 times! Have the Spurs lost their confidence and the Pistons re-gained their swagger? That's the way the it looks but as we've seen, things change quickly.

The Spurs held the Pistons to just 72.5 PPG and 39 percent shooting (1-of-12 on three-pointers!) in San Antonio but the Pistons solved their offensive problems in Games 3 and 4 in Detroit. The Spurs had participated in 13 NBA Finals games heading into Game 3 in Detroit and had NEVER allowed as much as 90 points to any opponent. However, the Pistons shot 47.1 percent and scored 96 points in the Game 3 win and shot 45.6 percent and scored 102 points in winning Game 4.

Detroit also remembered it was a pretty good defensive team itself. The Spurs, who averaged 90.5 PPG in the first two games, were held to an average of just 75 PPG in Games 3 and 4, on 40.1 percent shooting. Manu Ginobili, who was being called the game's next great superstar after averaging 26.5 PPG in the first two games, has scored just 19 total points in the last two games, making only 6-of-15 shots. Maybe more disturbingly for San Antonio fans, Tim Duncan has looked frustrated by Ben Wallace and has made just 10-of-32 shots in the two losses.

Speaking of Ben Wallace, the NBA's Defensive POY, has led Detroit's resurgence! After failing to reach double digits in scoring for eight straight postseason games and double-digits in rebounds in five straight, Wallace had 15 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks in Game 3 plus 11 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in Game 4. Hamilton and Billups (a combined 44 points) joined Wallace as the Game 3 stars while it was Detroit's entire team that contributed in Game 4.

All five starters scored in double figures in Game 4, while Lindsey Hunter (17 points on 7-of-10 shooting) and Antonio McDyess (13 points) were great off the bench. Hunter has also been a major factor in stopping Ginobili over the last two games, while McDyess has been wonderful off the bench in three straight games (averaging 13.3 PPG), after scoring just two points on 1-of-8 shooting in Game 1.

Despite two straight blowout losses, San Antonio is still a better than 2-to-1 favorite to win the series, as even though the Spurs must play Game 5 in Detroit, Games 6 and 7 are scheduled for San Antonio, where the Spurs have gone 46-5 SU, outscoring opponents by 12 PPG. The Pistons opened a three-point favorite in Game 5 with the opening total being posted at 172.

It may seem surprising to some that the line is this cheap after the results of Games 3 and 4 but as I mentioned earlier, a point spread hasn't come into play in 17 straight games. Therefore, my advice is take the team you think will win SU.

The total is an interesting proposition. The Spurs and Pistons have been the NBA's two-best defensive teams over the last two seasons. In Game 1 the opening total was 178 and was bet down to 176 or 175 1/2. After an 84-69 final, oddsmakers made a fairly big adjustment and look at the results.

Game 2 opened 173 and closed 171. The final of 97-76 made it an 'over'. Game 3 opened 172 and closed 171. The final of 96-79 made that game an 'over' as well. Game 4 opened 173 and closed 172. The final of 102-71 also resulted in an 'over'. It should be noted however, that all three of those games would have gone 'UNDER' the original total of 178 that was posted for Game 1!

I'll check in again on Monday, after Game 5.

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