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Friday, April 21

   by Larry Ness - 04/21/2006

The Spurs open defense of their NBA title Saturday at 5:30 ET when they host the Sacramento Kings. The Spurs have won three titles since 1999 but never back-to-back. The Spurs are favored by 8 1/2 points in their Game 1 meeting with the Kings (181) and are about 14/1 favorites to win the best-of-seven series, despite the fact that the Kings went 26-14 after acquiring Artest.

My free play for Friday is on the Bos Red Sox over the Tor Blue Jays at 7:05 ET. In MLB for Friday I'm featuring one of my new "Technical Insiders" (features a 73% multi-year winning trend!) and my Oddsmaker's Error play for April. Saturday's NBA playoff selections will be available by around 3:00 ET on Friday afternoon.

The Pistons own the league's best mark (64-18) and open on Sunday when they host the Bucks at 7:00 ET. Detroit is favored by 12 points in Game 1 (184) and is around 50/1 to win the series. The 'take-back' on the Bucks is about 30/1. Good luck!

You'll need some luck if you want to bet against either the Pistons or Spurs in this year's first round, as since 1984 (when the NBA expanded its playoff field to 16 teams), a No. 1 seed has lost to a No. 8 seed just twice! The Nuggets were the first No. 8 seed to accomplish the feat, falling behind the top-seeded Sonics (2-0) in the West's opening round back in 1994, before winning the final three games.

In the strike year of 1999, the eighth-seeded Knicks upset the top-seeded Heat in the East's opening round. The Knicks actually made it all the way to the NBA Finals that year, where they lost to the Spurs in five games. No. 7 seeds haven't done much better against No. 2 seeds, winning just four times these last 22 years. Quickly doing the math, that's six wins by No. 8 or No. 7 seeds in 88 opening round series, a winning percentage of just 6.8 percent!

Since the 1983-84 postseason, the NBA title has been won by a team finishing with either the best (including tied for the best) or second-best (again including ties) regular season record 19 times in 22 years! The exceptions came in 1993 (the Bulls owned the league's 3rd-best record), in 1995 (the Rockets were tied for the 10th-best mark!) and in 2004 (the Pistons had that year's 6th-best record).

There have been 12 titles claimed by the team with the best record (or tied for the best) and seven titles won by the team with the league's second-best mark (or tied for it). Of concern for Detroit fans may be the fact that the team with the league's best record has gone on to win the title just once in the last five years (the Spurs in 2003). In three of those five years, the team with the league's second-best record has taken the title.

There are three teams in this year's playoff field that weren't part of last year's postseason. They are the Cavs, Clippers and Lakers. What's the chances of any of them winning? Not very good. The Portland Trailblazers finished the 1975-76 season at 37-45, missing the postseason. The following year, after a posting a 49-33 record, the Blazers won the title. That marks the last time a team won the NBA title a year after missing the playoffs. That's 278 years and counting!

The Cavs are in the postseason after a seven-year drought and the franchise last won a playoff series in 1993. The Clippers ended an eight-year playoff drought this year and are in the postseason for just the fourth time since the franchise moved to California for the 1978-79 season. The team's last playoff series win came in the 1975-56 season, when they were known as the Buffalo Braves.

The Cavs open Saturday when they host the Wizards at 3:00 ET (Cleveland is favored by five points with a total of 194). The Wizards are in the postseason for the second straight season but had missed the playoffs in 15 of the previous 16 years. Washington's 4-2 opening round series win over the Bulls last year (after trailing 0-2 in games) was its first postseason series win since 1981-82. The Wizards did beat the Cavs in three of four games this year but Cleveland is favored by about 2/1 to win the series.

The Clippers first round opponent is the Nuggets, who own a higher seed than the Clippers (6) but because LA had the better regular season record, the Clippers get the home court advantage. The first game of this series is on Saturday at 7:30 ET and the Clippers are favored by 4 1/2 points (195). Denver won the season series 3-1 but LA is the slight favorite in the series at about minus-$1.65. The Nuggets are in the playoffs for the second straight year but had missed eight consecutive postseasons prior to last year.

The Lakers offer an interesting storyline. They are back in the playoffs after a disastrous 34-48 season in 2004-05, just the fifth time this proud franchise had missed the postseason since it entered the NBA as the Minneapolis Lakers in 1948-49.

Only the Celtics (16) have won more NBA titles than the Lakers (14) and the team's head coach (Phil Jackson) owns the most all-time wins in the postseason (175) as well as owning the best winning percentage (.717). His nine NBA titles (six with Chicago and three with LA) ties him with Red Auerbach for the most of all time. Also of note is that Jackson, in his 15th year as a head coach, is a perfect 14-0 in his previous first round playoff series!

The Suns were the league's highest scoring team for the second straight year while LA owns this year's scoring champ, Kobe Bryant. Winning a scoring title and then and leading your team to an NBA title in the same year is a rare occurrence, unless your name is Michael Jordan. Jordan led the league in scoring in all six of Chicago's title-seasons but other than MJ, only Kareem (with the Bucks in 1971) and Shaq (with the Lakers in 2000) have accomplished the feat since 1970!

The Lakers open at Phoenix on Sunday (3:30 ET). The Suns beat the Lakers in all four meetings last year and won the first three this year before getting blown out by the Lakers last Sunday in LA (109-89), in a game in which they rested many players (Nash did not play at all). The Suns are favored by seven points in Game 1 (216) and are favored by about 4/1 in the series.

Chicago made a great late-season charge (won 12 of its final 14 games) and enters the postseason on a six-game winning streak. The Bulls lost to the Wizards last year after jumping out to a 2-0 lead but will have their hands full with the Heat. Miami was just one game away from a trip to the Finals last year but lost Game 6 in Detroit and then Game 7 back in Miami. Wade missed all of Game 6 and played hurt in Game 7 plus Shaq was less than 100 percent throughout the playoffs.

Pat Riley is back on the sidelines and no one has coached in more playoff games than his 255. His 155 career playoff wins are second to only Jackson and of course he won four titles while coaching the Lakers (1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988). The Heat host the Bulls on Saturday at 8:00 ET and are favored by eight points in the first game (193 1/2) and are about 8/1 to win the series.

The Pacers are in the playoffs for the ninth straight year (tying the Spurs for the longest active streak) and open Sunday in New Jersey at 1:00 ET. The Pacers have struggled through a tough season with the Artest situation and with injuries to key personnel (most notably O'Neal, who played in just 51 games). While Indiana won five of its last six games, the Pacers were just 2-11 ATS over their final 13 games. The Nets feature the All Star trio of Carter, Jefferson and Kidd and played very well after January 1, especially at home. The Nets are favored by seven points in Game 1 (174 1/2) and are about 4/1 to win the series.

The Memphis Grizzlies are in their third straight postseason, after going 152-472 .244 in the franchise's first eight seasons (averaged just 20.6 wins per season in seven non-strike years!). However, the Grizzlies have been swept by first the Spurs and then the Suns, in the last two postseasons. Memphis won eight of its last nine games down the stretch (8-1 ATS) to edge the Clippers for the fifth seed but for that effort the Grizzlies get the Mavs, while the Clippers get the Nuggets.

Dallas was 60-22 this year, just one game worse than the Spurs in the Southwest but that leaves them as the fourth seed. Dallas will host Memphis at 9:30 ET on Sunday in Game 1 and is favored by seven points (175). The Mavs are 7/1 to win the series.

Ness Notes is available Monday through Friday by 1:00 ET.

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