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Friday, April 28

   by Larry Ness - 04/28/2006

Three Game 3s were played in last night's NBA playoffs, as over Games 3 and 4 of these eight first round series, the teams with the worst record now get the home court edge.

My free play for Friday is on the Hou Astros over the Cin Reds at 7:10 ET. Tonight in the NBA, I go for my fourth straight win with another exclusive Las Vegas Insider. I'm running late and my MLB for Friday will not be availble until 2:00 ET

It seems to have made a difference, as all three home teams won last night, with Chicago and Denver's wins getting them back in their series (both had trailed 0-2) and Indiana's win giving the Pacers a 2-1 lead over of the New Jersey Nets.

Wins and 'covers' by the home teams, ups their record to 13-3 SU and 10-7-2 ATS in this year's first round. Home teams went just 23-20 SU and 20-21-2 ATS in last year's first round, on their way to a record-low winning percentage of just .548 (46-38) since 1984 (16-team field).

Thursday's recaps

The Nets had ended a seven-game playoff losing streak in Game 2 but last night's 107-95 loss was their sixth loss in their last seven playoff road games. Jermaine O'Neal bounced back from averaging just 13.5-5.0 in the first two games, by scoring 37 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. He made 12-of-15 FG attempts and hit 13-of-14 FTs.

Peja wasn't 100 percent for Indiana (24 minutes and just 10 points) but point guard Anthony Johnson continued his excellent play. Johnson averaged just 9.2 PPG in the regular season but after getting 29 points (12 assists) in the first two games, he had 25 points and eight assists last night.

The Nets finally made some three-point shots, going 7-of-16 (were 3-of-30 in the first two games), but Carter did not make a FG in the second half (0-10!) and Krstic (21 PPG in the first two games) was just 3-of-9 for nine points. Kidd, just 5-of-21 and averaging 5.5 PPG in the first two games, scored 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting.

The Bulls hadn't been able to slow down either Wade (25.5) or Shaq (24.5-11.5) in the first two games of their series with the Heat (plus allowed an average of 113 PPG) but got it right last night.

While Wade had 26, Shaq was held to just one basket through the game's first three quarters, scoring just eight points in the game (four rebounds) and going 0-for-6 at the free throw line! Miami, which had shot 50 percent at home, shot just .417 while scoring 90 points.

The Bulls were led by Gordon's 24 (had just 13 in Game 2), Hinrich's 22 (averaging 23.3 PPG in the series) and Nocioni's 19-9 (averaged 24-11 in the first two games). Also, Deng had his best game of the series, with 19 points and eight rebounds.

The Nuggets didn't shoot any better in Game 3 vs the Clippers than they did in either of the first two games in Los Angeles. However, despite making just 37.8 percent of their shots, including 0-of-11 on three-pointers, the Nuggets were able to escape with a 94-87 last night.

Denver started strong (led 24-13 after the first quarter) but entered the fourth quarter tied at 70-all. However, an early 10-3 burst but them ahead for good.

The Nuggets clinched the Northwest Division title back on April 10 and hadn't won since (six straight losses). However, last night's win gets them back in their series with the Clippers. Once again the team won without Kenyon Martin (suspended), as Anthony scored 24 points (made just 6-of-17).

For the Clippers, Brand, Cassell and Maggette accounted for 60 of the team's 87 points, as Chris Kaman (ankle sprain) contributed just two points (1-of-6) and four rebounds (had 15-13 in Game 1 when 100 percent!) plus Mobley was just 3-of-8 for eight points.

Friday's games

Three more game 3s will be contested tonight and the remaining two Game 3s will be part of Saturday's four-game schedule. ESPN opens with the Cavs/Wizards at 8:05 ET and follows with the Suns/Lakers at 10:35 ET. ESPN2 carries the Spurs/Kings at 10:05 ET.

The Wizards wanted the Cavs in this opening round series and they have them right where they want them at 1-1 and the next two games in Washington. James was held to 26 points (on 7-of-25 shooting) in Game 2 (also 10 turnovers), after going for a triple-double in Game 1.

Washington's Arenas, Butler and Jamison were the league's highest scoring trio in the regular season (67.4 PPG) and after scoring just 48 points in the Game 1 loss, combined for 72 in the Game 2 win. Washington closed 19-6 at home after opening 8-8 and have beaten the Cavs in seven of their last 8 trips to the nation's capital (2-0 this year).

The Cavs last made the playoffs in 1998 and last won a playoff series in 1993. In fact, Cleveland has advanced past the first round in just three of 13 previous postseasons. Washington is favored by three points with a total of 193 1/2.

The Spurs lead the Kings 2-0 and history says that's bad news for Sacramento. San Antonio is 17-1 all-time when leading a series 2-0 and the Kings have never won a playoff series after trailing 0-2. Interestingly, the Kings played better in Game 2 without Artest (lost in OT), than they did with him (lost Game 1 by 34 points!).

However, it would be hard to argue that the Kings are better off without Artest, as they closed the regular season by going 26-14 after picking up the troubled star. The Spurs are favored by two points in tonight's game, with a total of 188.

The Lakers are trying to keep Phil Jackson's streak of having never lost a first round playoff series alive (14-0) when they host the Suns tonight in Game 3. The Lakers beat the Suns in Game 2 to even the series and now get these next two games at home.

Wednesday's win marked LA's first win over Phoenix (in nine tries) with Nash in the lineup. What's been interesting about this series is that Kobe's had just 22 and 29 points in the first two games (averaged 35.4 PPG during the year, including 42.5 PPG vs the Suns).

All five Laker starters scored in double digits in Game 1 and LA's bench outscored the Suns' bench in Game 2, 21-4. Odom has averaged 21-10.5-4.0 while shooting 63 percent for LA, while Phoenix all-star Shawn Marion has averaged 16-8 on 13-of-30 shooting, after averaging 21.8-11.8 on 52.5 percent in the regular season.

The Lakers are favored by three points with a total of 211. This series has had by far the highest posted totals, yet both of the first two games have gone 'under.'

There are four games scheduled on both Saturday and Sunday. Dallas at Memphis (5:30 ET) and Detroit at Milwaukee (8:00 ET) on Saturday, are the remaining two Game 3s. Both Dallas and Detroit lead those series 2-0. The Mavs are favored by one point (181) and the Pistons are favored by 6 1/2 points (186).

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

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