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Monday, May 1

   by Larry Ness - 05/01/2006

The first five days (16 games) of this year's NBA playoffs saw the higher seeds (or in the case of the Den/LAC series, the team with the better record) play on their home courts. Not surprisingly, home teams won 13 of the 16, although they went just 7-7-2 ATS.

Despite the change of venues beginning last Thursday, home teams have continued to do well, going 10-4 (9-7 ATS). The result is we have a number of competitive series!

My free play for Monday is the Hou Astros over the Mil Brewers at 8:05 ET. I'm passing in MLB today, as I need some time to recover after losing my 20* NL Game of the Month on the Dodgers, who led 5-0 going into the bottom of the 9th yesterday and lost 6-5 in 10 innings! In the NBA, I'm following my LEGEND win on the Wizards (now 2-0 in the playoffs) with one of my exclusive Las Vegas Insider Plays on Monday.

In the 22-year history of the 16-team playoff format (began in 1984), just two No. 8 seeds have beaten No. 1 seeds in the first round. No.7 seeds haven't had much better success against No. 2 seeds either, winning just four of the 22 series contested. Add it up and you get six first round series wins by the No. 8 and No. 7 seeds, in 44 previous series. However, the 2006 playoff season offers a chance to alter those somewhat meager numbers.

As the dust settled on the NBA's second weekend of playoff action last night, the Detroit Pistons (who lead the Bucks 2-1 heading into a Game 4 tonight) are the only one of the league's top-four seeds to actually own an advantage in their series! The Spurs, the West's No. 1 seed as well as the defending champs, are tied with the Kings at 2-all after last night's 102-84 win by Sacramento.

The Heat, the East's No. 2 seed, finds themselves in a 'dogfight' with the Bulls. Miami took a 2-0 lead by shooting 50.3 percent and averaging 113 PPG in the series' first two games but has lost back-to-back games in Chicago by scores of 109-90 and 93-87, averaging 88.5 PPG while shooting just over 41 percent. The Suns, the West's No. 2 seed, won Game 1 over the Lakers but Phoenix has now lost three straight to LA, while averaging just 94.3 PPG!

The other four playoff series stand like this, heading into tonight's action. In the East, No. 3 New Jersey and No. 6 Indiana are tied at 2-all, as are No. 4 Cleveland and No. 5 Washington. In the West, two series could end tonight. The Nuggets (No. 3 seed but without the home court advantage because of a worse regular season record) trail the Clippers (No. 6) 3-1 and the Mavs (No. 4) lead the Grizzlies (No. 5) 3-0.

Home teams have gone 23-7 through the first nine days of action, for a winning percentage of . 767. That's a dramatic improvement (to this point) over last year, when home teams went just 23-20 in the first round. However, the ATS records of home teams so far is just 16-14-2, not all that much of an improvement over last year's 20-21-2 mark in the opening round.

Over/under 'players' have seen 15 of the 26 games go 'under' the total, including all four games of the Suns/Lakers series. Sunday's game stayed under even in OT, as the 99-98 final was still about 10 points under the closing consensus total (207 1/2). The much-maligned (in recent years) "Zig-Zag" theory (playing 'on' the SU loser of the previous game), has done quite well in the early going, posting a 14-6-2 ATS mark so far.

Monday's games

The Mavs (lead series 3-0) will attempt to close at the Grizzlies tonight in Memphis at 8:00 ET (TNT). This game offers some interesting tidbits. The Mavs have never swept a seven-games series and the last time they took a 3-0 lead in one, was back in 2003 against the Blazers. In that series, not only couldn't the Mavs close out the Blazers in Game 4 (in Portland), but the Blazers won three straight in that series before the Mavs won a Game 7 in Dallas.

Of course everyone is aware that the Grizzlies' Game 3 loss to Dallas on Saturday night gives them an 0-11 (2-9 ATS) playoff mark all-time. Memphis owns the NBA record for most consecutive playoff losses without a win plus the 11 straight playoff losses ties the Denver Nuggets (set from 1988-94) for the most consecutive losses in NBA playoff history. Dallas is favored by 2 1/2 points (179).

The late game on TNT is the Clippers hosting the Nuggets at 10:35 ET. The Nuggets have been dreadful in this series and the Clippers (lead 3-1) are on the verge of winning their first playoff series since 1976 and the first-ever in California (moved to San Diego in 1978-79 and to LA in 1984-85). The Clippers are favored by 6 1/2 points with a total of 191.

The Bucks host the Pistons in the third game tonight, at 8:35 ET. Milwaukee's 124 points in its Game 3 win on Saturday was the most scored against Detroit this year. Redd had 40 points, TJ Ford handed out 15 assists and the team shot 60.3 percent from the field, including 11-of-17 on three-pointers. Detroit is favored by seven points with a total of 192.

MLB notes

The month of April is in the books. Albert Pujols of the Cardinals set a new ML record with 14 HRs in the month, breaking the record of 13 held by Ken Griffey Jr. (1997) and Luis Gonzalez (2001). After hitting 13 April HRs, Jr. went on to hit 56 in 1997 and Gonzalez went on to hit 57 in 2001. Can Pujols join Roger (61 in '61) and the Babe (60 in '27) as by becoming just the third player with a "steroid-free" 60-HR season? Speaking of which, Barry ended April with just three HRs.

Here's a quick check of the standings. The Yanks (won AL East in 2005) lead the East at 13-10 with the Red Sox (wild card in 2005) in second at 14-11. The White Sox (Central and World Series champs in 2005) stand at 17-7. setting a new team record for wins in April . The Tigers are 16-9 (11-4 on the road!), the team's most April wins since their last winning season (1993).

The Angels won the West last year but are just 12-13, after getting swept by the White Sox this past weekend. The Rangers lead the division at 13-12. The Royals own the AL's and MLB's worst record at 5-17 and are the only team to have yet to win a road game (0-9).

The Braves have won 14 straight division crowns but open May at just 10-14. The Mets lead the NL East with a 16-8 record. The NL Central, MLB's only six-team division, saw five of its teams end April with a winning record. Cincinnati and St Louis are both 17-8 (both set club records for wins in April) and the Astros stand at 16-8. The Cubs are 13-10 and the Brewers 14-11, leaving only the pathetic Pirates at 7-19 (1-12 on the road).

The Padres won the NL West last year with an 82-80 record but finished April 9-15 (4-11 at home). The Rockies open May in first place in the NL West, sporting a 15-10 mark. Colorado, a club that lost 33 of its first 40 road games last year, has opened 2006 10-3 on the road.

Monday night's action is highlighted by the Red Sox hosting the Yankees on ESPN at 7:05 ET. These teams have played 90 games over the past four years (including two meetings in the ALCS) with each team winning 45 games! The pitching matchup is Wang vs Wakefield, with the Yankees opening as a small road favorite and the total set at 10 1/2.

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

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