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Thursday, May 4

   by Larry Ness - 05/04/2006

The Pistons became the third team to clinch a second round berth in this year's playoffs by easily handling the Bucks last night in Detroit, 122-93. A few hours later, the Cavs edged the Wizards 121-120 in overtime, as Cleveland took a 3-2 lead in its series with Washington.

Five of the eight series this year have now been extended to at least six games, unlike last year, when five of eight series were closed out in either four (2) or five games (3).

My free on Thursday is on Toronto/Boston 'over' at 7:05 ET. Early risers got my AL Getaway Day Game of the Month in MLB and everyone still has a chance for one of my exclusive Las Vegas Insiders (night action). Tonight in the NBA, I've got a 15* Game 6 Showdown on the Suns/Lakers.

Home teams won both games again last night and are now an impressive 30-9 (.769) in the first round, going 21-16-2 ATS. That's noteworthy because home teams went just 23-20 in last year's first round (20-21-2 ATS) on their way to a worst-ever winning percentage of .5476 (46-38) in last year's postseason (since 1984 and the 16-team playoff field).

Of the five series still being contested, four of the five (Lakers/Suns series is the exception) were tied at 2-2. The Game 5 winners in those four series were Cleveland, Miami, New Jersey and San Antonio. That's worth noting because in NBA history, the Game 5 winner of a series tied at 2-all, has gone on to capture the series 84 percent of the time.

As for the Suns, who trailed the Lakers 3-1 before winning a Game 5 on Tuesday, they face the uphill battle of trying to become just the eighth team in NBA playoff history to come back and win a seven-game series after trailing 3-1.

Wednesday recap

Rip Hamilton entered last night's Game 5 shooting just 34.5 percent and averaging only 16.8 PPG in this year's postseason (more than four PPG off his career playoff average). However, he exploded for 40 points, leading five Pistons in double digits, as Detroit eliminated Milwaukee in five games. Ben Wallace, who had grabbed just eight rebounds in Games 3 and 4 in Milwaukee, was back to his old self with 14 in the win.

Detroit's 122 points were the most by a Piston team in the postseason since they went for 145 points in a game with the Celtics back in 1987. Detroit outscored Milwaukee 39-23 in the first quarter and made 53.5 percent of its shots for the game. Redd was held to just 23 points for the Bucks (had averaged 34 PPG the past three games) and as usual, got little help from his teammates.

The Wizards and Cavs treated the TNT audience to a thrilling overtime game, as once again it was James and Arenas going "mano a mano." James outscored Arenas by one point (45-to-44), the margin of victory in Cleveland's 121-120 win. Fittingly, James got the game-winner as well, scoring on a layup with 0.9 seconds left! Hughes (24) and Snow (18) had their best games of the series for the Cavs.

The Wizards are getting hurt by their lack of depth in this series, as Arenas (44), Jamison (32) and Butler (20) accounted for 96 of the team's 120 points (80 percent). Those three were the league's highest scoring trio during the regular season at 67.4 PPG but that total represented just over 66 percent of the team's average of 101.7 PPG, not 80 percent!

Thursday's games

It's a three-game NBA playoff schedule tonight with the Nets and Pacers tipping off at 7:05 ET and then TNT carrying another doubleheader starting at 8:05 ET with the Heat/Bulls and ending with the Suns/Lakers (10:35 ET). All three series stand at 3-2, with the Nets, Heat and Lakers owning the leads. The Pacers are favored by one point over the Nets (178 1/2), the Heat are favored by 1 1/2 points over the Bulls (195) and the Lakers are favored by four points over the Suns (205).

Vince Carter has shot 57.6 percent in the Nets' three wins in this series and only 37.0 percent in the team's two losses. Kidd is shooting only 30.2 percent for the series but Jefferson has been extremely steady averaging 22.2 PPG (four of five games at 20 or more) and the 7-0 Krstic has averaged 18.2 PPG and 7.8 RPG.

For Indiana it could come down to a matter of health. The Pacers have lost all three games in which Peja hasn't played and he's not expected to play tonight. Neither is Tinsley and center Jeff Foster is listed as questionable.History is not on Indiana's side, as the Pacers are 0-6 in franchise playoff history in series in which they've fallen behind 3-2.

The Heat have averaged 106 PPG and shot 48.7 percent in the three games in Miami (3-0 SU and 1-1-1 ATS) but have averaged only 88.5 PPG on 41.6 percent in the two games played in Chicago (0-2 SU and ATS). Shaq averaged 24.5 PPG in the series' first two games but has averaged just 13.3 PPG in its last three. Plus, he's a RIDICULOUS 2-of-19 from the FT line in the last three games.

Chicago lost Game 5 when Gordon and Hinrich, averaging a combined 47.6 PPG through the first four games, combined to shoot 6-of-29 for a grand total of 19 points. The Bulls shot only 34.7 percent as a team, with only Nocioni playing well (23-10). Nocioni, who averaged 13.0-6.1 during the year, is averaging 22.8-9.6 in this series. Miami's never won a playoff game in Chicago (0-9) but of course most of that had to do with MJ!

Phil Jackson and his Lakers have a chance tonight to close out the Suns and keep Jackson's record of never having lost a first round series intact (he's 14-0). The Suns, after three straight losses in which they averaged just 94.3 PPG, climbed back in the series with a 114-97 win Tuesday. However, Raja Bell, will sit this one out with a one-game suspension after his flagrant foul on Kobe in Game 5. LA has its distractions also, as Kwame Brown is dealing with off-the-court allegations.

Kobe has averaged just 24.2 PPG in this series (led the NBA with a 35.4 average during the year) but Odom has been brilliant (20.2-12.2-4.6) and LA's role players have played better than they have all season. Also, Phil has clearly been able to come up with some sort of plan to slow down the Suns' high-octane offense. Or has he?

Phoenix played its best game of the series in Game 5, scoring 114 points on 48.8 percent shooting. Boris Diaw led the way with 25-10-9 and the Suns looked like the Suns for the first time since early in Game 1. Marion (20.3-9.3) has been outplayed by Odom to this point and Nash (22.0-9.0 APG) has been good but not MVP-like. Also, the Suns' role players, so good during the year, have been outplayed in every game but Game 5. We'll see?

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

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