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Monday, May 8

   by Larry Ness - 05/08/2006

The NBA's first round concluded on Friday night with wins by Cleveland and San Antonio (eliminating Washington and Sacramento, respectively) plus Phoenix capping its comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to the LA Lakers, with a 121-90 blowout win on Saturday night.

With Monday's light schedule, I'm not offering a free play tonight. Off Sunday's easy 22* winner on the Pistons, my high-end (20*s, 22* and LEGENDs) NBA playoff releases are now 6-2. Tonight, I'm offering one of my two 20* total selections in the 2nd round (won only 20* total release in Rd 1), so DON'T miss it. In MLB, I'm following HUGE wins on Saturday (LEGEND) and Sunday (May's Oddsmaker's Error) with one of my new Technical Insiders!

As is so often the case in the NBA, the playoffs offer few upsets.The higher seeded team won seven of the eight opening round series, with the Clippers (6) beating the Nuggets (3) as the only upset. However, as we all know, Denver was the higher seed in name only, as the Clippers had the better regular season record and owned home court advantage in that series.

The second round began Sunday, with the Spurs edging the Mavs 87-85 and the Pistons easily handling the Cavaliers, 113-86. Two more series open tonight, with both games televised on TNT. The Nets visit Miami at 8:05 ET to take on the Heat and the Clippers are in Phoenix to take on the Suns at 10:35 ET. Miami is favored by five points with a total of 190 1/2 and Phoenix is favored by 5 1/2 points with a total of 208 1/2.

Before moving on to the second round, here's a recap of the first round. Home teams won 30 of the first 39 playoff games but lost all five games played on Thursday and Friday, before the Suns ended that losing streak on Saturday night. Home teams finished the opening round with a 31-14 (.689) mark, significantly better than the 23-20 (.535) mark they posted last year. However, home teams' ATS marks were similar to last year's, going 22-21-2 compared to 20-21-2.

For 'over/under' players, the first round was a wash. Twenty-two of the 45 games went over with 23 games going under. However, that near 50-50 ratio was attained only when nine of the last 10 games went over! I cautioned bettors in Wednesday's notes that the "Zig-Zag" theory was hot (19-8-2 ATS to that point) but that it hadn't done well in recent years. Well somebody must have been listening, as the Zig-Zag theory finished the first round with eight straight ATS losers!

Following the theme that there a few surprises in the NBA playoffs was the fact that entering this year when a seven-game series was tied at 2-all, the Game 5-winner went on to win 84 percent of the time in playoff history. Nothing changed this year, as all four of the series that reached 2-2 were won by the team winning Game 5 (Cleveland, Miami, New Jersey and San Antonio).

Just one series reached a Game 7 and that was the Lakers/Suns. Tradition held up there also, as home teams are now 76-17 all-time in Game 7s after the Suns' blowout win. However, the Suns did become just the eighth team in NBA playoff history to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win a seven-game series.

LA's loss was the first time that franchise had blown a 3-1 series lead (had been 27-0) and it also ended two Phil Jackson streaks. Jackson had never lost a first round series before (14-0) and his teams had also been a perfect 44-0 prior to this, when leading in a series. Maybe this is a sign that there are more surprises to come?

Sunday recap

The Mavs/Spurs series opened yesterday with San Antonio escaping with an 87-85 win. The Spurs had little rest coming in, playing the early game on Sunday after clinching a their first round series over the Kings, late Friday night. However, the Mavs weren't able to put the Spurs away. After a 52-point first half, Dallas scored just 33 points in the second half, including 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Nowitzki, who averaged 31.3 PPG versus Memphis, had just 20 points on 8-of-20 shooting. He was just 1-of-4 in the fourth quarter, scoring two points. Stackhouse scored 24 points off the bench but no one on Dallas was able to make a shot in "crunch time" as the Mavs missed their final six shots of the game! Duncan was great for the Spurs, scoring 31 points (20 in the 1st half) and grabbing 13 rebounds.

San Antonio won 63 games this year and Dallas won 60 but because the three division winners get the conference's top-three seeds, the Mavs entered this year's playoffs as the West's fourth seed. That set up this meeting with the top-seeded in the semifinals rather than the conference finals.

To that end, this is just the third time since 1979-80 (when Bird and Magic entered the league) that two 60-win teams have met in a series before a conference or NBA final. In 1981, the 76ers (62 wins) beat the Bucks (60 wins) in the Eastern Conference semifinals (4-3) and in 1998, the Lakers (61 wins) beat the Sonics (61 wins) in the Western Conference semifinals (4-1).

The Cavs may also have been a little tired on Sunday, after two straight overtime wins against the Wizards (series clincher came Friday night). At least that better be their excuse. The Cavs were never in Sunday's Game 1 as the Pistons made 10-of 11 three-pointers in the first half, on their way to a 69-48 halftime lead, which included a 43-point second quarter. James had 22 points at the half for the Cavs but after a scoreless third quarter, did not play in the fourth.

Hughes continued to shoot poorly for the Cavs (4-of 13 for eight points after shooting just 31.3 percent in the Washington series) while Ilgauskas and Gooden again did little. As for Detroit, four of the five starters were in double digits (Ben Wallace had just two points but 11 rebounds), while McDyess and Hunter both had 12 points off the bench by halftime.

Monday's games

New Jersey and Miami meet for the second straight year in the postseason and lets' hope it's a better series than last year when the Heat eliminated the Nets 4-0 in the first round. When Shaq stayed out of foul trouble against Chicago (in Games 1, 2 and 6) he and the Heat were very good (team averaged 113 PPG with Shaq getting 26.3-15.3). However, when he was in foul trouble (in Games 3, 4 and 5), the team averaged just 89.7 PPG (Shaq had 13.3-7.3).

Wade is not 100 percent healthy but he still averaged 24.7-4.5-7.2 vs Chicago and it should be noted that the Heat are 15-3 at home during the playoffs since Wade joined the team. As for Riley's four key newcomers this year, Payton, Posey, Walker and Williams averaged a combined 44.1 PPG in the Chicago series.

For the Nets, Carter averaged 29.2-8.2-5.7 versus Indiana and Jefferson topped 20 points in five of the six games (23.5). Kidd shot poorly against the Pacers (29.2 percent) but averaged 7.5 RPG and 10.2 APG. The 7-0 Krstic continued to impress, by averaging 18.0-7.2. The Nets beat Indiana in all four games in which Peja sat out, holding the Pacers to an average of 84.8 PPG in those games. Miami will be a tougher opponent.

The Clippers are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the franchise moved to California (in 1978) and just the second time in franchise history (as the Buffalo Braves in 1976). Denver wasn't much of an opponent but it is worth mentioning that the Clippers held them to about 13 PPG below the team's regular season scoring average in the first round (87.4 PPG).

The Suns lost three straight to the Lakers after winning Game 1 of that series and were held to just 94.3 PPG during that stretch. However, the league's highest scoring team found its game just in time, averaging 120.3 PPG in winning three straight.

Brand is LA's leading scorer and rebounder (17.8-10.0) and Maggette is second in the team in scoring, averaging 17.0 PPG coming off the bench. Mobley (16.0) and Cassell (14.6) are veteran guards plus LA is getting solid play from a number of others. Kaman is a very good center when healthy, Ross is the team's defensive-stopper plus both Livingston and Radmanovic have shown they can contribute.

The Suns are led by Nash (now a two-time MVP) and Marion but Diaw is emerging as a star (18.3-5.5-6.0 against the Lakers), Tim Thomas had an excellent series (15.6-7.9) plus Barbosa (48 points in the final two games) and Bell (12.0 PPG and the team's best defender) join Nash to form an excellent guard trio.

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

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