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Monday, May 22

   by Larry Ness - 05/22/2006

This year's NBA conference semifinals have seen three of the four series go seven games (Heat beat the Nets in five games), after none of the four conference semis went past six games last year. Actually, it's pretty unusual for this many series to go this long, so early in the playoffs.

My free play is on the Chi Cubs over the Fla Marlins at 7:05 ET. Coming off a perfect 3-0 sweep this weekend with my exclusive Las Vegas Insider plays (Spurs/Tigers/Pistons), I'm looking to improve my Las Vegas Insider record in MLB this May to 6-1 with another winner tonight. I also have a 15* Rivalry Classic Play on the Yankees/Red Sox game. In the NBA playoffs, I'm featuring a LEGEND Play (4-1 in TY's postseason!) on one of tonight's two Game 7s. Don't miss it!

In fact, it's just the third time it's happened since Bird and Magic rejuvenated the league by entering the NBA in the 1979-80 season. The last time was in 1994 and the other was in 1981. There have been nine years (since 1980) in which none of the semifinals series were forced to a seventh game with three years standing out. In 1998 all four series went only five games (it also happened in 2002) and in 1999 there were three four-game sweeps and one six-game series.

Also of note in this year's postseason has been the number of close games. Through two rounds last year (65 games), just one game was decided by just one point, four others by two points and five more in overtime. Through 69 games this year, eight games have been decided by one point (three in OT), six more by two points and five others in overtime. That's quite a difference.

However, there was nothing close about the first of this year's three semifinal round Game 7s yesterday. The Pistons beat the Cavs on Sunday by holding them to 23 points in the second half, in a 79-61 win. Detroit may have looked very vulnerable in the middle of this series (lost Games 3, 4 and 5) but they opened it and closed it strong. They won Game 1 by 27 points and Game 7 by 18!

Detroit is now 10-2 when facing elimination since the '03 playoffs and the Pistons have gone 12-1 in games in which they've had a chance to eliminate their opponent. That lone loss came in last year's Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Speaking of Game 7s, home teams have now gone 77-17 in NBA playoff history.

There are two more Game 7s on tonight's schedule and will that home team dominance continue? Home teams have been struggling as of late in this year's playoffs, especially against the spread. After opening 30-9 SU, home teams ended the first round on a 1-5 SU and ATS run and have gone 15-9 SU (11-13 ATS) in the second round. That's a 30-game run of 16-14 SU and just 12-18 ATS!

However, in two Game 7s this year, the home teams have won and covered easily. The Suns crushed the Lakers in the first round 121-90 in their Game 7 and the Pistons won easily yesterday. Tonight's first Game 7 (both televised on TNT) is the Mavs/Spurs at 8:00 ET with San Antonio favored by 3 1/2 points (192). The second game is the Clippers/Suns at 10:30 ET with Phoenix favored by four points (215 1/2).

The Spurs have rallied in this series to win Games 5 and 6 and will try to become just the ninth team in NBA playoff history to overcome a 3-1 deficit and win a seven-game series. The Suns were the eighth team to do it, when they came back to beat the Lakers in this year's first round. Jason Terry is back for the Mavs after his one-game suspension in Game 6.

In the night's second game, the Clippers are playing in the franchise's first-ever Game 7, while the Suns are playing in their second Game 7 in as many series. Neither team has been able to win consecutive games in this series, with the Suns taking Games 1, 3 and 5 and the Clippers winning Games 2, 4 and 6. The teams haven't played since Thursday and conventional wisdom says that will help the Suns more.

'Over players' had been on quite a run in the postseason, as nine of the last 10 first round games went over and then 15 of the first 21 did the same in the second round, for a 24-7 run. However, all three of the games this past weekend (two on Friday plus yesterday's game), went under the total.

Followers of the "Zig-Zag" theory have been streaking through this year's playoffs, both 'hot' and 'cold.' They opened 19-8-2 ATS in the first round but closed on an 0-8 slide. They again opened strong in the second round, going 10-4 but have since gone 1-5 (now 11-9 in the second round). If not for the LA Clippers and Phoenix Suns (who are a perfect 5-0 in their series), it's just 6-9 ATS in the second round.

MLB notes

Interleague action is done for the month after a weekend of play that was highlighted by Barry Bonds getting his elusive 714th HR. The new week begins with the Cardinals owning MLB's longest active winning streak at five straight games with the Devil Rays and Dodgers right behind them, having won four straight.

The Dodgers have won 12 of 15 and play in the only division in MLB (NL West) that doesn't have a losing team. That's interesting, as last year the Padres won that division with an 82-80 record. The Dodgers swept the Angels in a three-game series over the weekend and the team that played the White Sox in last year's ALCS is now 17-27 on the year, having lost 17 of their last 22!

Losing has come easy to the Royals (10-31), who open the week with MLB's longest active losing streak at nine straight (they are 2-20 on the road). The Marlins have lost seven straight games, ending a 10-game road trip 2-8. Florida (11-31) returns home tonight to host the Cubs but the bad news is the Marlins own MLB's worst home record at 3-14.

The Marlins are the league's biggest "moneyburners" at minus-$1628 (100/game), trailed by the Royals (minus-$1457), the 14-30 Pirates (minus-$1449) and the free-falling Angels (minus-$1227). The 29-14 Tigers are still MLB's "best bet", showing a profit of plus-$1539. The Rockies (25-19) are second-best at plus-$906 and it should be noted that these two teams are the biggest 'under' teams in MLB, going 14-26-3 and 15-26-3, respectively!

There are a "lucky 13" games on tonight's schedule, highlighted by the Yankees visiting Fenway Park to face the Red Sox at 7:05 ET on ESPN. It's Wang versus Schilling, with the Red Sox favored at minus-$1.55 and a posted total of 9 1/2.

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

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