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Friday, May 26

   by Larry Ness - 05/26/2006

The Pistons won the first quarter last night 25-12, shooting 56 percent from the floor while the Heat shot just 25 percent. Detroit still owned a 12-point lead with just under two minutes left in the game but Miami scored 17 points over the game's final 1:56 and the Pistons, despite holding a 10-point lead with under a minute left, barely won last night's Game 2, 92-88.

My free play for Friday is on the Min Twins over the Sea Mariners at 8:30 ET. In tonight's Game 2 of the Suns/Mavs series, I'm looking to extend my current Las Vegas Insider record to SEVEN straight wins (3-0 in both the NBA and MLB since last Fri). In MLB, it's my lone 20* NL Game of the Month for May (won AL 20* on the Blue Jays on 5/10), a play you WON'T want to miss!

Wade had 32-7-5 for Miami while Shaq added 21-12 plus four blocks. However, the trio of Payton, Walker and Williams (who combined for 41 points in the Game 1 win), totaled just 25 points on a combined 7-of-26 performance from the floor (2-of-15 on 3-pointers!). Prince scored a playoff career-high (24) for the Pistons, as Detroit's starters (all but Ben Wallace scored in double-digits) accounted for 89 of the team's 92 points.

The win but non-cover by Detroit gives home teams a 13-22 ATS mark over the last 35 playoff games (18-17 SU). Home teams have gone just 3-9 SU and 2-10 ATS in Game 1 of the conference finals these last six years and after last night's result, home team Game 1 losers are now 5-3 SU and 4-4 ATS in Game 2. The Mavs get their chance to even the Western Conference Finals tonight on TNT (8:30 ET) when they host the Suns.

Dallas is favored by 7 1/2 points with a total of 224. The Mavs didn't come out flat in Game 1, they just didn't execute down the stretch. The Mavs held a 114-105 lead with 3:43 left in Game 1 but got outscored 16-4 down the stretch. Nowitzki, despite another excellent effort (25-19), didn't score in the game's final 6:15 and the Mavs made four turnovers in the game's final 77 seconds.

Game 2 features significant injury woes for each team. Raja Bell, the Suns' best defender, will miss tonight's game with a calf injury, forcing the Suns to likely start Barbosa (had just three points in 35 minutes of Game 1 but has averaged 13.7 PPG during the playoffs). For the Mavs, Josh Howard is out with a bone bruise in his left ankle, meaning sixth-man Jerry Stackhouse will likely start at small forward.

Neither team is very deep and these injuries will alter the player rotations. It's possible that Phoenix will have Kurt Thomas back for this one (last played on 2/22) but it's likely that Jones and House will be forced to play more. The Mavs will need more out of Daniels, Griffin and Van Horn.

The Eastern Conference Finals resumes Saturday night in Miami (8:00 ET on ESPN), where the Heat are an early three-point choice (182 1/2). If the Pistons read the papers, they'll know that a Shaq-led team has never lost a series after taking a 1-0 lead, going a perfect 25-0. Maybe Detroit should just cancel their travel plans and surrender?

MLB notes

Raise your hand if you expected the Tigers to own MLB's best record heading into Memorial Day Weekend. The Tigers have won six straight games and 13 of their last 14 to enter this weekend's action with a MLB-best mark of 33-14. Not bad for a franchise that lost 119 games just a few seasons ago (2003) and hasn't had a winning season since 1993. Detroit's 20-7 road mark is by far, MLB's best (no other team is more than four games over .500).

The Dodgers enter the weekend as MLB's hottest team with the longest active winning streak (seven games) and having won 15 of their last 18. LA has outscored its opponents 55-12 in its current winning streak and 120-57 over its last 18 games. During the 18-game stretch, LA's starters are 10-2 (2.52) and the team is batting a collective .320! Who are these guys?

While the Tigers and Dodgers are this year's early-season 'feel-good' stories, let's remember we still have the Kansas City Royals. The Royals took a 6-0 lead over the Tigers in the first inning yesterday afternoon but found a way to lose their 13th consecutive game, 13-8. The Royals had lost 11 straight games earlier this year (4/11-4/21) and this current losing streak is the team's second-longest ever, behind last year's 19-game losing streak.

The Royals' 10-35 start in 2006 is one-game better than the worst 45-game start in MLB history. Washington (1904), Baltimore (1988) and Boston (1932) are the only teams to ever begin a season worse, starting those seasons at 9-36. The Royals have also started 2-20 on the road, a mark equaled by just two teams in MLB, most recently the Astros of last year.

However, Houston recovered from last year's horrific road start, to qualify as the NL wild card team for the second straight year and make it all the way to that franchise's first-ever World Series appearance. Of course the Astros were swept in the World Series by the White Sox but it's probably safe to conclude that we won't be seeing the Royals in this year's "Fall Classic."

Rather, the Royals are on pace to become the first non-expansion team since the 1952-54 Pittsburgh Pirates to lose 100 games in three consecutive years. The Pirates (in a 154-game schedule) went 42-112, 50-104 and 53-101 in those three seasons, for an overall record of 145-317 (.314).

The Royals went 58-104 in 2004 and 56-106 last year. The team's .222 winning percentage so far this year, means they are ahead of the pace set by the New York Mets in 1962. That year, the Mets finished 40-122 (.247), the post-1900 standard for the worst-ever record. The post-1900 record in the AL is held by the 2003 Tigers, who finished 43-119 (.265).

As luck would have it, the Royals open a three-game series tonight against the Yankees in New York. Just for the record, the Royals have lost 14 straight games in Yankee Stadium. You just can't make this stuff up!

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

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