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Wednesday, May 31

   by Larry Ness - 05/31/2006

It wasn't exactly in the same class as Willis Reed's dramatic Game 7 entrance in the 1970 NBA Finals but Raja Bell's surprise start for the Suns in last night's game against the Mavericks, sure gave the Suns a much needed boost. Bell played around 30 minutes and scored just nine points but after a 28-28 first quarter, it was all Phoenix.

My free play for Wednesday is on the Chi Cubs over the Cin Reds at 8:05 ET. As advertised, I bounced back from a poor weekend with a 2-0 sweep yesterday and I have a HUGE Wednesday in store. In MLB, it's my 15* NL Getaway Day Game of the Month (for early risers), my 15* Pitching Classic on Ari/NYM (Webb vs Pedro) and just my second LEGEND Play (1-0 TY) of the 2006 season. In the NBA, It's one of my exclusive Ls Vegas Insiders (3-0 the last three weeks of the playoffs) on tonight's Det/Mia Game 5. Don't miss out!

The Suns shot 54.4 percent for the game (7-of-15 on threes) and evened the Western Conference Finals at two games apiece with a 106-86 win. The Mavs shot only 41.8 percent for the game, as Dirk Nowitzki was held to a season-low 11 points (also ended a streak of 42 games at 20 points or more) on 3-of-11 shooting. The series resumes in Dallas tomorrow night (8:30 ET on TNT), with the Mavs listed as a seven-point choice (206 1/2).

The Suns' pointspread win last night was the first by a home team in the four games of the Western Conference Finals. However, home teams have done well SU in this round after both road teams won the respective Game 1s. Home teams are now 5-1 SU and 3-3 ATS these last six games. However, home teams are just 22-18 SU and 16-34 ATS over the last 40 playoff games.

The conference finals began with 'over' bettors cashing 26 of the previous 36 games but last night's game was the sixth straight 'under', as seven of the eight games played so far in the conference finals have gone under the total. "Zig-zaggers" improved to 2-4 in this round but are just 15-21 over the last 36 playoff games.

The Pistons host the Heat tonight at 8:00 ET on ESPN, as the Eastern Conference Finals resume. Detroit is facing elimination, as the Pistons trail the series 3-1. History is not on Detroit's side. Just eight teams in 165 previous tries, have come back to win a best-of-seven series after falling behind 3-1. The record book also shows that 40 of the 43 teams that have gone up 3-1 in a conference final have advanced to the NBA Finals, including the last 16.

However, the Pistons have been 'tough cookies' when facing elimination since the 2003 postseason. Five times in the last four years, the Pistons have won series after trailing 3-1 or 3-2, as they've gone 10-2 during this run, when facing elimination. Working for Miami is the fact that a Shaq-led team has never lost a series (25-0) after winning Game 1 of a series (as Miami did here) and that a Pat Riley-coached team is 11-0 in series after taking a 3-1 series lead.

In the end, none of those numbers probably mean all that much. However, some numbers are relevant. Wade's 30.8 PPG average in the series on 69.5 percent shooting plus Shaq's 23.0 PPG and 11 RPG averages over the series' last three games, to name just two. Also off note, is Miami's 52.5 team FG percentage (56.5 in the three wins), compared to Detroit's 39.5 percent shooting.

The Heat are 4-0 ATS in the series and all four games have gone under the total. Is this deja vu all over again, or do the Pistons live to fight another day? The Pistons are favored by six points tonight, with a total of 181.

Closing notes

If the Pistons lose this series, will the loss be blamed on Flip Saunders? Saunders was given much of the credit for Detroit's 64-win regular season but he's got a highly questionable coaching record in the playoffs. While with the T-wolves, Saunders-led teams lost seven straight first round series from 1997 to 2003 and his eight-year playoff record with Minnesota was just 17-30.

This year with the Pistons, he's led them to a 4-1 win over the Bucks (now there's a coaching feat!) and saw his team barely escape against the Cavs (4-3), winning the final two games of that series after falling behind the Cavs with losses in Games 3, 4 and 5. Now against Miami, the Pistons find themselves down three games-to-one, while averaging 84.8 PPG and shooting 39.5 percent. We'll see?

As for Miami's Pat Riley, only Phil Jackson owns more playoff wins and only Jackson (9), Auerbach (9) and John Kundla (5) own more titles than Riley's four. A Heat title would also allow Riley to join another exclusive club. Only Phil Jackson (six with the Bulls and three with Lakers) and Alex Hannum (one with the Hawks in '58 and one with the 76ers in '67) have won titles with two different teams.

A return trip to the Finals this year would be a real coup for Riles. He last won an NBA title in 1988 and was last there in 1994 with the Knicks, when they lost to the Rockets in seven games. Riley took over the Heat this year after the season began and despite a 52-win season, few thought the Heat were much of a threat to win it all, or for that matter, to even threaten the Pistons in the East.

Miami was just 2-12 during the regular season this year, against the league's five other division winners.

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

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