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Monday, June 5

   by Larry Ness - 06/05/2006

Both conference finals concluded over the weekend, with each of the series ending in six games. The Heat eliminated the Pistons with a 95-78 win in Miami on Friday night and the Mavericks won in Phoenix over the Suns on Saturday, 102-93. The Heat's win over the Pistons, joins the Mavs' win over the Spurs in the second round, as the only upsets of the 14 series played so far. The Heat and Mavs open the NBA Finals in Dallas on Thursday.

My free play for Monday is on the NY Yankees over the Bos Red Sox at 7:05 ET. While my seven-game MLB winning streak ended on Sunday, it was a great bounce-back week off my Memorial Day weekend disaster. I'm opening the new week with just one play on Monday, another Las Vegas Insider. I'm looking to continue my 9-3 run with these exclusive plays since May 1!

Neither franchise has ever won an NBA title and in fact, this will be the first trip to the Finals for both teams. The last time two teams met for the NBA title with both teams playing in their first-ever Finals was 1971. That year, the three-year-old Milwaukee Bucks (led by Kareem in his 2nd-year and the Big O) beat the Baltimore Bullets (led by Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson), 4-0. If you don't remember Gus Johnson, you're toooo young and don't know what you missed!

Detroit's loss before the Finals, means that the team with the league's best regular season record (Pistons won a league-high 64 games this year) has now failed to win the title five times over the last six seasons (the exception being the Spurs in 2003). That's not to say the NBA has seen its recent champs come from the middle-of-the-pack, either.

Since the 1983-84 postseason (when the league went to a 16-team format), the NBA title has been won by a team finishing with either the best (including tied for the best) or second-best (again including ties) regular season record 19 times in 22 years! The exceptions came in 1993 (the Bulls owned the league's 3rd-best record), in 1995 (the Rockets were tied for the 10th-best mark!) and in 2004 (the Pistons had that year's 6th-best record).

For the record, Dallas' 60 wins gave them the third-best record in the league, while Miami's 52 wins ranked fifth-best. We'll have much more to say about this upcoming matchup in Wednesday's and Thursday's newsletter but for now, Dallas opened at minus-$1.60 to win the series and is favored by 4 1/2 points in Game 1 (193). Tomorrow's newsletter will focus on what happened to Detroit.

Closing the book on the NBA playoffs' first three rounds show that home teams are 55-28 SU and 40-41-2 ATS, after going 8-4 SU and 6-6 ATS in the conference finals. You may remember that home teams went just 46-38 in last year's postseason, posting a winning percentage of .5476. That's the worst-ever winning percentage by home teams since the NBA adopted its 16-team playoff format in 1984. This year's .662 winning percentage by home teams is significantly higher than last year's mark but it's not translating into pointspread winners.

Defense took over in the conference finals, as 10 of the 12 games went under the total, including all six games in the Miami/Detroit series. That reversed a trend which had seen 26 of the previous 36 games go over, heading into the round. Through 83 games, 41 games have gone over and 42 have gone under. For those following the "Zig-Zag" theory, it's 37-30-2 ATS, or plus-four games.

MLB notes

A quick peek at the standings show the Tigers still own MLB's best record (37-20) but it was a week that "wasn't" for Detroit. The Tigers lost three of four to the Yankees and two of three to the Red Sox, all played at home. Speaking of the Red Sox and Yankees, they open a four-game series in New York tonight (7:05 ET on ESPN) with Boston entering the series at 33-21 and New York at 33-22. Boston has won four of the seven games played this year.

The NL's best team these last two years has been the St Louis Cardinals (won 100 games in 2005 and 105 in 2004) and once again the Cards own the NL's best record this year (35-21). However, the Cards were forced to put Albert Pujols on the 15-day DL Sunday and reports say he may miss up to six weeks.

The Mets lead the NL East (33-22) and Arizona leads the NL West (34-22), as the Diamondbacks open the week with a four-game winning streak. That ties them with the Reds and Nationals, for MLB's longest active winning streak. Surprisingly, the Royals don't open the week with the majors longest active losing streak, as that 'honor' belongs to Milwaukee. The Brewers have lost eight straight, getting outscored in that span, 64-21.

The Royals sit at 14-40 on the year, a winning percentage of .259. That keeps them in "shouting range" of the 1962 Mets, who went 40-120 (.250). Some of the league's other early-season doormats have been playing better as of late. As mentioned, the Nationals have won four straight and also, 11 of 15. The Marlins swept a three-game series in Coors Field over the weekend and have won nine of their last 12, plus the Pirates just finished their recent homestand, 7-3!

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

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