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Tuesday, June 20

   by Larry Ness - 06/20/2006

The Dallas Mavericks and their fans are hoping that some good old-fashioned home cookin' can get them back on track tonight, as the NBA Finals resume. Last night in the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, giving that franchise its first-ever Cup, as home teams have now gone 12-2 all-time in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

My free play is on the NY Yankees over the Phi Phillies at 7:05 ET. In tonight's MLB, I'm releasing another of my exclusive Las Vegas Insiders, looking to improve on my red-hot 16-5 run since May 1. In the NBA Finals, I'm releasing my final LEGEND Play of the NBA season (5-2 71.4% run in the postseason) in tonight's Game 6.

The Mavs are trying to force a Game 7 tonight, after losing three straight games in Miami. While the Heat lead 3-2, since the NBA adopted its current 2-3-2 format in the Finals in 1985, no team has gone on to win the title after dropping the first two games of a series (as Miami has). In fact, 11 teams have opened a series 2-0 the last 21 years and all 11 have gone on to win the title. However, no team has ever opened 2-0 and then gone on to lose the next three (as Dallas has).

Going back even further in NBA playoff history, we find that 27 teams have opened the Finals by losing the first two games, with only two of those teams coming back to claim the title. The lone exceptions were the 1969 Boston Celtics (who won the title by beating the Lakers in a Game 7 at LA) and the 1977 Portland Trailblazers (who won four straight over the 76ers after losing that series' first two games).

History tells us that when any seven-game NBA playoff series is tied at 2-all, the Game 5 winner has gone on to win nearly 80 percent of the time. However, a closer examination of the 2-3-2 format shows an interesting twist. As noted many times before, the NBA adopted the 2-3-2 for the Finals back in 1985 but what is rarely mentioned, is that the 2-3-2 format was also used during a three-season stretch from 1953-1955.

So how have Game 5 winners (when the series was tied at 2-all) done under this format? Nine times under the 2-3-2 format (seven times since 1985 and twice during that three-year stretch in the 50s), series were tied at 2-all and the Game 5 winner went on to win the title six times. That stat bodes well for Miami but here's the twist.

There were five teams that won Game 5 on the road and all five went on to win the title. However, of the four Game 5 winners at home (like Miami), just one team was able to capture the title! It's happened three times since 1985. The Lakers won Game 5 at home over the Celtics in the 1985 season and closed out the Celtics in Game 6 in Boston. Since then, two teams have won Game 5 at home to take a 3-2 series lead, yet both went on to lose Games 6 and 7 on the road.

It happened in 1988 with the Pistons beating the Lakers in a Game 5 in Detroit but then losing 103-102 and 108-105 in LA. The other time was in 1994, in a series Pat Riley will remember well. His New York Knicks won Games 4 and 5 in New York that year to take a 3-2 lead over the Rockets but went on to lose Games 6 and 7 in Houston (86-84 and 90-84), as the Rockets claimed their first of two consecutive titles.

The third team of the four (in the 2-3-2 format), that won a Game 5 on the road but failed to win the title, was the 1955 Fort Wayne Pistons. This series is significant because it is the only NBA Finals in which the home team won each game. The Syracuse Nationals won the first two games at home, then the Pistons won the middle three games (actually played in Indianapolis) and the Nationals claimed the title by winning Games 6 and 7 on their home court.

Obviously, the Mavericks would love to duplicate that feat, while Riley (and the Heat) will want to avoid a repeat of the 1994 Finals. The Mavericks should welcome a return home, after letting opportunities in Games 3 and 5 to take control of the series, slip through their fingers. Nowitzki was just 2-of-14 from the floor in Game 4 and followed that by getting to the FT line a series-low five times in Game 5 (while scoring just 20 points).

Howard will have to do a better job guarding Wade (who averaged 40.3 PPG in the three games in Miami) and will have to contribute more in the fourth quarter (he's averaged a pathetic 0.4 PPG in the final period through five games). The return of Stackhouse will be big but the Mavs might have to change their philosophy of constantly fouling Shaq, as it led to them being in the penalty for most of the game, giving Miami a 49-25 advantage in FT attempts in Game 5.

Wade was held to just 26.5 PPG (shot only 38.6 percent) in Games 1 and 2 and took a total of just 24 FTs in the two games (in comparison he had 25 FT attempts in Game 5 alone). As for Shaq, he averaged 17-12 in Games 3-5 but totaled just 22 points, while making 2-of-16 FTs in Games 1 and 2.

The home team has won all five games in the Finals so far but is just 3-2 ATS. Home teams are now on an 11-2 SU and 9-4 ATS run since opening the conference finals 0-4 ATS. Dallas is favored by six points in tonight's game with a total of 188. While two of the last three games have gone over, under bettors have cashed in 13 of the 17 playoff games since the beginning of the conference finals. The adjusted series price is Dallas minus-$1.35.

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

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