Get the best handicapping articles and gambling advice throughout the football, basketball and baseball seasons from the world's top sports handicappers, as well as from Bovada (Bodog) Sportsbook and Casino.
2006 NBA Playoffs
by Al McMordie - 05/15/2006
It's not your imagination: The dogs are barking in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. And loudly. After the favorites had a slight edge in the first round of 23-18-2 against the spread, the underdogs have been on a tear in round two, covering 9 of the first 12 games. Throw in the fact that the favorites lost 6 of those games straight up, and it's been the round of the dogs.
In the first three games of the Spurs/Mavericks series, the dog covered all three. Two of the three games were decided by a bucket, each coming down to the final possession.
Defense and adjustments have been the biggest factors. After the Suns played their usual run-and-gun style in Game 1, beating the Clippers 130-123, the Clippers changed strategy for Game 2, slowing the pace down and pounding the ball into the low post. The result was a huge edge in rebounding, 57-26, and holding the Suns to just 97 points. The reasons were clear: At that point, the Suns were 0-4 in the playoffs when scoring under 100.
But the Suns adapted nicely in Game 3, surprising the Clippers by playing a slower, defensive game. Their main strategy was to attack the defensive boards on every drive or missed shot by the Clippers. The plan was obvious: No lay-ups! That's what had killed them in Game 2 and the results were stark in Game 3 as the rebounds were almost even. Oh, and the Suns won despite scoring only 94 points.
After getting mauled in the first two games (but covering in Game 2 for our Game of the Year Winner), the Cavaliers found some defensive solutions in Game 3. They keyed off improved aggressiveness and defense, bringing in Flip Murray to replace Larry Hughes. The Pistons only shot 39.4 percent from the floor, the best defensive performance from the Cavaliers during the entire playoffs. "This game was about defense and effort for 48 minutes," Cleveland HC Mike Brown said. "The first half they had 14 fast-break points, second half they had zero. We have to continue that effort and that focus on that end of the floor if we're going to continue to win."
Knowing your team needs to improve its defense to win in the postseason is one thing. Figuring out ways to make it happen via matchups and adjustments is the more difficult part. This is where astute coaching comes in, and where quality coaches earn their paychecks.
"We finally decided we needed to execute on offense and get some stops," LeBron James pointed out about his team's turnaround in Game 3. "I saw some creases in the fourth quarter and I was able to attack them and give ourselves the opportunity to win the game." Note to LeBron: Don't tell the opposition what weaknesses you found!
One other point about that series is the bench play. Detroit coach Flip Saunders vowed to use his bench more after Game 2, but it didn't really transpire. Antonio McDyess played 22 minutes (six points, eight rebounds), but Lindsey Hunter, Tony Delk and Maurice Evans combined played less than 19. Hunter had a couple of turnovers and three fouls and the Cavs bench outscored the Pistons' 28-9. What a coach wants and is able to do are sometimes two very different things.
Finally, the last word goes to Rasheed Wallace who said, "Monday's the last game here in this building for this season." He said the same thing after the Pistons lost Game 3 in Milwaukee in the first round. We shall see if Rasheed is a prophet, or a big mouth who foolishly gave an explosive quote to fire up the opposition. Regardless of talk, the team that plays better defense and makes some adjustments usually comes out ahead, and that includes those barking dogs! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.