Heat’s proving to be a handful

Barring a Game Seven in either series, we’ll know the NBA Finals matchup when the next issue of Gaming Today is published.

The schedule has potential Game Sevens being played next Monday and Tuesday. Game 1 of the Finals has been scheduled for next Wednesday (Sept. 30) but would be pushed back a night or two should either series go seven games.

In the Eastern Conference finals, there are still some major concerns for the Boston Celtics despite climbing out of an 0-2 hole against Miami. The Celtics managed to hold off a late Miami charge in winning Game 3 in what was close to being a must-win situation.

Miami is a well-coached team as evidenced by their two wins as underdogs against Milwaukee and two more in the opening two games against Boston. The Heat have gotten balanced scoring throughout this series without relying on any single player. Jimmy Butler is the on-court leader but teammates Jae Crowder, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic have complemented Butler’s play nicely, instilling the confidence that no lead is too much to overcome.

Boston needs to be more disruptive at the defensive end of the court to break Miami’s rhythm. Perhaps they’ve expended too much energy in the first halves of their games that have enabled Miami to come back, even late in Game 3. Boston has been at its best when slowing down the tempo and playing tough defense. Remember all those games against Toronto that stayed Under the Total (often well Under)?

In addition to slowing the pace, coach Brad Stevens’ judicious use of timeouts to stem Miami runs — especially in the second half — would also enhance Boston’s prospects of reaching the NBA Finals. Stevens is widely acknowledged as an outstanding coach, dating back to his college days at Butler. On paper, he has what’s considered the more talented players as has been displayed over the past several seasons.

But Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has been more than his equal during this series. For many years Spoelstra has coached in the shadow of mentor Pat Riley who continues to get praise for building this Heat team. It’s time that Spoelstra gets his share of the credit and a series upset of Boston should do just that.

In the West finals, the Lakers took advantage of their extra rest to handily defeat Denver in the series opener, 126-114, leading by 11 at halftime and by 24 after three quarters. Denver was more competitive in Game 2, falling 105-103 but covering as 7.5 point underdogs.

These teams have now met six times this season and Denver has been more competitive against the Lakers than most others. When they met for the first time in December, the Lakers were 17-3 and had established themselves as the team to beat in the West.

Including their two Playoff games the Lakers are 5-1 SU vs. Denver but just 3-3 ATS. And one of the SU/ATS wins was as a favorite in overtime

I’m not suggesting the Nuggets are going extricate themselves from an 0-2 deficit vs the Lakers. I am suggesting that Denver has a lot of fight in them and won’t go down as easily as many of us originally may have thought.

Last week I predicted the Lakers would defeat Denver in five games and I’m sticking to that prediction. I do not expect a four-game sweep.

Wednesday

Heat vs. Celtics, Total 210.5: Boston is 5-0 both SU and ATS in these playoffs when holding foes to under 100 points (an average of 25 points per quarter). As noted above, Boston needs to play better in the second half of games given what we’ve seen from Miami after intermission.

The Celtics are -3 with the Total at 210.5. Eleven of Boston’s 14 playoff games have produced fewer than 211 total points — 12 if you factor in the score at the end of regulation. UNDER

Thursday

Lakers vs. Nuggets: The Lakers will either be looking to complete a sweep or Denver will be looking to square the series at two games apiece. The Nuggets have shown the ability to rally both within games and in series much as they did in overcoming 3-1 deficits in ousting Utah and the Clippers.

The Nuggets are 4-1 ATS in their last five games getting more than six points, all against the Clippers and Lakers. NUGGETS

Last week: 2-0

Season: 42-33-1