Dog daze for NBA Playoff favorites

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San Antonio may be feeling the effects of age and having played so many NBA playoff games over the past decade or so as they’ve been challenged mightily by the upstart Grizzlies.

Memphis had never won a playoff game in the history of their franchise prior to winning Game 1 in San Antonio. But they will have taken the court at home Monday night with a chance to take a 3-1 edge over the top seeded Spurs and on the verge of completing the extremely rare feat of being an 8 seed to knock off a 1.

The thought here is, regardless of Monday night’s result, look for San Antonio to win Game 5 back in San Antonio, to either pull to within 3-2 or to take such a lead with a chance to end the series back in Memphis on Wednesday. Their experience should be enough to get the Spurs out of the first round but they’d be in for a stiff challenge against Oklahoma City in Round 2.

Should we see a San Antonio versus Oklahoma City matchup note the Spurs swept the season series from the Thunder with wins by 13, 27 and 4. The teams last met in late February when the Spurs were at the top of their game. The playoffs could be a different story and should the Thunder be underdogs of +150 or more they’d make for an attractive play to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has one series already decided as we went to press Monday night after Boston completed a four-game sweep of the New York Knicks on Sunday.

A Monday night win by OKC over Denver on would complete a sweep for the Thunder over a Nuggets team that had been playing so well since the February trade that sent disgruntled star Carmelo Anthony to New York.

Including a pair of meetings towards the end of the regular season, Oklahoma City entered Monday night’s game having defeated Denver five times in just three weeks, winning by an average of nine points per game and covering in four of the five wins.

Should Denver summon up enough to prevail in Game 4 expect the Thunder to finish off the Nuggets back home on Wednesday. The Thunder match up very well against the Nuggets and appear poised to “take the next step” with a first round win that would have them face the winner of the San Antonio/Memphis series in Round 2.

The LA Lakers and New Orleans are now playing a best of three series after the teams split the first four games of their opening round series. This is not uncharted territory for the second seeded Lakers who also split the first four games of their opening series last season against Oklahoma City. The Lakers won the next two games en route to what would be a second straight NBA Title.

The fourth Western series is also compelling as Dallas and Portland are also even after four games following Portland’s amazing fourth quarter comeback to win Game 4 at home after trailing by 23 points. Monday’s fifth game in Dallas was obviously pivotal and may offer a clue as to which team advances. In fact, the selection here is for the winner of Game 5 to also win Game 6.

A win by the Mavericks would have erased the bitter taste from blowing that huge lead on Saturday while a Portland win would be a devastating blow to Dallas and would likely carry over to Thursday’s Game 6.

Assuming the Lakers get by New Orleans they would be the pick to get by either Dallas or Portland in the next round. Both the Blazers and Mavericks would be attractively priced underdogs in the first two games in Los Angeles and should cash at least once on the road, even if they lose the game(s) straight up.

In the Eastern Conference both Chicago and Miami take commanding 3-1 leads back home for Game 5 on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. Their first round foes – Indiana and Philadelphia – each played well despite losing the first three games of their series and each deserved to avoid being swept.

The Pacers and 76ers won at home in their Game 4’s but each likely gets eliminated the next time they take the court. While each may look attractive as hefty underdogs given the flow of the series what often happens in such elimination games on the road is that once a loss becomes inevitable the scoring margin gets wider.

Thus if you are considering a play on either Indiana or Philadelphia in Game 5 you might consider a first half play on the underdog.

The most surprising series off the eight opening round matchups has Atlanta taking a three games to one lead back to Orlando as the Magic seek to stave off elimination in Tuesday’s Game 5.

It’s been documented before how Orlando toyed with the Hawks in last season’s second round. Atlanta took three of four meetings in the regular season and has repeated that feat thus far in the Playoffs. More incredibly, the Hawks have covered in all 8 meetings!

Clearly Atlanta has figured out a way to defeat Orlando even while allowing Magic star Dwight Howard to dominate the stats sheet. While Orlando may well win Game 4 and force a Game 6 back in Atlanta, the Hawks would be an attractive play to win Game 6 if made a slight underdog, as they were in both Games 3 and 4.

Should Orlando somehow man up and win two in a row to force a game seven back in Orlando, the Magic would have the momentum and also enjoy a psychological edge over the Hawks, making for a play on Orlando in a deciding game seven.

With Chicago and Miami almost certain to advance and join Boston in the Eastern Conference semi finals the forecast is for Chicago to get by either Atlanta or Orlando in at most six.

The Bulls remain a very well balanced team even though they appeared to take Indiana lightly. That Chicago earned the top seed in the East was no fluke. The Bulls took two of three from Atlanta during the regular season and took three of four from Orlando. At a price of 2-1 or less the Bulls would be an attractive play to win the series and would also be a pick Game 1 at home if favored by 7 points or less.

A Boston versus Miami series would be most intriguing. Boston holds the home court edge and defeated the Heat three times in four meetings this season. The lone Miami win came in their most recent meeting just a few days before the end of the regular season and was meant to send a message to the Celtics even though their seeds had already been determined.

It was their first meeting in almost two months and was a 100-77 rout. Boston’s three wins were by eight, five and three points.

Miami’s team was built for the playoffs and will present a stern challenge for the defending conference champion Celtics. It will be a matchup of Boston’s age and experience versus Miami’s triple threat of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But let’s not overlook Boston’s own triple threat of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Add in Rajon Rondo and a fine supporting cast and a solid case can be made that Boston should be favored in this series.

In fact, should Boston be priced as underdogs of any price they would make for an attractive play to advance past the Heat. And Boston will also be playable as money line underdogs to win at least one of the first two games in Miami.

By this time next week the second round matchups should be set – perhaps even underway – and a further look at how each series may unfold will be forthcoming.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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