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On Sunday the New York Knicks managed to do what defending champion Dallas was unable to do the night before – avoid being swept out of the playoffs in four games.

Trailing three games to none the Knicks put up a valiant fight and defeated the Miami Heat, delaying the inevitable by a few days. Miami will host the Knicks on Wednesday night in what should be the fifth and deciding game of their first round best of seven series.

Miami is an 11 point favorite in that contest and should be considered for play after the Knicks finally ended their record setting drought of 13 consecutive Playoff losses that went back over a decade. The Heat figure to come focused and be in no frame of mind to chance a Game six back in New York.

Yet should the unthinkable happen and the Knicks extend the series with what would be a shocking Game five win then the momentum would be such that new York would be playable back home in Game six, likely as underdogs of several buckets. However such a scenario is not likely to happen.

After Amar’e Stoudemire’s hand lost a battle with a fire extinguisher case after Game two that caused him to miss Game three, he returned for Game four and had a surprisingly solid effort central to New York’s upset win that avoided the sweep. But the Knicks suffered another injury when Baron Davis was lost for the duration in that Game four win.

Injuries have been the theme in several of these opening round series, no more so than in the series between the East’s No. one and eight seeds.

Chicago was considered the team most likely to get by Miami should the teams meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now the Bulls are in danger of not making it past the first round. Their chances for a championship were all but erased when star PG Derrick Rose was injured at the end of their opening game win over Philadelphia.

His loss was not expected to keep the Bulls from advancing past the 76ers. That was until C Joakim Noah was injured in the second half of Game three in Philly. His absence allowed the Sixers to overcome a deficit and ultimately win that game and take a 2-1 series lead into Sunday’s Game four.

Noah missed that game and Philly extended late for a seven point win that has them in position to eliminate Chicago in Tuesday’s Game five. Noah is listed as “doubtful” for that contest.

Nevertheless Chicago opened as five point favorites over the healthier 76ers in that elimination game and should the Bulls get the win, even if they do not cover, and do so without Noah, then Chicago becomes the play back in Philly for Game six, even should Noah not play.

Boston asserted control over Atlanta in their series by winning three straight after dropping the opener. The C’s take a commanding 3-1 lead into Atlanta for Tuesday’s fifth game following a 22 point win on Sunday that was never close. Boston outscored the Hawks by 13 points in the first quarter and by 10 points in the second.

Atlanta is a small one point favorite over Boston in Game five and the Hawks are good enough to please the home fans before bowing out back in Boston in Game six. The plays for the balance of this series would be on Atlanta in Game five and then Boston in both Games six and seven provided the Celtics are no more than six point favorites in Game six and at worst a one point favorite in Atlanta for Game seven.

After being upset by Orlando in Game one the Indiana Pacers have seized control of their series by winning three in a row heading into Tuesday’s Game five. The Pacers won Games two and three by 15 and 23 points before giving up a double digit fourth quarter lead in Orlando in Game four that forced overtime.

The Pacers won the extra session by a deuce to take the 3-1 lead back home. Indiana is favored by 10½ points to wrap up the series back home and the preferred play despite the huge impost. Should the Pacers be upset by the Magic the play in Game six is again Indiana.

The Pacers just have too much for the Magic who expended a tremendous amount of energy before falling just short in front of their home fans. That performance should mean that Indiana won’t take the Magic lightly and Game five is more likely to resemble Games two and three than it is in resembling games one and four.

The defending champion Mavericks were swept in four games by the team many expect to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, Oklahoma City. The Thunder was more impressive in winning two games in Dallas (by 16 and 6 points) than in winning the first two games at home (winning by 1 and 3 points).

By the time this edition of Gaming Today hits the streets Tuesday morning a second team may have joined Oklahoma City in advancing to the second round. San Antonio was at Utah on Monday night looking to also complete a four game sweep.

Dating back to the regular season the Spurs have won a baker’s dozen, thirteen games in a row. All but two of those wins have been by double digits including the first three games against the Jazz as the margins have been 15, 31 and 12 points. The Spurs look every bit the team to beat in the West, although should the Spurs make it to the Conference Finals they should face a challenge from the winner of the likely series between Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Should Utah gain a measure of satisfaction in winning Game four and return to San Antonio for a fifth game, the Spurs would be the play to wrap things up and would be the preferred play even though the line will be in line with the 11 points San Antonio spotted in Games 1 and 2.

The Lakers took a 3-1 edge when they won at Denver on Sunday night and will have a chance to eliminate the Nuggets this Tuesday night in Game 5. The Lakers are favored by 6 points to do so and would be the preferred play. They already would enter the second round with less rest than Oklahoma City so the incentive to end the series as quickly as possible is there.

The Lakers would be the play in Game 5 and again in Game 6 should Denver extend the series. UNDER should also be considered. Seven of the eight meetings this season have stayed UNDER the total. The only OVER occurred in Game 2 when the Lakers’ 104-100 win went OVER by a 1½ points.

Six contests have stayed UNDER by double digits including the two games in this series in Denver, both of which stayed below the projected total by more than 20 points.

The series between fourth seeded Memphis and the fifth seeded LA Clippers could be tied. The Clippers were in position to take a 3-1 lead on Monday night, favored by 1½. Memphis was seeking to make this at least a six game series by winning on Monday and squaring the series at 2-2, reclaiming the home court advantage the Grizzlies surrendered in their monumental Game 1 collapse.

Memphis would be the play in Game five regardless of whether they are seeking to avoid elimination or seeking to take a 3-2 lead. Should there be a Game 6 in Los Angeles the play would be on the team seeking to avoid elimination should certain provisions be met.

If the Clippers are seeking to avoid elimination they would be playable only if they are underdogs or favored by no more than a single point. The Clippers’ free throw shooting is abysmal and a major deterrent to laying more than a single point. If Memphis is seeking to avoid elimination in Game 6 they would be playable up to being favored by 3.

Should there be a seventh and deciding game back in Memphis the host Grizzlies would be playable at up to -5 while it would take +7 or more to create playable interest in the Clippers.

Next week the playoffs will be assessed as they stand following Sunday’s games, by which time we should know most, if not all, of the second round matchups.


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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