The initial eight days of the NBA Playoffs has been perhaps the best first round of action since the NBA expanded its postseason format a generation ago to include 16 teams.
Upsets have become the norm and teams that were expected to make deep runs into May are on the verge of being eliminated by the end of April.
Sadly, the play on the court was overshadowed this weekend by the revelation of some very racist and offensive comments reportedly uttered by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The NBA, led by new commissioner Adam Silver, is conducting a swift but thorough investigation of the comments and the surrounding situation with an eye towards taking decisive action if warranted.
Once the comments can be authenticated as being those of Sterling and that they were not altered or taken out of contest viable options include a hefty fine and suspension.
Given his litigious nature it is probable that Sterling will not simply take any punishment without taking action on his own.
This remains a fluid situation that has unfortunately, though understandably, taken attention away from the great action on the court involving some of the world’s best athletes.
Entering Monday’s action the two time defending champion Miami Heat was the only team in position to complete a four game sweep.
Four of the series are tied after four games at 2-2 while the Dallas vs. San Antonio series has seen only three games played through Sunday with the underdog Mavericks up 2-1.
The two teams thought to have excellent chances of making it to their Conference Finals, Chicago in the East and Houston in the West, could each be eliminated before May Day.
Chicago returns home on Tuesday trailing Washington 3-1 and Houston returns home on Wednesday trailing Portland 3 to 1.
Considered the sport that plays truest to form in the Playoffs over the years the opening round of this season’s NBA Playoffs is putting that reputation to its most severe test ever. The first week of action was outstanding, exciting and entertaining. We can only hope that this coming week produces more of the same.
Here’s a look at each series entering Monday’s action.
Miami vs. Charlotte: If Charlotte won Monday night then this series likely will conclude in Miami on Wednesday. After getting a scare from the Bobcats at the end of Game 2 the Heat wasted little time in building a commanding Game 3 lead en route to a 13 point win. Should Charlotte have pulled the upset on Monday night to force a fifth game in Miami on Wednesday look for the Heat to close out the series with a solid double digit win. Then they await the winner of the Brooklyn vs. Toronto series.
Toronto vs. Brooklyn: This has become a best of three series that continues after the teams split the first four games winning once at home and once on the road. Game 5 is Wednesday in Toronto. Despite some wide swings in the individual games this has been a very even series. Each team has outscored the other in 8 of the 16 quarters and the Raptors have outscored the Nets 372-370 in the four games. Toronto has gotten over the jitters they experienced in their game one loss and this has the makings of a seven game series. Which means taking more than 3 points is the preferred way to play.
Indiana vs. Atlanta: This is also now a best of three series after Indiana won Games 2 and 4. The Pacers still do not have the cohesion that marked their play for the first three months of the season but remain as talented team as there is in the Playoffs. Atlanta has been scrappy and has not shown they are intimidated. The Pacers remain the choice to advance and could do so in Game 6 on Thursday after Game 5 was played at home on Monday.
Atlanta can be considered for play as a home underdog in Game 6 whether they are seeking to avoid elimination or are in position to put the Pacers out of their misery and pull a rare upset of an 8 seed over a 1. If the series does return to Indiana for a Game 7 then the play would be on the Pacers if laying 4 or less or on Atlanta if the Hawks are getting at least 7 points.
Chicago vs. Washington: This may be the most surprising of the opening round series as the highly regarded Bulls return home facing elimination following their loss on Sunday in Washington that put them in a 3-1 deficit. The Wizards’ fine backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall has forced the pace and Chicago has been unable to match the Wizards at the offensive end of the court. That limitation has negated their edge at the defensive end. But the Wizards have also been able to control the paint.
Chicago is favored at home by 4 to 4½ points in Tuesday’s Game 5. That price may be a bit too high to lay considering how the Bulls have played but another way to back the Bulls in this game, aside from playing the Money Line, would be to look UNDER the Total on the premise that the Bulls’ key to success will be improved play at the defensive end. Should the teams head to Washington for a Game 6 the Wizards would be playable if not laying more than a deuce. And should the Bulls tie the series and return home for a seventh game Chicago would be the play if laying 4 points or less.
San Antonio vs. Dallas: By the time you are reading this the defending Western Conference Champion Spurs will either be on the verge of elimination or will have made this a best of three series with a win at Dallas on Monday night. After 10 straight wins over their in-state rivals, including a come from behind win in this series opener, San Antonio dropped both Games 2 and 3 to the Mavericks heading into Monday’s Game 4.
Back home for Game 5, the Spurs would be the play to either prolong the series if down 3-1 or to take a 3-2 lead. Dallas how shown enough to be playable as a home underdog if there is a Game 6. If there is a Game 7 back in San Antonio the Spurs would be playable laying 7 points or less while it would take an improbable line of plus 10 or more to back Dallas in a seventh game.
Oklahoma City vs. Memphis: Oklahoma City led by 22 points at halftime of Game 1 and it appeared as though the Thunder might have little trouble in getting by the upstart Grizzlies, the team that knocked out OKC in last season’s Playoffs. But Memphis showed its toughness by outscoring the Thunder by 18 points in the third quarter to make it a four point game entering the final 12 minutes. OKC recovered to win that game by 14 points but each of the next three games went into overtime, with Memphis winning twice to tie the series at two games apiece heading into Tuesday’s Game 5. Memphis matches up well against OKC with the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol perhaps the NBA’s most unheralded defensive force.
At +6 Memphis is worth a play in Game 5 with the loser, at a line between +3 and -3, playable in Memphis for Game 6. If this series does go the full seven games the play in the series finale would be to take Memphis at +6 or more or play OKC if laying no more than 4 points.
Houston vs. Portland: Dating back to their final regular season meeting on March 9, 4 of the last 5 games between Portland and Houston have been decided in overtime, including three of the four games in this series. Interestingly, 3 of those 4 overtime games ended regulation tied at 106 (the other was tied at 110). That makes it tough to look UNDER.
In fact, all 7 meetings have gone OVER the total although each of the three games that were tied at 106 were UNDER at the end of regulation. Leading 3-1 Portland can wrap up the series with a win in Houston in Wednesday’s Game 5. The road team has won 3 of the 4 games thus far and Houston’s weaker defense has been a vulnerability Portland has been able to exploit. At plus 5.5 Portland is playable in Game 5 and, should they lose, would be playable at home in Game 6 if laying no more than 3 points. But should Houston win two in a row and force a seventh game back home in Houston we might consider throwing recent history aside an playing the Rockets if laying 4 points or less.
With potentially as many as 4 game sevens scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday all of the first round series will be over by the time next week’s column is penned. In that column the second round series involving the 8 teams that advance shall be previewed.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]