Los Angeles Lakers demise ignites Miami Heat in NBA Playoffs

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Wow!

Few people expected there to be a sweep in the Western Conference semifinals series between Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers.

And those who did forecast a sweep (33-1 odds according to the Hilton’s Jay Kornegay) almost universally had the two time defending NBA Champion Lakers pulling off the feat.

Especially with the first two games at home against a Mavericks team that had fallen short of playoff expectations in recent seasons.

But in one of the most stunning developments in recent NBA history it was Dallas who dispatched the defending champions in four straight, including an impressive 122-86 win in Sunday’s Game 4 to complete the sweep.

Further marred by a pair of ugly incidents involving Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum in the fourth quarter, Sunday’s loss brought to an end the Lakers’ coaching career of Phil Jackson. Owner of a record 11 championship rings, Jackson contemplated retirement prior to this season but the challenge of completing a second “three-peat” with the Lakers (and his fourth overall) proved too tempting to pass by.

Yet despite the failure to achieve that goal Jackson appeared quite relieved following the shocking four-game sweep. It also seemed that Jackson, and his team, just mailed it in once Dallas took a commanding second quarter lead. In coming days we may learn there was much more at work behind the scenes in the Lakers locker-room that will partially explain their rather uninspired effort throughout the playoffs, as has been widely rumored.

But take nothing away from Dallas. The Mavericks played outstanding basketball, starting with having overcome a late 16 point deficit to win game one in Los Angeles. As a result of the sweep the Mavs will have additional time to prepare for the conference finals.

That will give them a chance to celebrate the high from having beaten the Lakers yet also provide enough time to come down from that high and be ready to take on the survivor of the Memphis vs. Oklahoma City series.

And let’s also heap praise upon Dallas coach Rick Carlisle who many felt was shortchanged earlier in his coaching career, first at Detroit and then at Indiana. The former Celtics’ reserve has brought a defensive oriented philosophy to Dallas and his teams have shown improvement in his three seasons on the bench as have Dallas’ wins, improving from 50 to 55 to 57 this past regular season.

Through 57 playoff games, home favorites are just 18-23-2 ATS. Home underdogs are 8-6 ATS. Road underdogs just 24-23-2 ATS since covering in seven of the eight opening games in the first round. Pretty much a coin flip since that much publicized torrid start to the playoffs for road dogs. This shows the importance of analyzing and betting each game on its own merits rather than relying on what might at first seem to be a powerful trend or pattern.

Totals results have been similarly almost even with 27 games going over, 30 staying under through this past Sunday.

Memphis had a chance to extend to a commanding 3-1 series lead in Monday night’s home game against the Thunder. Oklahoma City blew a large late lead in Saturday’s Game 3, going cold for the final half of the fourth quarter and most of the overtime session in a 101-93 loss.

The Thunder’s offensive strategy in the late stages of the game has come under sharp criticism as star Kevin Durant was barely involved.

There are many similarities between these two teams on the rise and each figures to be contenders for the next several years. Although Oklahoma City has received more recognition with Durant and Russell Westbrook anchoring a deep roster, Memphis has its own talented roster, led by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and complemented by Mike Conley and O J Mayo.

To further send notice to the rest of the NBA the Grizzlies have played the second half of the season without 20 points per game scorer Rudy Gay.

Monday’s game is critical as to how this series likely plays out. Should Memphis take the 3-1 lead the Grizzlies would be the choice to win this series in six. Should the Thunder tie the series, Oklahoma City would be the pick to win the series in perhaps six. The forecast would be for the home team to win Games 5, 6 and 7 if the series gets extended.

Heading into Monday’s game Memphis had won five of seven previous meetings this season (including three of four in the regular season). Two of Memphis’ wins needed overtime, indicative of how evenly matched these teams are. At a line of 4 or less the home team will be worth backing for the duration of the series.

At a line of 6 or more your attention should turn to the underdog.

EAST

Chicago is having more trouble than expected with Atlanta in their Eastern Conference semifinals series. The Hawks win on Sunday tied the series 2-2, reducing their battles to a best two of three.

Atlanta has been well prepared in the playoffs, first against Orlando and now against the Bulls, and have to be taken seriously back home in game six regardless of the result of Tuesday’s Game 5.

Chicago is favored by 9 points in Game 5 and in winning four of seven meetings with the Hawks this season all four wins have been by at least 13 points. Chicago is the one with need in Game 5. A loss would give Atlanta the chance to wrap up the series back home in Game 6.

Look for an impressive effort from the Bulls on Tuesday. If Atlanta is getting at least three back home in Game 6 that would be the play as a home underdog. Should the series go to a seventh game, history gives the home team (Chicago), a solid edge. But the Bulls will be heavily favored, likely close to double digits.

The better option in a seventh and deciding game would be to look UNDER the total if you are not able to lay single digits with Chicago.

Finally, Boston was in position to square its series with Miami at 2-2 on Monday night. Should Miami take a 3-1 lead back to South Beach for Game 5 on Wednesday, the Heat would be the play to wrap up the series if favored by no more than 4. If the series is even, the Celtics would make for an attractive underdog play if getting at least 4.

Should Boston be in position to clinch the series in Game 6 at home, the Celtics would be the play if laying 2 points or less. Such a situation would have meant that Boston would have won both Games 4 and 5.

Miami, if laying 4 points or less in a seventh game, would be the play to dethrone the defending Eastern Conference champs.

By this time next week we should know the four teams that will be playing the conference finals for a chance to advance to the NBA Finals that begin in early June.

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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