The second round of the NBA Playoffs, otherwise known as the Conference Semi-finals, are underway with Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers up one game to none against Boston and Utah respectively. The two other series are set to begin Monday night when San Antonio visits Phoenix and 24 hours later on Tuesday as Orlando hosts Atlanta.
This latter series is especially intriguing as it matches the only team, Orlando, to have swept a first round series against the only team, Atlanta, that needed the full seven games to advance. As a result, Tuesday’s opening game will be played with the Hawks having had barely 48 hours to prepare while the Magic are playing their first game in just over a week. Will Atlanta show signs of fatigue? Will Orlando benefit from the rest or show rust from the unusually lengthy layoff?
Before looking at each of these series, let’s share with you something of an oddity involving this season’s second round of the Playoffs. In all four of the series, the teams played either all OVERs or all UNDERs in their regular season meetings.
This may not have occurred in the past but in the regular season all four meetings between Boston and Cleveland went OVER the Total (as did the first game of their current series) as did all three meetings between Phoenix and San Antonio.
On the other hand all four meetings between Orlando and Atlanta stayed UNDER the Total as did all four regular season meetings between Utah and the Lakers. However, the Lakers’ 104-99 win in Sunday’s game one did go OVER the Total by about 5 points after the opening Total had been bet down by three points or so.
Here’s a brief look at how each of the four series may unfold over the next week.
Boston vs. Cleveland: Boston led for much of Saturday’s game one before succumbing to the Cavs in the fourth quarter. Clearly Boston has the talent and experience to give Cleveland a challenge but the Cavs are likely to prevail in at most six games. The teams traded road wins to start their regular season’s meetings before the home team won the final two meetings. Cleveland’s wins were more decisive (20 and 11 points) than were Boston’s (6 and 4). Boston was in a good spot Monday to pick up a pointspread cover if not an outright win and the forecast here calls for Boston to at least split their two games back home and most likely return to Cleveland for a fifth game either down 3-1 or tied at two games apiece. Cleveland would be a solid play back home in game five if not more than a 9 point favorite.
Atlanta vs. Orlando: Orlando won the first three of four regular season meetings by 17, 32 and 18 points before Atlanta won the most recent meeting by a slim 2 points at home in late March. Orlando enters this series well rested after sweeping Charlotte while Atlanta was extended to seven games by injury depleted Milwaukee. Orlando is stronger than last season when they lost to the Lakers in the NBA Finals and should advance past Atlanta, perhaps needing no more than five games to do so. From a wagering standpoint the Magic are heavy favorites in Tuesday’s game one and despite the layoff they figure to put plenty of pressure on weary Atlanta. Atlanta may be attractive as an underdog in game two if getting at least 8 points. If down 0-2 returning home Atlanta would be playable in game three if made the underdog. Otherwise, if the series is 1-1 (or Atlanta is up 2-0) Orlando would be playable in Atlanta in games three and four if favored by a trey or less, or if made the underdog with the expectation that the Magic, if they don’t sweep, would return back to Orlando for a fifth game holding a three games to one lead in the series.
Utah vs. L.A. Lakers: The Lakers displayed what has become a common tendency this season in beating Utah to open this series last Sunday. Los Angeles got out to an early comfortable lead before allowing the Jazz to make a late rally and ultimately hold a lead before rallying to get the win. Kobe Bryant came up big in the closing minutes of game one but the repeated roller coaster performances have to be a concern. The Lakers won three of four meetings in the regular season, all by double digits. Utah’s lone win was by 8 points at home in December. The Lakers should need no more than six games to get by Utah with Utah’s best chances for wins being back home in games three and four. If the Jazz return home down 0-2 they would make for an attractive play in game three, even as a small favorite. The Lakers would be playable in games four and five, especially if a small underdog in game four and not holding a 3-0 lead.
San Antonio vs. Phoenix: The home team won all three meetings this season with Phoenix taking two of the three and also covering in a loss at San Antonio. Similar to other second round series, both of Phoenix’ wins were by double digits while the Spurs eked out 3 point home win. Prior to the start of the Playoffs it was thought that the winner of the Spurs/Mavericks series would have an excellent chance to dethrone the Lakers as Western Champs. The Spurs were very impressive in getting past Dallas and the forecast is for the Spurs to get by the Suns as well, with six games the most likely scenario. Although Phoenix may well have prevailed in Monday’s opener, the Spurs would make for an attractive play in game two if they are looking to pull even and the Spurs would also be playable in games three and four back home if favored by 4 points or less.
These series will be revisited next week when, barring a sweep, the fifth games of each series are scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday.