No upsets coming in the NBA conference finals

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With this past Sunday’s win by Houston over the Los Angeles Clippers to complete an improbably comeback from being down 3 games to 1, the finals for both conferences have been set with the Western Conference, surprisingly, set to begin a night before the Eastern Conference series.

It’s surprising as there will be only a two day turnaround for the Rockets as they travel to Golden State whereas the Eastern Conference Finals were, er, finalized last Friday when Atlanta won its series against Washington in 6 games, setting up a match with Cleveland. The Cavaliers had wrapped up their series against Chicago a night earlier, also winning in 6 games.

Also on Friday night the overall top seeded Golden State Warriors wrapped up their series against Memphis, also in six games, to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

But perhaps the sequencing of the Conference Finals is not a surprise at all as we’ve known for many years that television dictates the scheduling of major sporting events and the programming geniuses have determined that the short turnaround for the Rockets is preferable to starting the series in which both combatants will have had at least two more nights of rest than the team that played in the only second round series that went the maximum seven games.

Now that the Conference Finals we have another surprise – both series match the top two seeds in each conference.

Here’s a preview:

Atlanta (1) vs Cleveland (2): When LeBron James announced last summer that he was returning home to Cleveland the odds on the Cavaliers dropped quickly from the vicinity of 30 to 1 to about 6 to 1. Despite a sluggish start to the season (Cleveland was just 19-20 on January 14) the Cavs gelled over the second half of the season and, including their 8-2 record in these Playoffs, are 42-11 since. If you are holding a 30 to 1 ticket in your pocket you are feeling very, very good about your chances. And if you have the Cavs at 6-1 you are still in pretty good shape.

Atlanta has been all about team play since the start of the season. After dominating the East for most of the regular season (the Hawks were 53-14 through March 16) Atlanta is just 15-12 since, including 6-6 in the Playoffs.

Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving was banged up in the series against Chicago and played at less than full strength in the final couple of games. His health clearly will have a major impact on this series. The Cavs showed their mettle in overcoming the loss of Kevin Love for the entire series and managed a split of the first two games when J R Smith was serving his suspension for his play in the final game of the Boston series.

Midseason acquisitions have strengthened the Cleveland bench and while bench depth is not as big a factor in the playoffs when you don’t have back to back games or three games in four nights having key role players for certain matchups or situations is a strength.

Atlanta struggled against both Brooklyn and Washington in advancing to the Conference Finals, needing six games to win each and displaying lackluster play for extended stretches in several games, seeing several comfortable double digit leads erased. Cleveland faced better opponents in sweeping past Boston and then defeating Chicago in six games.

Atlanta will be competitive in this series but the call is for Cleveland to win the series in six games, meaning they’d win the game on their home court. Atlanta might be the preferred play in Wednesday’s opener. The loser of Game 1 is more likely to make significant adjustments after determining what succeeded and what failed in the opening game.

Golden State (1) vs Houston (2): Give Houston tons of credit for coming back against the Clippers to win their series in seven games. But their comeback may speak more to issues with the Clippers and a lack of leadership, intestinal fortitude or other factors.

It is inexcusable for a team, leading by 19 points with under 3 minutes to go in the third quarter of a game that will send that team to the Conference Finals – played on its home court – to lose that game. And then to be so poorly outplayed as they were in Sunday’s seventh game at Houston suggests that there still is much work to do in changing the negative culture of the Clippers. Don’t blame Chris Paul who played well despite playing through injury. Again, let’s also give credit to the Rockets for taking advantage of the opportunity given them. They may not be as fortunate in attempting to reach the NBA Finals.

The Warriors dominated the season series, winning and covering all four games against the Rockets. All four wins were by double digits – between 11 and 25 points.

The Warriors were an outstanding 39-2 at home. They were also a very impressive 25-14-2 ATS on their home court. Golden State is a 10 point home favorite for Tuesday’s opening game.

The pick is for Golden State to win in 5. The Rockets have enough offense to win one of the two games on their home court. But the Warriors should produce more profits at the betting windows as they advance to the NBA Finals. Both series will be re-examined in next week’s column based on where they stand through Sunday.

In the meantime, enjoy the basketball and have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend.

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]

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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