But Lakers still favored in West division
The playoff field has been trimmed to seven teams after Phoenix completed a surprising sweep of San Antonio Sunday night and the field could be trimmed even further by the time you read this as both Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers were in position Monday night to complete sweeps of their own with wins at Atlanta and Utah respectively.
Orlando has been especially impressive as heading into Monday’s game in Atlanta the Magic had won all 7 playoff games after ending the season on a 6-game winning streak that has now reached a baker’s dozen.
While many observers have been forecasting a Cavaliers/Lakers showdown in the NBA Finals let’s not forget that Orlando won the Eastern Conference title last season to reach the Finals where they lost to the Lakers in five games. That followed the ousting of Cleveland by Orlando in six games even though, as would be the case this season, the Cavs had the home court advantage. And this season’s version of Orlando is stronger than last season’s.
Orlando was a solid half dozen point favorite to wrap up their series in Atlanta on Monday night. Should there be a game five back in Orlando on Wednesday the Magic would be about 10 point favorites to end it then.
After winning the opener in Orlando by 33 points and following that up with a 14 point win in game two, the Magic should have little problem preventing a two game Atlanta win streak that would put the Hawks back in the series. Orlando would be a solid play in game five if it gets that far.
The Magic will await the winner of the Cleveland/Boston series, the only second round series that has been competitive thus far. The Cavs and Celtics traded wins in the first four games to make this now a best of three series starting Tuesday in Cleveland with the Cavs favored by seven and a half on the opening line.
The first four games in this series have been decided by at least 8 points with each team also owning a blowout win as Boston won game two by 18 points before falling to Cleveland back home in game three by 29.
We’ve clearly seen that despite the difference in their regular season records these two teams are close in overall talent and ability notwithstanding the wide swings in results. Boston won the NBA Title just two seasons ago and their window of opportunity may be starting to close. Cleveland has become a mature team and should they win game five as they are expected to do, it would not be a surprise to see the Cavs wrap up the series back in Boston in game six. In fact, a game six play on the winner of game five appears to be the strongest wagering situation remaining in this series. Most likely that will be a play on the Cavs unless the Celtics pull a stunner Tuesday night.
Phoenix now awaits the winner of the series between the Lakers and Jazz with the Lakers having been in position to wrap up the series Monday night in Utah where the Jazz were three point favorites to ex10d the series. Both teams entered this series with nagging injuries and the Lakers were clearly better to overcome theirs than has been Utah. The Lakers hold significant fundamental edges over Utah, not the least of which is a size advantage, and the Lakers have played well in late game situations of what had become tight games following Utah comebacks. Los Angeles’ margins of victory in the first three games were just 5, 8 and 1, illustrative of their ability to win the end game.
Utah is talented enough to have won game four and avoid the sweep but back in Los Angeles for game five on Wednesday it would be hard to go against the Lakers even at an inflated pointspread that would be based more on the current situation than on the true difference between the teams. A play on the Jazz in game five would require the taking of at least 10 points which is probably about a trey more than by which the Lakers will be favored. At minus 7 or less the Lakers would be the play to wrap up the series. In the unlikely event that Utah manages to pull within 3 games to 2 and return to Utah for game 6 it would be the Jazz that would make for the attractive play in such a scenario.
Looking ahead to a likely Western Conference finals between Phoenix and the Lakers, Los Angeles would be solid favorites to prevail. The Lakers have won three of four meetings from the Suns both this season and last and would enter this series just one step away from having a chance to reprise last season’s NBA Title. The Suns are a much improved team defensively this season but that should not be enough and the call would be for the Lakers to advance in at most six games.
In the Eastern Conference finals it would be Orlando against either Cleveland or Boston and the Magic would have an excellent shot against either, especially if the Celtics/Cavs series goes seven games and the Eastern Finals open two days later. The Magic would be well rested and in excellent position to win at least one of two games in Cleveland and would be solidly favored to sweep their opening two games against Boston which would be played in Orlando.
It’s too early to make a call on the possible matchups but certainly Orlando would be attractive if laying no more than minus 250 against Boston to win that series or if getting at least plus 150 against Cleveland. However regardless of the matchup Orlando would be an attractive game one take in Cleveland or an attractive game one lay if hosting the Celtics.
More on the continuation of the NBA playoffs next week.