The underdogs still rule in the NBA playoffs

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To win an NBA Title a team must win 16 games over roughly a two month stretch of time from mid -pril through mid-June.

Four teams are halfway to that goal as Indiana, Miami, Oklahoma City and San Antonio have advanced to their Conference Finals.

The first round of this season’s Playoffs was perhaps the most exciting and entertaining in history with five of the eight series going the full seven games and a sixth series lasting six games. Half of the Playoff field, eight teams, was thusly eliminated from the chase to the NBA Title.

The Playoffs’ second round was not quite as dramatic or exciting although it did feature several games with much in-game volatility. A handful of games, including back to back contests between Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers, had teams overcoming double digit fourth quarter deficits to earn victories.

However none of those four second round series went the distance with two of the series ending in six games and the other two in five games.

But after the first 72 games of this season’s NBA Playoffs, form has ultimately held as the top two seeds in each conference are meeting for the right to play in the NBA Finals.

The most enigmatic of the four is Indiana. For much of the first three months of the season the Pacers looked like the team that not only could, but would, end the reign of the two-time defending champion Miami Heat and were considered by many as the team to beat for this season’s title.

Things took a dramatic turn downward for the Pacers in midseason. Whether it was the trading away of veteran Danny Granger, the signing of Andrew Bynum, reported internal locker room conflicts, or a combination of all three, the Pacers were barely a Playoff team following the All Star break.

Underdogs continue to produce winning tickets at the betting windows. After going 33-15-1 ATS (69 percent) in the opening round of the Playoffs the second round produced similar results. In the second round underdogs were a solid 14-7 ATS (67 percent) such that through more than three quarters of the now potentially 94 Playoff games this season underdogs are hitting close to 70 percent ATS after Indiana covered as a home underdog against Miami in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals.

There have been a pair of pick ‘em games with the road team winning one and the road team winning the other. Totals were skewed strongly to the OVER in the first round of the Playoffs with 32 OVER and 18 UNDER (64 percent OVER). But the second round produced a 50/50 split (11-11).

Indiana and Miami opened the Conference Finals with a solid OVER as Indiana’s 107-96 win easily exceeded 182, bringing the Playoffs results to date to 44-29 (60 percent). That win by Indiana, in which the Pacers led wire to wire, was easily the Pacers’ best effort of this Playoff season and may well have been their best performance over the past two seasons.

The opening game of the Western Conference Finals was played Monday night with top seeded San Antonio hosting second seeded Oklahoma City.

Here’s a look at both Conference Finals series as they stand after Sunday’s first game of the third round of the Playoffs in which the Pacers took a 1 game to none lead over Miami

Indiana vs. Miami: After losing on the road in a tough seven game series in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals Indiana’s professed goal entering this season was to achieve the top seed in the East to gain the home court edge for a game seven should there be a rematch between the Pacers and the Heat this season.

Based upon their effort in getting by first Atlanta and then Washington Indiana may have been “playing possum” in advancing to a rematch with the Heat. After looking like the team to beat for the NBA Title from November through January Indiana played terribly over the second half of the season and into the Playoffs. Miami had much less difficulty in going 8-1 in their first two Playoffs series, sweeping past Charlotte and then ousting Brooklyn in five games.

The Heat and Pacers split their four regular season meetings with each team winning twice on its home court. Indiana won the first meeting by 6 points in early December with Miami winning by 3 points a week later. The teams next met nearly three months later, in late March, with Indiana winning by a single point. Just over two weeks later Miami won by the largest margin of the four meetings, 12 points.

Miami’s two wins each went OVER the Total whereas both of Indiana’s wins stayed UNDER. That pattern changed in Sunday’s series opener with Indiana winning and the game going OVER. Tuesday’s Game 2 will go a long way toward deciding how this series plays out.

Will Miami make the necessary adjustments to counter the surprising offensive aggressiveness Indiana displayed in game one? Or will the Pacers have success once again, albeit with minor tweaks, and take a two games to none lead to South Beach for Games 3 and 4?

In approaching this series from a betting perspective it might be best to not make a side play in Game 2 but rather look toward the game staying UNDER. Miami is likely to make some defensive adjustments that will have the Pacers revert to their more methodical way of play. At the same time the Indiana defense has been a strength all season. The Total, which was 182 for Game 1, has been adjusted upward by a couple of points such that as of Monday morning it was sitting at a solid 184.

Game 3, which will not be played until Saturday, will present an excellent spot to play on Miami. Heading home Miami will either be down two games to none or the series will be tied. The Heat will have a chance to either gain its first lead of the series or to pull within two games to one. Miami will likely be favored by 7 to 9 points but playing at home, especially if down two-zero, we can expect this to be a “statement” game for the Heat.

Monday’s Game 4 would likely present a good spot to play Indiana plus the points unless the Pacers, by some unlikely set of circumstances, are up 3-0 and playing to complete a four game sweep. More likely the series will have either the Pacers or Heat up 2-1 and be competitive. Indiana, plus the points, would be the first way to look in Game 4.

Miami opened as high as -400 to win this series despite not having the home court advantage but more based on how poorly the Pacers had been playing for nearly the past three months. Following the Pacers’ impressive win in Game 1 the Heat are now priced at -200 to win the series.

Keep in mind that often series prices for Conference Championships and the NBA Finals are much less priced according to the “true” odds but rather geared more toward managing future book liabilities. Whereas Indiana attracted a lot of futures action to win the East up through January, their poor play in recent months had money flowing toward Miami as most observers had considered Indiana the lone true threat to the Heat reaching a fourth straight NBA Finals.

Ultimately the call is for Miami to win this series in 6. By being the 2 seed rather than 1 this would mean the Heat would win this series on its home court.

San Antonio vs. OKC: The most important bit of information is the absence of Serge Ibaka from the OKC lineup. One of the keys to the Thunder’s success over the past few seasons, Ibaka injured his calf in the series against the LA Clippers and the injury is expected to have him sidelined for the duration of the Playoffs. His contribution of 15.1 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game will be missed.

Perhaps the major task for OKC coach Scott Brooks will be to find an adequate replacement or replacements for Ibaka’s minutes with as little a decrease in production as possible. It will not be an easy chore.

In contrast, the main question mark for the Spurs surrounds Tony Parker who’s been bothered by a nagging hamstring for some time but is not expected to miss Monday’s opening game of this series. San Antonio is a deep and well balanced team but OKC has had the Spurs’ number in recent seasons, dating back to the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago.

After dropping the first two games in San Antonio, the Thunder then won four in a row to reach the NBA Finals, ultimately losing to Miami.

OKC took all four regular season meetings this season. Three of the meetings occurred in the first half of the season when San Antonio struggled against the elite teams in the league. The season sweep was completed in early April when the Spurs had almost clinched the top seed in the West but OKC was in a battle with the LA Clippers for the second seed.

Often when a key player is lost to injury his team rallies around his absence and puts forth a better-than-expected effort. If this is so then we might have seen the Thunder play well in Monday’s Game 1 in San Antonio to open the series. But if Ibaka’s absence was too much to overcome we might have seen the Spurs win rather handily.

Using the oft discussed “zig zag” theory this series may be one that plays out in that manner. Thus the play in Wednesday’s Game 2 would be on the loser of Monday’s opener. Game 3 will be played Sunday in Oklahoma City and the play would be on OKC if the Thunder lost both games in San Antonio.

If the series is 1-1 or in the unlikely scenario of OKC having continued its mastery over San Antonio by sweeping both games in Texas, the Game 3 play would be on San Antonio in what should be close to a pick ‘em.

The OVER/UNDER in four regular season meetings was 2-2. Both games in Oklahoma City went UNDER. We might look for this series to produce more UNDER results based upon OKC’s need to compensate for Ibaka’s absence at both ends of the court. The Spurs have long been noted for being a solid defensive team but have been able to push the pace when it was to their benefit.

Prior to the start of the series San Antonio was priced around -220 to win the series against OKC. The forecast here is for San Antonio to get past Oklahoma City in 5 or 6 games. The most likely scenario has the Spurs sweep the first two games at home and then split the two games in OKC.

With no games scheduled for Thursday or Friday the Conference Finals are being stretched out more than previous rounds.

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]

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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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