Western playoffs

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Lakers don’t look like the 2009 champs

As we go to press following Sunday’s quartet of playoff games, none of the opening round series has been decided. Boston did have a chance to close out Miami Sunday morning but the Heat finally played their best since the first three quarters of game one (in which they blew a double digit lead) by comfortably downing the Celtics 101-92 and avoided a four game sweep.

The Celtics are favored by a half dozen points to end the series back home in Tuesday’s game five and Boston should do just that. Despite their age they have too many options and pretty good depth to overcome Miami and Dwyane Wade, whose 46 points enabled the Heat to stay alive. However, should Miami pull the upset in game five the Heat would again be playable back home in game six to square the series and force a game seven. The Celtics then become the play but most likely the series ends Tuesday night.

Orlando was in position to sweep Charlotte out of the playoffs, leading three games to none as the team met in Charlotte on Monday night. Should the Bobcats have gained a measure of respect by avoiding the sweep with a game four win, Orlando would be a solid play to end the series back home in game five on Wednesday, likely favored by about 9 points. Should the Magic fall at home and take a 3 to 2 lead back to Charlotte, Orlando would be an even stronger play to end things in game six.

Cleveland is favored by a dozen points – the highest spread thus far of any game in the playoffs – over Chicago in Tuesday’s game five of the 1 vs. 8 series. After Chicago held on for a two point win in game three the Cavs took charge in game four, winning by 23 on the road. Back in Cleveland the Cavs should eliminate the Bulls but laying a dozen points is asking a lot. The Bulls were a tough out last season, losing in seven games to Boston. Still, the preference would be ever so slightly to lay the points as Cleveland will want to avoid a sixth game back in Chicago and once the outcome is inevitable the trailing team often loses interest and accepts defeat while the home team remains fired up by the supportive crowd. Should Chicago pull the game five upset the Cavs would make for a strong play in game six.

The slow play series has been Atlanta which played Monday night in Milwaukee looking to go up three games to one after the Bucks stunned the Hawks with an 18 point win in game three. Milwaukee is shorthanded but sent a message to Atlanta with that game three win. The Hawks were two point favorites to take a three games to one lead back home to Atlanta for game five. Atlanta is playable to wrap up the series in game five or six if needed.

The competitive Western Conference has been just that – competitive. The top seeded L.A. Lakers are tied two games apiece with eighth seeded Oklahoma City while the number 7 seed, San Antonio, is up three games to one on second seeded Dallas with a chance to close out the Mavericks in Dallas on Tuesday. Another lower seed team also has a three games to one lead as fifth seeded Utah looks to close out fourth seeded Denver if they can win in Denver on Wednesday.

The other Western series has third seeded Phoenix and sixth seeded Portland tied at two games apiece as the teams head back to Phoenix for Tuesday’s game five.

The Lakers/Thunder series has been most intriguing. As the teams return to LA for what is now a best of three series the Thunder have the only convincing win in the series, game four’s 21 point blowout. It was the only game decided by double digits in the series. The Lakers are favored by just five and a half points in Tuesday’s game five. Despite the concerns the Lakers are the play in game five with Oklahoma City playable back home in game six provided they are not favored. Should there be a game seven it would be hard to not play on the Lakers despite their having shown vulnerabilities.

Dallas is playable as 5 point favorites back home in game five as they seek to avoid elimination by San Antonio. We should get Dallas’ best effort and it would not be a surprise to see the Mavs win by double digits. Game Six would be more problematic. The Mavs would still be looking to stay alive and would be playable if getting at least a trey. The Spurs’ two wins at home in the series have been by just 4 and 3 points, narrow enough of a margin to suggest that Dallas could have easily won either or both games. The UNDER is also worth considering for the balance of this series. Including their regular season meetings 7 of the 8 games have stayed UNDER the Total, including all four in the Playoffs. If the series goes seven Dallas would be the play in that contest if laying no more than 4 points.

Denver faces elimination back home in Wednesday’s game five against Utah and are favored by six and a half points to extend the series. Considering that both of these teams were barely average on the road while extremely strong at home the play would be on Denver to force a game six back in Utah where the Jazz would be playable to advance to the second round. But should Denver pull off back to back wins the Nuggets would be the play at home in game seven.

Portland must be commended for playing as well as they have despite all their injury woes. Star Brandon Roy did play in game four and helped the Blazers square their series with Phoenix at two games apiece. Phoenix was favored by six and a half points Monday night at home to take a three games to two lead with game six scheduled for Thursday in Portland. The home team is playable in game six and a game seven, if needed. The key is clearly game six as the Blazers would be in position to end the series had they upset Phoenix on Monday night and would be playable to do so. Otherwise, the Blazers would still be playable to force a seventh game in which Phoenix would be the play back home.

The lines maker has done an excellent job in pricing the first 30 Playoff games as through Sunday a dozen of them fell within 3 points of the closing line. That’s an incredible 40 percent. Five of them occurred the opening weekend. While there have also been several games that missed the mark by more than 20 points the fact that there have been so many games coming down to a made or missed basket or free throw at the end of the game should fully illustrate how important it is to be selective and making plays when the game situation meets your own criterion for play. The one advantage the better has over the sports book is that of selectivity. We only have to play the games in which we feel there are edges.

Totals results have been almost right down the middle with 15 games going OVER, 14 staying UNDER and one contest ending in a Totals push.

 

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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