Heat, Suns blaze into second round

May 3, 2005 7:31 AM

Two of the 16 NBA playoff teams have begun their summer vacations as Memphis was ousted in four games by Western Conference top seed Phoenix and New Jersey was swept by East best Miami.

Phoenix was barely challenged in its sweep of the Grizzlies, while Miami met only token resistance from the Nets. The Heat needed double overtime to win Game 3, but has now earned plenty of rest before opening the conference semifinals.

The Suns will face the winner of the Dallas vs. Houston series. Miami will oppose either Chicago or Washington. Both top seeds will be highly favored to advance through the next round and it would be a surprise if either needed more than six games to reach the conference finals.

Starting the week, two other series were close to being decided. Detroit held a 3-1 lead over Philadelphia and Seattle held a similar margin over Sacramento. Both the Pistons and Sonics are headed hone for a fifth and potentially series clinching game Tuesday.

Detroit is heavily favored in its matchup against the 76ers and is the preferred play to end things in Game 5. Should the Pistons fall at home and be forced back to Philly for Game 6, Detroit would be an even stronger play to avoid a seventh contest. The line would probably be 5 to 6 points.

Seattle should be about a six-point favorite in its Game 5 against Sacramento and the visitors are worth a play given the overall inconsistency of Seattle’s play over the second half of the season. Seattle would be a solid play at home if forced to a Game 6.

A pair of Game 4 clashes Monday night would result in a tied series or another team taking a 3-1 lead. San Antonio has won twice since dropping the opener to Denver and Washington hosts Chicago in the only series that has seen the home team win every game.

Should San Antonio prevail Monday night and return home leading 3-1, the Spurs would be a solid play to wrap things up in Game 5. But should the Nuggets pull the minor upset and even the series, then Denver becomes attractive as close to a double digit favorite in Game 5. Monday’s game is key, for a Denver win likely signals a full seven game series with San Antonio.

If Washington can maintain serve and tie its series at two games apiece, the Wizards are a good play plus the points in Game 5 at Chicago. A loss to the Bulls at home on Monday, however, gives Chicago a 3-1 lead and they likely get eliminated at Chicago in Game 5.

The final two matchups are tied at two games apiece and are now best of three series. The road team is 4-0 in the series between Dallas and Houston. Boston and Indiana have each won a game at home and one on the road.

Dallas had a chance Monday night to gain the first edge in their series against Houston. Either way Dallas becomes a solid play in Game 6 as an underdog back in Houston, looking to either close out the Rockets or force a deciding seventh game.

Regardless of Monday’s result, the Game 6 line will be close to pick ’em. Should the series go the full seven, Dallas would still be preferred to advance to round 2 even though they’d be moderate sized favorites in that final contest against Houston.

Boston’s series against Indiana has the makings of going the full seven, as not much separates the two teams. Boston is arguably the more talented team, but Indiana is one of the top two or three best coached teams in the league. Look for the loser of Game 5 on Tuesday to come back and force a Game 7.

As such, Tuesday’s loser would be a good play in Game 6 and should there be a Game 7, it would be very difficult to buck history. Home teams in seventh games are very strong and that would greatly favor the Celtics to win such a contest on their home court.

Next week we’ll know the matchups for the Eastern and and Conference semi-finals, one or more of which series may have already gotten underway.

CHICAGO FORWARD ANDRES NOCIONI stepped up big in the series against Washington before going down in Game 3. The Bulls led best of 7 series, 2-1.