The NBA playoffs are finally getting serious.
There were few surprises in the opening round with perhaps the biggest shocks coming from the Game 7 blowout home loss by Boston to Indiana and the 40-point debacle in Dallas that eliminated Houston. On the positive side perhaps Seattle’s surprisingly easy dispatch of Sacramento in five games raised some eyebrows. It also might have given a false sense of hope to Sonics fans.
Sweeps by Miami over New Jersey and Phoenix against Memphis showed why each were tops in their conferences during the regular season. Five game wins by Detroit and San Antonio also showed why the Pistons and Spurs are legitimate threats to make it to the NBA Finals despite not having home court advantages over the Heat and Suns respectively.
Miami’s easy win over Washington in Game 1 of their series and San Antonio’s similarly easy win over Seattle in their opener shows that there is a difference between the very good teams in the NBA and the league’s elite. Both the Heat and Spurs were installed as better than 10-1 favorites to advance to the conference finals. It would be surprising if either team needs more than five games to close out the Wizards and Sonics.
The key to handicapping success in the playoffs remains in picking your spots to play. Not every game is playable. The "zig zag" theory (detailed several issues back) remains a viable road map, but even that strategy cannot be followed blindly. Perhaps one theory that comes closest to being one that can be played almost blindly involves playing a team down 0-2 when returning home as an underdog in Game 3.
Should both the Wizards and Sonics lose Tuesday as expected, each would be looked upon as potential plays if getting at least four points in Game 3 back home. Should either home dog move to within 2-1 in their series, the road team would be the play in Game 4. Should either series be tied 1-1, then the road team would be the play in Game 3 as they seek to regain home court advantage.
The two series that began Monday should each be more competitive than the two just discussed.
Even though Detroit is nearly a 10-1 favorite to defeat Indiana, do not be shocked if this series goes six or seven games. The Pistons are the better team and as defending champions deserve to be favored. But these division rivals know one another very well. Indiana’s Rick Carlisle will not be out coached by Detroit’s Larry Brown.
Carlisle is well familiar with the Pistons having coached them for two seasons, before being replaced before the start of last season in favor of Brown. Carlisle took over a team that had won 32 games and led the Pistons to back to back 50 win seasons.
What also gives Indiana a shot in the series comes from a review of what took place during the regular season. No, not the infamous brawl in November that cost the Pacers the services of both Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal for extended stretches and Ron Artest for basically the entire season. This enabled the Pacers to develop excellent depth before Jackson and O’Neal returned.
Rather, let’s focus on all four games played between the teams. Three were decided by double digits. What makes this unusual is that all four games were won by the visiting team. Three went UNDER the total and low scoring is expected to be the theme of the playoff series. The line for Game 1 opened at 172 and we can expect similar totals throughout the series.
Indiana at +9 made sense in Game 1 and would be worth playing again at roughly the same line should they lose straight up. Should the Pacers be down 0-2 returning home for Game 3 they would be the play, even on the money line as an underdog. It would not be surprising to see Detroit take a 3-1 lead back home for Game 5 and see Indiana pull within 3-2 at that stage.
Oddly, the road team also prevailed in the three games played between Dallas and Phoenix. But unlike the Indiana/Detroit season series, all three games between the Mavericks and Suns were decided by six points or less. Two of the three went OVER, producing 232 and 247 total points during regulation time.
The ability of Dallas competing with the team holding the NBA’s best record, including a road win, gives Mavs backers reason to predict an upset. The Suns are modest 3-1 favorites to advance to the Western Conference finals.
The selection is for Phoenix to advance, likely in at least six games. While the series should be high scoring, the OVER may not be playable. Even at a relatively ”˜low’ 220. Each must score at least 28 points per quarter for the game to go OVER. An UNDER play would be very risky.
Perhaps if the line is inflated to 230 or more, a case for UNDER can be made. The Underdog may be the best play throughout this offensive series.