NBA has best 4 on floor

May 24, 2005 7:27 AM

The "Favored Four" have reached the NBA Conference Finals.

The Western Conference championship began Sunday with San Antonio winning in Phoenix 121-114 to take control of the home court and make Tuesday’s Game 2 absolutely critical for Phoenix if the Suns hope to advance.

Both teams have solid starting lineups with no fewer than three All Star caliber players apiece. For Phoenix, league MVP Steve Nash controls the offense with Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. San Antonio is led by two-time league MVP Tim Duncan and great support from the improving guards Tony Parker and the unheralded Manu Ginobili.

The forecast here several weeks ago was for Phoenix to ride the best regular season record in more than six seasons to the NBA title. But critical to that forecast was the ability to overcome the hurdle of the Spurs, a team that gave the Suns trouble during the regular season in the two meetings when both Duncan and Ginobili were in the lineup.

The Spurs had not been nearly as sharp on the road compared to home in the first two playoff rounds. Against Seattle, the Spurs lost twice and struggled to win the Game 6 clincher. They had only one additional day of rest heading to Phoenix for Sunday’s opening game, but still managed to overcome a deficit after three quarters to win rather easily. The Spurs also showed they can win at an uptempo pace.

Phoenix has opened a four-point favorite in Game 2 with the season probably on the line. In most games, the winning team has also covered the pointspread. Thus Phoenix will be the play. Should the Suns get the straight up win and tie the series at 1-1, they are still the choice to advance. But facing a 2-0 deficit would be too much to overcome since three of the next five games are at San Antonio. In fact, the Spurs might well sweep the Suns if San Antonio returns home after a pair of wins.

The wagering strategy will be to back Phoenix in Game 2. Should Phoenix win and even the series, a more confident Suns team will be in position to at least split in San Antonio. The expectation would be that the series would return to Phoenix tied at 2-2. Game 3 might then be a game to pass, opting to bet the loser in Game 4.

Should San Antonio return home up 2-0, the Spurs would be the play in Game 3 and again in Game 4 if looking to complete the sweep. A Phoenix win in Game 3 to pull the Suns within 2-1 would then make the Suns a play plus the points in Game 4 to even the series. The UNDER may be the best play for both Games 3 and 4 in San Antonio.

Beasts of the East

The Eastern Conference finals are intriguing with Miami holding the top seed looking to dethrone defending champion Detroit.

The Pistons are at least as strong as last year and arguably better with Rasheed Wallace on the team for the full season. The Pistons are one of the top defensive teams in the league and have nice offensive balance with Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince and Wallace providing scoring punch.

The offensive balance enables the other Wallace (Ben) to concentrate on being a dominant defensive force. Miami is led by Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, with support coming from the Joneses (Eddie and Damon), and other role players. Shaq is considered the key to Miami’s chances, but he was banged up heading into Monday’s first game.

Wade has quickly become one of the league’s elite players. Detroit coach Larry Brown might focus on limiting Wade’s effectiveness, while allowing Shaq to do his thing. That’s a similar strategy to what Brown devised last season in the NBA Finals when the Pistons easily defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. The focus there was to deny Kobe Bryant the ability to make things happen while letting Shaq get his points.

The forecast is for Detroit to prevail in six games. The Pistons were the play in Game 1 and again in Game 2, if losing the opener to Miami. Detroit would also be the play back home in Game 3, regardless of how the series stands.

Up 2-0 would signal that Detroit is clearly the better team and that Miami is overmatched. Down 2-0 would make Game 3 critical for the Pistons. Tied at 1-1 would shift the home court edge to the Pistons and give them the edge. If the series is 2-1 heading into Game 4, the team needing to win to even the series would be the Game 4 play. If either team is up 3-0 that team would be the play to complete a shocking four game sweep.

The OVER/UNDER seems to present opportunities as well. The Game 1 line of 181½ was surprising given the season series between the teams that saw 155, 167 and 152 total points scored. Detroit won two of the three meetings. All three clearly went UNDER by an astonishing 32, 16 and 36½ points. Playoff basketball tends to be even lower scoring so we still would side with UNDER 178. A 181 total is in line with overall season to date scoring averages of the teams.