Despite those thrills, it’s Pistons, Mavs, SA

May 23, 2006 3:27 AM

It will be hard to top the competitiveness and excitement of the recently concluded NBA conference semifinals.

Three of the four series went the full seven games and starting the week only the East finals matchup is known. Detroit survived a major scare from up and coming Cleveland to play a strong fourth quarter en route to a 79-61 home court victory in Game 7 to earn the right to face the well rested Miami Heat.

In the lowest scoring Game 7 in NBA history, the Pistons’ experience and rabid backing of their fans proved decisive against LeBron James and his Cavaliers teammates. But keep an eye on the Cavs for next season as they assuredly will be one of the top three teams in the East.

Heat vs Pistons: Detroit won 3-of-4 against Miami during the regular season with the lone Heat win a two point home victory in mid February. The first two games went OVER the total, but the two most recent meetings went UNDER with total points of just 155 and 177.

The Pistons should have an easier time with Miami than Cleveland. Miami struggled against the league’s elite teams all season. The Heat were a combined 0-6 against Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio. Four of the six losses were by double digits. The closest outcome was a seven point home loss to the Spurs.

To be fair, all six games were played prior to the All Star break. However, that cannot take away from the inherent talent and depth differences that exist between Miami and the other top contenders. Miami will be rested and perhaps rusty for Tuesday’s first game.

Preferred plays: DETROIT -5½. UNDER 188. HEAT in Game 3 if down 2-0. If 1-1, DETROIT in Game 3. DETROIT in Game 4 if looking to take a 3-1 lead back home or if going for a sweep. Series: DETROIT IN 5.

A pair of game sevens on Monday night will have determined whether San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix or the LA Clippers advance in the West.

Here are the possibilities:

Spurs vs Clippers: The Spurs won the regular season matchups, 2-1. One of the wins came in overtime at home. All three games, including the overtime contest, fell within a point of the closing total. San Antonio will be a solid favorite in this series but the Clippers have displayed growing confidence with each passing week.

Preferred plays: Expectations are for more UNDER results. Series, SPURS in 6.

Spurs vs Suns: This series might be easier for the Spurs than one with L.A. Phoenix is the most defenseless team in the league. The absence of Amare Stoudemire will be felt greatly. San Antonio won 3-of-4 meetings this season with three decided by six points or less. There were two high scoring games and two low scoring contests.

Preferred plays: UNDER in San Antonio. OVER in Phoenix. Series: Like last year, SPURS in 5.

Mavericks vs Suns: The most entertaining of the four possible West final series. Both teams like to run the court and do so quite well. Dallas is clearly the better defensive team. That edge, plus the home court, makes them the favorite. The teams split four meetings, each winning once at home and on the road. Three of the four games went OVER, with each falling in the very narrow range of 219-222. Totals are more likely to be in the 210-214 range as playoff games often feature several segments of conservative or tentative play.

Preferred plays: OVER 212. Series: DALLAS in 6.

Mavericks vs Clippers: Dallas will be a solid favorite, having won 3-of-4 during the regular season. Interestingly, despite the offensive firepower on each team, all four games went UNDER the total, with two going below 160. The highest scoring result was just 184. Dallas’ edge in experience might be the deciding factor, but the Clippers could be the Cavaliers of the West. Playing loose with nothing the lose, the Clippers could win a game or two.

Preferred plays: UNDER if in mid to upper 180s. DALLAS in Game 1. Series, DALLAS in 6.