Looks likeHeat v Mavs

May 30, 2006 12:48 AM

With perhaps a dozen games remaining until an NBA champion is crowned, the four teams still in contention sport excellent credentials.

Both conference finals series stand 2-1 in games starting the week. Miami may have taken a commanding lead in action late Monday heading to Detroit for Wednesday’s Game 5. Detroit’s lethargic play against Cleveland in the previous round seems to have carried over to the conference finals.

Miami vs Detroit

Game 4 was very critical to Detroit’s hopes of returning to the NBA Finals. There’s a huge difference in returning home tied 2-2 vs. trailing 3-1. Miami almost defeated the Pistons last season. If not for an injured Dwyane Wade in Game 7 last year, the discussion might presently center around Miami’s chances for a repeat.

Wade has been solid in the first three games. He and Shaquille O’Neal are the most dominant duo remaining in the playoffs. Miami has a realistic shot at winning this series in no more than 6 if posting a victory in either Game 4 or 5.

Of course, Miami could win in 5. Possible, though unlikely. Should Miami win Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead, the Pistons would be a solid favorite back at The Palace in Game 5. Detroit’s defense will have to rise to the occasion and the coaching edge Miami’s Pat Riley enjoys over Detroit’s Flip Saunders is likely to keep a Detroit elimination game competitive.

The problem in backing Miami might be in the latter stages of the fourth quarter when Detroit might extend a lead to force a Game 6. Miami might be content to let Detroit win, secure in the knowledge the series can be wrapped up at home.

Home teams are very strong in a deciding Game 7 over the years. Of the four Game 7 matchups this season, only Dallas was able to win on the road — at it took overtime to beat San Antonio. The other three seventh game home favorites all won convincingly by double digits and easily covered.

Preferred plays: Back to back Miami at home in Game 6 if they indeed can clinch the series with a win. Such a scenario would mean that Miami would have won either Game 4 or 5 and taking a 3-2 lead back to South Beach. UNDER in Game 5 if Miami up 3-1. A Game 7 would favor Detroit.

Dallas vs. Phoenix

The Mavericks have reclaimed home court advantage in the Western Conference finals by winning Game 3 in Phoenix.

Dallas was a solid favorite at the start of the series to win the Western Conference finals after ousting defending champion San Antonio in the second round. The Spurs presented a much stiffer challenge at the defensive end of the court than the Suns. The Mavs’ defensive edge was seen in Games 2 and 3.

After dropping a fast paced Game 1 at home, Dallas forced a more deliberate pace in winning the next two. Game 1 produced a total of 239 points but the next two games saw just 203 and 183.

Game 4 is critical to Phoenix’s chances of winning this series. The line should favor the Suns by less than a basket and it would make sense that the Suns will make adjustments to counter the Mavericks attempt to control tempo.

Preferred plays: Suns +7 in Game 5 if they square the series at 2-2. Otherwise, Mavs -7 in Game 5 if they have a 3-1 advantage heading home. If there’s a Game 6 in Phoenix, take the underdog. Play Dallas -7 if a Game 7 is necessary.