Jazz, Cavson way out

May 22, 2007 7:10 AM

The NBA version of the Final Four is at hand as the conference Finals got underway Sunday when San Antonio defeated Utah in Game 1 of the Western Finals.

On Monday night the Eastern Finals began with Detroit hosting Cleveland. Both San Antonio and Detroit are heavily favored to meet in the NBA Finals and engage in a rematch of their 2005 series, won by San Antonio in seven games. That triumph was the Spurs’ second title in three seasons and denied the Pistons back to back championships.

Both the Pistons and Spurs have considerable edges in experience over the Cavaliers and Jazz in terms of recent franchise experience and in the composition of the current rosters. The favorites have depth and it would be surprising if either series lasted more than six games. At least one of the series might last no more than 5.

Here’s a look at both Conference Finals series that, if either goes the distance, will extend into early June.

Utah vs. San Antonio

The Jazz had their best chance to capture a road game in the series’ opening game on Sunday. They had the benefit of several extra days of rest, while the Spurs had eliminated Phoenix just 48 hours earlier. But after getting out to a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes, the Jazz were outplayed by the Spurs the rest of the way. Utah was down more than 20 points before rallying to lose by 8 and just missing the pointspread cover on a basket waved off as time expired.

The Jazz are a fundamentally solid team. They can be physical, rebound well and are well coached. But everything they can do, the Spurs can do as well and often better. The nucleus of the Spurs has been together a long time. Utah is a team that took a few seasons to rebuild after the glory days of John Stockton, Karl Malone, et al. The future is bright if the Jazz can stay together with their fine young talent which includes Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Andre Kirilenko.

Including Sunday’s result, the home team has now both won and covered all five meetings this season. San Antonio is a similarly priced 6½-point favorite in Game 2 as they were in Sunday’s opener. The zig zag theory would call for a play on Utah in Game 2. But the Jazz are not in as favorable a situation as in Game 1. It might be best to pass on this one with an eye towards playing Utah in Game 3 Saturday back in Utah.

This series might be higher scoring than might generally be expected between a pair of physical, fundamentally solid teams. Game 1 was unusually high — 208 total points. The four regular season games saw three fall between 189 and 195. Their first meeting this season, back in late November, totaled just 158. At Totals below 188, the OVER presents some value.

PREDICTION: San Antonio should win this series in five games with Utah’s best chance for victory coming back home. The Jazz would be playable in Game 3 if laying no more than a bucket. If the Jazz win Game 3, the Spurs are the play in Game 4 provided they are not favored.

Detroit vs. Cleveland

Cleveland nearly eliminated Detroit in the second round of last season’s playoffs after winning Game 5 in Detroit to take a 3-2 series lead. Detroit then won Game 6 in Cleveland and Game 7 back home in Detroit to advance to the Eastern Conference finals, eventually losing to NBA champion Miami in 6.

That experience gave Cleveland the confidence to compete with the Pistons at a high level. This season, the Pistons won three of four regular season meetings. Cleveland’s lone win did come in Detroit in overtime in early March. Detroit won the first two meetings by 16 and 12 points and also took the more recent clash in early April by 5 in Detroit.

Both teams have very similar rosters to those of last season, the most significant changes being Detroit’s addition of Chris Webber and loss of Ben Wallace. Historically home teams are solid plays in Game 1 of a series. San Antonio continued that history against Utah despite being at a distinct disadvantage in terms of rest. Both Detroit and Cleveland are well rested for the start of this series. Cleveland has been off since Friday. Detroit has been idle since Thursday heading into Tuesday’s Game 1.

Three of the four regular season games were very low scoring, producing between 158 and 169 total points. The high scoring game of the series was Cleveland’s overtime win in a game that was tied at 93 at the end of regulation. This series should follow the trend of the regular season meetings and be similarly low scoring. The total for Game 1 is 177, which should be used as a guideline for the first few games. Look to play UNDER.

PREDICTION: The loser of Game 1 would be a solid play in Game 2. If form holds that would be a play on Cleveland looking to even the series at a game apiece. The loser of Game 2 would be the play in Game 3 on Sunday in Cleveland. Ultimately the call is for Detroit to win the series in 6, meaning the Pistons would win on the road in Game 6.

Both series shall be revisited next week as we will be several games closer to seeing if the expected San Antonio/Detroit showdown for the NBA Title is likely to materialize.