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Apr 29, 2008 7:00 PM

Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |


At the start of the week none of the first-round playoff series have been decided although the Lakers had the opportunity on Monday night to sweep Denver.

Lakers vs Nuggets

Los Angeles was impressive in winning the first three games by 14, 15 and 18 points. In their 102-84 victory in Game 3 at Denver, it appeared as though the Nuggets just quit in the third quarter. Denver showed little resolve or interest in making this a series.

Should Denver force a Game 5, the Lakers would be a solid play back home to wrap up the series with a convincing double-digit win.

Magic vs Raptors

Also on Monday night Orlando had the chance to eliminate Toronto. The 12-point win in Toronto on Saturday gave Orlando a 3-1 lead. Should Toronto have pulled the upset to force a Game 6, expect the Magic to end things back in Canada, where they are likely to be favored by a bucket.

Pistons vs Sixers

Perhaps the most intriguing first round series has been the Eastern Conference matchup between second-seeded Detroit and No. 7 Philadelphia. The underdog 76ers took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in that series before Detroit evened things up with a convincing road win Sunday night.

The Pistons trailed by 10 at the half in Game 4 and were in danger of falling behind 3-1 in the series. But an 11-0 run to start the third quarter shifted momentum back to Detroit and this is now a best of three series with Game 5 Tuesday night. Detroit is nearly a 10-point favorite, but the Sixers are playing with confidence, notwithstanding Sunday’s second-half collapse.

Though not a strong recommendation, the play for Game 5 would be to take the points with Philly and then play the straight-up Game 5 winner to wrap up the series back in Philadelphia on Thursday. Regardless of the Game 5 result the Sixers will be the underdog in Game 6 and would be the play if up 3-2. Similarly, the Pistons would be the play as favorites in that game if in position to close out the series.

Spurs vs Suns

When Phoenix traded Shawn Marion for Shaquille O’Neal back in February the thought by Suns management was that the Big Cactus was the missing piece to the puzzle. He would give the Suns a better defensive presence in the playoffs. But after outplaying San Antonio in Game 1 and losing in double overtime, the Suns dropped the next two games to fall behind 3-0.

Pride kicked in and Phoenix resoundingly won Game 4 to force Game 5 on Tuesday. The Spurs are favored by five points and the Suns might be worth a play in the first half (at +2½ or 3). San Antonio might well end the series in Game 5, but it could be competitive throughout before the Spurs pull away at the end.

If Phoenix happens to pull the upset and draw within 3-2, the Suns would be the play back home in Game 6, again favored by a bucket or two as they were in Game 4.

Celtics vs Hawks

Boston appeared en route to a sweep of Atlanta following a pair of blowout home wins to open the series. But the Hawks stunned the Celtics with an outright win in Game 3 that was not a fluke. Tied at the half, Atlanta controlled the second half to serve notice that they were not conceding the series even though they won just 37 regular season games to Boston’s 66.

The Celtics were 9-point favorites Monday night to extend their lead to 3-1 before returning home for Wednesday’s Game 5. The Celtics will be double-digit favorites back in Boston and should get the win that will either end the series (most likely scenario) or go up 3-2 (if Atlanta pulled another shocking upset on Monday).

Should the series goes at least six games, Boston would again be the play back in Atlanta, again laying nearly double digits.

Cavaliers vs Wizards

Washington talked about how it was not going to lose in the playoffs for a third straight season. But after Sunday’s home loss, the Wizards head to Cleveland for Wednesday’s Game 5 down 3-1 in the series and facing elimination yet again.

Cleveland is favored by 4½ points, but this can be a tricky situation. It’s one that may not be that wise to bet as if Washington pulls the upset. If they do, the Wizards would be a good play back home in Game 6 to force a seventh and deciding game. In a Game 6, Washington would likely be favored by a couple of buckets.

Jazz vs Rockets

Utah looks to wrap up its series against the Rockets when the teams meet in Houston on Tuesday night for Game 5. This has been the most unusual of the first round series in that poor traveling Utah won the first two games on the road. Then when the Rockets were written off by almost everyone, they stunned the Jazz in Utah in Game 3.

Game 4 was more in form as Utah won, though failing to cover. All four games have been very low scoring, producing between 168 and 186 points. Three of the four have gone under the total with the other game going over by a single point.

Look for the low scoring to continue as Houston fights to stave off elimination on Tuesday. Should Houston win Game 5 and force Game 6 in Utah, the Jazz would be a solid play to end the series. Utah would be the play if favored by 7 or less.

Hornets vs Mavericks

Finally, New Orleans has the chance to oust Dallas in Tuesday’s Game 5. The impressive road win in Sunday’s fourth game makes the Hornets a solid choice to advance. They are favored by 6 and would be the preferred play.

If Dallas is successful in forcing a Game 6 back in Dallas, the Mavericks would be a solid play to force a Game 7 as their experience would likely have forged the comeback.

Next week: We’ll have a few second-round matchups to analyze as the road to the NBA Finals gets a bit shorter.