Take Celts, Pistons, Spurs, Lakers

May 6, 2008 7:00 PM

Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe | Finally, all the conference semifinal matchups are good to go.

The Eastern Conference’s top seed, Boston, needed seven games to oust upstart eighth seeded Atlanta in one of the more surprising developments of the playoffs thus far.

Winners of 66 regular season games, the Celtics lost all three games in Atlanta to the 37-win Hawks. To be fair, Boston blew out Atlanta in the four games in Beantown, winning by 23, 19, 25 and 34 points.

However, their woes on the road are a cause for concern. Perhaps the grueling grind of the 82-game regular season schedule may leave Boston’s aging nucleus vulnerable as the playoffs progress.

Or maybe not.

Let’s give Atlanta some credit for not giving up and conceding defeat just because they won 29 fewer games than the Celts. Atlanta is a young team with an improving nucleus and they were playing with little or no pressure to pull the upset. Keep an eye on the Hawks next season especially if a rumored potential coaching change is not made.

Boston’s second round series against Cleveland begins Tuesday night and the Celtics are healthy 10-point favorites in Game 1. Based on how the Celts have played at home (and home teams traditionally do well in the first game of series) Boston is worth a look.

Cleveland was fortunate to get by Washington in that the Wizards were without star Gilbert Arenas for the sixth and final game of their opening round series. The Cavs’ LeBron James will be a force, but the Celtics do counter with their All-Star trio of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Look for Boston to advance in 6. Cleveland, though, should have some point spread successes in the series. The Cavs may be a play in Game 2 if down 0-1 and getting between eight and 10 points. If down 0-2 when returning home for Game 3, the Cavs would be a play if favored by up to 3.

The three second-round series that did start over the weekend saw a sweep for the home teams by double digits. The one East semifinal that did get underway saw Detroit follow up its momentum from the end of the Philly series with a 19-point blowout win over Orlando.

The Magic is still a solid team with several scoring options and should make this very much a contentious series. Orlando has a decent shot at ousting the Pistons but the pick remains Detroit to advance in probably 6.

Orlando would be a solid play back home in Game 3, whether tied at 1-1 or down 0-2. If Detroit is going for a sweep in Game 4 the Pistons would be the play. If the Magic are down 1-2 or up 2-1, Orlando becomes the play before the series heads back to Detroit. The Pistons’ experience should show in Games 5 and 6.

Both Western Conference series could go the distance even though the hosts won big in their opening games.

Utah’s physical style gives them an outside shot at taking down the Lakers, but its poor play on the road makes that result unlikely. The Jazz are capable of winning both home games but it is hard to see them winning a Game 5 or 7 in Los Angeles. Lakers to win in 5 or 7.

Utah’s best chance for success should come back home in Game 3, especially if down 0-2. And even if the Jazz lose Game 3, the Jazz (much like Phoenix in their opening round series) are a prideful enough team to back in avoiding a sweep in Game 4.

Despite their 19-point loss in Game 1, San Antonio remains a solid choice to advance past New Orleans. Regardless of Monday’s result, the preference is for San Antonio to win both Game 3 and 4 back home. San Antonio is the choice in 5 or 6.

New Orleans is worthy of play in Game 4 to get the point spread covert. Game 4 should produce the closest game of the series.