In last week’s column the match-ups for the opening round of the NBA playoffs were mostly undecided, with just the 1 vs. 8 pairings determined. The chances of each team were assessed based on potential match-ups. Now that the regular season is over and the Playoffs have begun we can take a look at how the opening round series may unfold the rest of the way. These series still have from two to four games remaining and may well stretch into May.
There were several shockers among the first eight games and several notable second half and fourth quarter collapses. More than in best-of-seven series, winning the first game in the short opening round series is vital for the home team.
Let’s take a look at each series and try to develop a wagering game plan for the next few games.
It did not take long for the shockers to occur when in the first game of the playoffs Philadelphia blew an 18 point lead that enabled Indiana to pull off a stunning upset on the road. The major concern for Philadelphia is the lack of a true offensive option beyond Allen Iverson. The Sixers were held to just 26 second-half points by the Pacers as they gained home court advantage with that win. At worst Indiana will return home with the ability to eliminate Philly on their home court.
The Sixers must find an alternative to Iverson, or the experienced Pacers might now take them to the limit.
New York won a typically ugly defensive game against Toronto in their opener, containing the Raptors’ one legitimate threat, Vince Carter. Should the Knicks win game two and take a commanding 2-0 edge to Toronto, the Raptors would be the play in game three, even as a slight favorite of up to three points. If Toronto upsets the Knicks in game two, then we’d look to back the Knicks in games three and four until they win one of those games straight up. New York would likely be a small underdog in any game in Toronto, but only when they are even or trailing in the series would they be worth a play. The OVER is also more likely in Toronto than in New York.
The second major shocker in the opening games occurred in Miami. The shocker was not in Charlotte winning the game - the Hornets are a talented team.
Game two’s results will dictate how to approach the rest of the series. Should Miami gain a split by winning game two, look to back the Heat, most likely as underdogs, in game three, passing game four if Miami wins game three straight up. Should Charlotte win that third game to take a 2-1 lead, we’d have to back Miami once again in game four. If Charlotte wins game two and returns home with a 2-0 lead, we’ll have to admit defeat with the Heat and look to back the Hornets to complete the sweep. However, should Miami win the third game and pull to within 2-1, we’d back Miami in game four to square the series and return home for the deciding fifth game.
Milwaukee’s opening game win over Orlando was their 10th straight in the series. They’ve won all five games this season by double digits. If Milwaukee wins game two and heads to Orlando up 2-0, play the Bucks to wrap up the series in Orlando. Milwaukee should be about a 2-point favorite in Orlando and should they fail to win game three, let’s come right back with them in game four. If Orlando pulls the upset in game two and squares the series 1-1 heading home, Orlando’s momentum from snapping its long losing streak to the Bucks make them worthy of a play as an underdog in game three. Milwaukee, however, would become the play in game four.
San Antonio, as expected, struggled to defeat Minnesota in their opening game despite building a 14 point half-time lead. Minnesota fought back to actually take a short lived lead in the fourth quarter but the Spurs’ depth and experience was telling.
The call is for Minnesota to win at least one game at home, and it would be worth backing in game three whether they are down 0-2 or the series is 1-1. Game four would be a pass unless San Antonio is favored by 3 or less and leads the series 2-1.
Utah’s experience was telling in its opening game against Dallas as the Jazz had to rally in the final few minutes to eke out a two point victory. If Dallas is able to win game two and return home 1-1 in the series, the Mavericks have an excellent chance to win the series in either four or five games.
Utah’s win in game one marked the first time the home team had won in five games this season. If Utah takes game two, we would look for Dallas to win (and cover) game three and fall in game four. But if the Mavs return home all square, the play would be on Dallas in all remaining games.
Phoenix’s upset win in Sacramento in game one was not that much of a surprise, given the conditions. Phoenix has a glaring weakness in the middle, but that is not a strength of Sacramento. Also, it’s a lot different being the hunter rather than the hunted - a new role for the Kings. On paper this series figures to go five games with Sacramento the likely winner of game two to even the series. Should this occur, the play would be on the underdog in game three (likely Sacramento), and the game four play would be on the team down 2-1. But should Phoenix win the second game to return home leading 2-0, we’d play Sacramento in game three, and if the Kings win, play on Phoenix to end the series in game four.
Finally, Portland showed in their opening game against the L.A. Lakers that it takes more than talent to win in the Playoffs. Should the Lakers win game two, look for the Lakers to wrap up the series, quite possibly in three. Regardless of the outcome of game two, the Lakers are the play in however many games are played in Portland.
And, assuming the Lakers advance to the second round, look for Portland coach Mike Dunleavy to have plenty of time to watch his son next season at Duke (hmmm - Dunleavy the elder perhaps as coach at Wake Forest?).