Zen at Work

May 20, 2008 7:00 PM

Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |

PLAYOFFS
NBA
PCT
13-16
46-48
48.9

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals gets underway Tuesday night in Boston as the host Celtics will be challenged by the Detroit Pistons. As for the West, the Los Angeles Lakers get either San Antonio or New Orleans.

The Celtics needed seven games to oust defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland while well-rested Detroit disposed of Orlando in 5.

Boston is 8-0 at home in the playoffs, yet remains winless (0-6) on the road. No team in NBA history has lost their first six road playoff games and won the NBA Title so Boston is eight wins away from rewriting history. Their task is tough as the Pistons are making their sixth straight appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston and Detroit were 1-2 in the East for the entire season and their meeting for the Conference titles was pretty much taken for granted. Both teams had their struggles in the playoffs, but whereas Detroit corrected its problems the same can not be said of the Celtics.

The teams met three times in the regular season with Detroit winning the first meeting back in mid-December at Boston. The Celtics won the next two meetings, one at home and one in Detroit. All three games went under, with the total points ranging from a low of 168 to a high of 177.

Boston is a 4½-point favorite in Tuesday’s first game with the total set at 174. Detroit has a real chance at upsetting the Celtics with all of its playoff experience and Boston’s current struggles. In its second round series, Boston covered just one of seven games against Cleveland with three of the four home wins by 4, 7 and 5 points.

Look for the Pistons to win at least one of the two games in Boston, making them a take in Game 1. If the Pistons lose Game 1, they become a play-on again in Game 2. If Boston is able to win both games at home to open the series, Detroit becomes an excellent play in Games 3 and 4.

Prediction: Detroit in 6.

The low scoring nature of the regular season series should continue but it will be hazardous to play under with totals of less than 178.

Western finals

The Los Angeles Lakers will be well rested for their opening game Wednesday night against either San Antonio or New Orleans. The Lakers ended their series against Utah with last Friday’s Game 6 win in Utah.

The Lakers are 8-2 in the playoffs and dating back to the end of March have won 16 of 19. They are deservedly the top seed in the tough Western Conference.

Although Kobe Bryant and to a lesser extent Pau Gasol have gotten most of the headlines, Derek Fisher has been a very steadying influence on the Lakers and his unselfish play has allowed the rest of the team to flourish. The Lakers will be tough to beat although both New Orleans and San Antonio offer serious challenges.

In the regular season, the Lakers were 2-2 against both San Antonio and New Orleans. The home team won all four times in the Spurs/Lakers series, while the Hornets and Lakers each won once at home and on the road.

In two key late-season games the Lakers defeated both the Hornets and the Spurs in consecutive home games in the regular season’s final week, perhaps sending a message. More importantly, those wins allowed the Lakers to earn the top seed and thus home court advantage for these conference finals.

San Antonio, with its experience, should give the Lakers a much stiffer test than should the Hornets. Although by knocking off the defending champs, New Orleans would enter this series with great confidence. But the Spurs match up better against the Lakers than do the Hornets.

Prediction: San Antonio in 6. The call here from the start of the season has been for the Spurs to advance to the NBA Finals. San Antonio will win one of the first two games in Los Angeles, take both home games, lose Game 5 in LA and then win at home.

Taking at least four points with the Spurs is the recommended route to take on the road. Laying four or less with them at home is also prudent. The Lakers would be the play in Game 2 if they lose Game 1. LA would also be worth a play if getting at least six points in San Antonio, even if the Spurs are likely to win those games straight up.

Prediction: LA Lakers in 5. If the Hornets won Game 7 against San Antonio, we like the Lakers to take both home contests, split the two games in New Orleans and then wrap up the series back home.

The Lakers should cover more often against New Orleans with the Hornets’ best chance for straight up and point spread success in Game 3 back home. The preference would be to lay six points or less with the Lakers at home and take three or more with the Hornets at home.