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Better teams should shine in second round

May 8, 2001 9:22 AM

The second round of the NBA playoffs has begun with four games this past weekend in the first of three sets of best-of-7 series that will ultimately determine the NBA champion.

Form held up in three of the four series with only Toronto’s win at Philadelphia an upset. Milwaukee and San Antonio each won and covered as home favorites while the Lakers won their opening game against Sacramento but failed to cover the 7½-point line.

Here’s a look at what might occur over the next few games in each series.

The San Antonio-Dallas series has already been highlighted by Juwan Howard’s flagrant foul against the Spurs’ Derek Anderson, which resulted in Anderson separating a shoulder that is expected to sideline him until perhaps the start of the NBA Finals.

Anderson’s loss puts a new complexion on this series in which San Antonio opened as a 6-to-1 favorite to advance to the Western Conference finals. Despite the injury San Antonio is still expected to get by the Mavericks, but Anderson’s absence gives Dallas a realistic chance to extend the series.

Don’t be surprised if the series goes back to San Antonio for game five tied at 2-2. Dallas has the firepower to take advantage of Anderson’s absence and it will be up to the Mavs’ coaching staff to devise schemes to exploit San Antonio’s vulnerabilities. Howard was not suspended as a result and that should give Dallas a shot at evening the series in Game 2 Monday.

If that is the case then look to play on San Antonio in Game 3 at around a pick ’em. If Dallas returns home down 0-2, it would be worth backing in Game 3 and 4, likely as 3- to 4-point favorites in each game. Three of the five games between the teams through last weekend have gone UNDER the total, but only one fell within a dozen points of the posted total, evidence of extreme volatility.

Charlotte showed their rust from nine days of inactivity following their three-game blowout of Miami in the opening round when they fell down 55-40 at halftime against Milwaukee in Game 1 at Milwaukee. The Hornets did rally in the second half to close to within four of the Bucks, but lost by 12.

Expect a better effort from Charlotte in Game 2 when it returns home. Charlotte won three of four regular season games from Milwaukee with all wins by at least 10 points.

The Hornets are the better defensive and rebounding club with strength up front. The backcourts are fairly even with Milwaukee’s Ray Allen and Sam Cassell having a slight experience edge over Charlotte’s Baron Davis and David Wesley.

Of the four second round series, this one has the best chance of both going the full seven games and of providing an upset. In fact, the winner of this series has an excellent chance of defeating the winner of the Philadelphia-Toronto series and advancing to the NBA Finals.

Against Philadelphia, either team would likely be a nicely priced underdog. Tuesday’s game two will be critical in determining how to approach the balance of this series at the betting window.

If Charlotte loses and returns home down 0-2 for Game 3 and 4, it may be too high priced a favorite to back, although laying three or less. It still makes them an attractive play.

Should the Hornets return home even at 1-1, Milwaukee then becomes the preferred play at least one of two games on the road, and it would be underdogs.

A good strategy might be to sit out Game 3 and play the team trailing in the series in Game 4 unless Milwaukee happens to be going for a 4-0 sweep.

The Los Angeles Lakers begin the week having won 12 in a row, including all four playoff games. Yet despite 44 points and 21 rebounds from Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers had to hold off a late surge by energetic Sacramento. That game showed Sacramento is not intimidated by the Lakers.

The Lakers are favored to head to Sacramento up 2-0 in the series and will likely be a small favorite of 1 to 2 points in both road games. If this is the case, the Kings are worth backing at home in Game 3 and, if they win that game to draw to within 2-1, would be worth a play again in Game 4 to even the series.

But if the Kings happen to pull the upset in Game 2 and return home tied at 1-1 the Lakers become the play in Game 3 and again in Game 4 regardless of the outcome of Game 3.

Game 1 had 213 total points, which caused the posted total for Game 2 to be adjusted upwards by a bucket to 202. Expect the two games in Sacramento to be lower scoring, and the under would be preferred if the total is no lower than 200.

Toronto’s upset of Philadelphia in Game 1 was the fourth-straight win by the Raptors over the 76ers since Philly won the initial game between the teams this season in November. Toronto’s ability to bang the boards with Philly takes away an advantage the 76ers have over most other teams.

Philly’s edge with Allen Iverson is also greatly offset by the presence of Toronto’s Vince Carter. After being publicly berated by teammate Charles Oakley, Carter responded with huge efforts in the final two games of the series against New York and in the opener against Philly.

Philadelphia is favored to even the series at 1-1 before heading to Toronto by winning game two on Wednesday. The well publicized ”˜zig zag’ theory would point to a play on Philly in Game 2, and the situation certainly calls for an impressive Philly win. But given the four straight wins by Toronto, all as underdogs, a play on Philly being recommended.

In fact, regardless of the outcome of Game 2, the preferred plays in Games 3 and 4 will be on Toronto. In the unlikely event of Toronto returning home up 2-0, it would be indicative of Toronto having too many match-up edges over the 76ers.

If, as expected, the series is tied 1-1, Toronto’s season history shows they can play with Philly. A successful play on Toronto in Game 3 would be followed by a pass in Game 4, but a loss by Toronto in Game 3 would call for another shot on the Raptors in that fourth game.