Battles going on in Eastern Conference

May 15, 2001 9:33 AM

The second round of the NBA playoffs ends this week with the conference finals expected to get underway by the middle of next week.

At press-time, only the Los Angeles Lakers have clinched a spot in the next round. The Lakers are looking much like odds-on favorites to successfully defend the Championship.

After winning the final eight games of the regular season, the Lakers have rolled through the playoffs, winning each of their first two series in sweeps over Portland and Sacramento.

Both Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal have come up huge with more than capable support from their teammates. The Lakers are currently engaged in a high stakes game of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" as they seek to win 15 straight games without a loss, en route to an NBA title.

They’re almost halfway there. It’ll be tough to bet against Los Angeles for at least as long as they remain unbeaten in the playoffs.

It appears the Lakers will face San Antonio in the Western Conference finals. The Spurs had a chance on Monday night to wrap up their series against Dallas in five games.

Barring a first-ever comeback from a 3-0 deficit, the Mavericks’ season will have ended by the weekend amid, much enthusiasm for next season.

Should Dallas have pulled an upset Monday night to force a Game 6, San Antonio would be a solid play to wrap up the series in Dallas probably as a slight favorite.

Should a Game 7 be needed, the Spurs would be a solid home favorite, and worth backing. The most likely game to over would be a Game 6 in Dallas with any games in San Antonio most likely to be unders.

The more competitive games are being played in the Eastern Conference where both current series are assured of going at least six games.

The home team has won all four of the games between Milwaukee and Charlotte and this series is poised to go the full seven games. Charlotte does match up well against the Bucks. But for some questionable coaching by Hornets coach Paul Silas in the waning moments of Game 2, the Bucks could be up 3-1 in the series.

In what is now a best-of-three series, the points are worth taking with Charlotte in Game 5 Tuesday. If the Hornets win the game straight up, they should close out Milwaukee at home in Game 6.

In either case, Charlotte is worth a look in Game 6, if laying no more than three points. A win by Milwaukee in Game 5, should mean a Game 7, and the look would be for Charlotte to get the only road win of the series in that final contest.

The first four games of the series have gone under the total, although two of the games just sneaked under the number. Two other games were decisively under. Provided the line is not significantly adjusted for the remainder of the series, the under would still be preferred, provided we can play under 192 or higher.

As expected, Toronto has proven to be a tough foe for top-seeded Philadelphia because the Raptors match up well in the frontcourt. This has been an entertaining series and we’ve been treated to amazing displays by both Philly’s Allen Iverson, and Toronto’s Vince Carter.

Following the public berating of Carter by teammate Charles Oakley during the New York series, Carter has assumed more of a leadership role on the court, and may be ready to legitimize his role as one of the top players in the NBA.

An upset over the 76ers in what is now a best-of-three series would go a long way towards that end. Three of the first four games have been decided by five points or less, meaning that points are worth taking, especially three or more. Only Game 3 was a rout. It would be a surprise if any of the remaining games were one sided. Philly is a 5½-point favorite in Wednesday’s Game 5 and Toronto is certainly worth considering for play. They won the series opener and are playing with great confidence.

Remember, Toronto won the last three regular season games between the two teams. The longer the series goes, the less that Toronto’s more limited experience is a factor.

Should Philly finally go up in the series 3-2, they would make for a good play to wrap things up in Game 6 in Toronto, in what should be a pick’em contest. But should Toronto return home with a 3-2 edge, the Raptors would be the play to close out the Sixers.

A play in Game 7 would depend on the line, although it would take a hefty price to make Toronto an attractive underdog in the deciding game. We’d require at least seven points before considering the Raptors in Game 7.

Likewise, we’d only back Philadelphia if they had to lay no more than three points. The line is likely to be in the middle of those limits, meaning it might be best to sit out Game 7 and expect Philly’s home court to be decisive in a competitive game.

The under is also the preferable totals play for the balance of this series, but only at a line of at least 184 or higher.