What happened to Magic -- NBA playoffs underway

Apr 21, 2009 5:03 PM
Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |
last week

Now that all eight opening round playoff series are underway, let’s review.

Last Saturday was a day for the underdogs as three of the four not only covered the point spread but won outright, thus securing home court advantage for now.

Chicago, Dallas and Houston now need to win three of the next six games to advance to the next round with each having three games at home. Only the team with the NBA’s best regular season record, Cleveland, was able to win on Saturday.

In preparing to avoid going down 0-2 at home, Boston, San Antonio and Portland each face virtual must win situations and would still need to win at least one of two road games to reclaim the home court edge.

Sunday went more to form with three of the four home favorites winning and covering. The Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta and Denver each came away with double digit victories. For a while it appeared Orlando would hand Philadelphia a double digit defeat, but the 76ers erased a 14 point deficit in the final quarter to pull the upset.

For years handicappers have followed the zig zag theory, popularized and publicized by The Gold Sheet. The theory has shown consistent profitability for 25 years. While fundamentally sound, it should not be followed blindly. Just consider it a starting place for plays in upcoming games.

The theory says bet the loser of a playoff game in its next game. You would play Game 1’s straight up loser in Game 2, the Game 2 straight up loser in Game 3, etc. According to The Gold Sheet, it’s especially strong in the opening round – 373-289-10 (56.3 percent) over the last 25 years.

Here are some thoughts that could help this week:

Cleveland appears poised to make quick work of Detroit. The Cavs outscored the Pistons in all four quarters en route to an 18 point win. Cleveland could pull off the sweep and should need no more than 5. Detroit’s best chance for a win (and cover) should be back home in Game 3 when likely down 0-2.

Boston will be without Kevin Garnett for perhaps the entire playoffs. Should Boston win Game 2 at home to even the series it would present an opportunity to go against the zig zag theory. The strategy would be to play the Celtics in Game 3 and, if successful, look to back Chicago in Game 4 and then Boston back home in Game 5 regardless the outcome.

Orlando may follow a similar path after being upset at home by Philadelphia in Game 1. For the first three quarters, the Magic showed they are clearly better than the 76ers, a team they defeated in all three regular season meetings. Look for the Magic to even the series and then to reclaim the home court with a win at Philly. Should Philadelphia also win Game 2 in Orlando and follow that up with a home win in Game 3, the 76ers would be the play to sweep in 4.

Atlanta routed Miami in the opener and is favored to win Game 2. Miami put on one of the worst playoff performances in history by scoring just 25 second half points in the 90-64 loss including just 7 points in the fourth quarter. This series should be a good test of the zig zag. A prudent approach might be to play Miami in Game 2, sit out Game 3, play the Game 3 loser in Game 4 and the Game 4 loser in Game 5.

Los Angeles seems to have too much for Utah and should take a 2-0 lead when hosting the Jazz on Tuesday. The Jazz, if down 2-0 returning home, would be a solid play even on the money line. Should Utah be down 3-0, it would be hard not to play the Lakers to complete the sweep. LA would still be a solid play in Game 4 as a small road favorite if up 2-1.

Portland being blown out at home by Houston by 27 points was the most shocking result. A competitive effort in Game 2, even a losing one, will have us recommending a play on Portland as a healthy underdog in Game 3 at Houston. A Game 2 blowout might make this a very short series. If the Blazers win Game 2, they would still be a play as an underdog of 6 points or more. Should Portland win Game 3 and be up 2-1, we like Houston a lot in Game 4.

Denver used a dominating second half performance to rout New Orleans by 29 in the opener. The Hornets should find themselves tied at two games apiece with the series returning to Denver for Game 5 even if they lost Game 2. Whichever team loses Game 2 is playable in Game 3 in New Orleans. The Hornets’ best spot should be in Game 4 regardless of their position in the series. That includes down 0-3 and seeking to avoid a sweep.

Dallas has the upper hand after winning Game 1 at San Antonio. The Spurs were favored to win Game 2 and even the series Monday night. If the Spurs won, they would be the play in Dallas as an underdog in Game 3 and playable on the money line. Down 2-1, Dallas would be playable in Game 4. The best play in the series would be on the team trailing 2-1 heading into Game 4. The combination of no Manu Ginobili and an aging roster might do in the Spurs.

Next week we shall revisit the opening round which should still have a couple or three series alive and also provide a look at likely or potential second round matchups.