Boston favorite most in danger in NBA playoffs

May 5, 2009 5:04 PM
Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |
last week

Sunday’s 91-78 win by Atlanta over Miami completed the opening round of the NBA Playoffs and all four series for the second round are set.

Starting the week, Denver has already taken a 1-0 lead over Dallas in one of the Western Conference series. On Monday night the Los Angeles Lakers opened the other West series at home against Houston.

Across the country, Boston hosted Orlando in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference series. Atlanta gets just one day of rest before opening on the road at Cleveland on Tuesday night.

Form held true in the East as the four top seeds all advanced. Throughout the regular season there was a significant gap between the top three Eastern teams and the rest of the conference.

So whereas it was not surprising that fourth seeded Atlanta needed seven games to dispatch fifth seeded Miami, it was a surprise when second seeded Boston similarly needed 7 to get by seventh seeded Chicago in one of the best Playoff series in NBA history.

At the same time recall that last season Boston was the top seed in the East yet was still taken to 7 by eighth seeded Atlanta. Despite that scare the Celtics went on to win the NBA Title. Their task to repeat has been made much more difficult without Kevin Garnett, who missed the entire first round and may well miss the entire playoffs.

The Los Angeles Lakers were the clearly dominant team in the West and needed just five games to get past eighth seeded Utah. But there was not much separating second seeded Denver from seventh seeded New Orleans so it was not surprising that two of the lower seeds (Dallas and Houston) pulled first round upsets, getting past San Antonio and Portland respectively.

In general, a sensible approach to playing these series involves looking for the road team to achieve a split in the first two games. Thus you might wish to play the underdog in Game 1 of each series. If the underdog fails to win straight up, come back with the dog in Game 2.

A more conservative approach would be to sit out the first game of each series, looking to play Game 1 losers as underdogs in Game 2. Usually it’s the road team (and this would be in accordance with the zig zag theory discussed a couple of weeks ago).

Those, of course, are generalities. Many handicappers and bettors still prefer to evaluate each game and situation on its own merits, make a wagering decision that is not tied to a "formula" or "theory."

Here, then, is a look at the four series that will determine the teams that will play for their conference championships in another couple of weeks.

Denver (2) vs Dallas (6): Denver has won all five meetings with Dallas this season including Game 1 of this series on Sunday. The Nuggets covered in 4 of the 5 wins. After going over in their first meeting, Dallas and Denver have played four straight unders heading into Tuesday’s Game 2.

Dallas was reasonably competitive for much of the opening game and worth playing in Game 2. Three of their four regular season losses to the Nuggets were by 3, 2 and 2 points. The Game 2 loser would then make for a good play in Game 3. Denver is the better balanced and more complete team and deservedly favored to win the series. The Nuggets would thus be playable in Game 4 in almost all envisionable scenarios.

LA Lakers (1) vs Houston (5): The Lakers won and covered all four meetings,winning by 29 and 12 points at home and by 5 and 6 points in Houston. The over/under was 2-2. LA was a solid 8½-point favorite to capture Game1 at home on Monday and it’s hard to not see the Lakers advancing into the Conference Finals. Still, the points are attractive.

Should Houston have been reasonably competitive in Game 1, then they’d be a play in Game 2 if getting at least 8. Houston’s best chance for a win, much less a cover, should come back home in Game 3 when we can expect the Rockets’ best effort, much like we saw in the opening round from Utah. The Lakers should get by Houston in no more than 5.

Boston (2) vs Orlando (3): The teams split their four meetings with each team winning once at home and on the road. Boston took the first two meetings (in December and January) while Orlando won the two most recent games, both played in March. Their first meeting went over the total by 6. The last three each went under by between 21 and 31 points. Based on their play against Chicago, and the continued absence of Kevin Garnett, the Celtics appear to be the most vulnerable of the higher seeds in this round.

Orlando showed moxie in dominating Philadelphia in the series clinching Game 6 win on the road without star Dwight Howard. Look for Orlando to win at least one of the two games in Boston. Orlando should be a solid play back home in Game 3 and it would not be a surprise if the Magic were up 3-1 when the series returns to Boston for Game 5. Look for the under trend to continue.

Cleveland (1) vs Atlanta (4): Cleveland won 3 of 4 meetings this season but only their first win over the Hawks (back in November) involved a margin between the teams decided by more than 6 points. Three of the four games went over the total. When the teams take the court in Cleveland on Tuesday for Game 1, the Cavs should get a boost from LeBron James being named the NBA’s MVP.

Atlanta was extended in edging Miami in 7 whereas Cleveland was untested in sweeping Detroit by double digits each time. With only two home losses all season, Cleveland is deservedly a huge 11½ point favorite in the opener. The Hawks might make for a good play in Game 2 if the line is within a point of the Game 1 line. Assuming the Hawks are down 0-2, they would be playable in Game 3 if getting at least 4. Cleveland would make a solid play in Game 4 if going for the sweep or off a loss in Game 3. The Cavs should need no more than 5 here.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe