NBA’s version of Final Four now determined

May 19, 2009 5:04 PM
Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |
last week

With Sunday’s resounding double-digit wins by Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers over Boston and Houston respectively, the NBA’s version of the Final Four has been determined.

The Western Conference finals begin Tuesday night in Los Angeles as the Lakers host Denver. Although the Lakers needed the full 7 to get by Houston, Denver dispatched Dallas in just 5.

On Wednesday, the Eastern Conference finals begin in Cleveland as the Cavaliers host Orlando. Whereas the Magic needed to win Game 7 in Boston on Sunday to advance, Cleveland completed its second straight 4-game sweep – this time over Atlanta to make the Conference Finals.

Most impressively for Cleveland, all eight wins have been by double digits with the average margin of victory nearly 17 points per game.

Here’s a preview of both Conference Finals.

LA Lakers -270 vs Nuggets:

The Lakers won 3 of 4 regular season meetings although the teams split the four point spread decisions with the home team covering in each game. The first three meetings stayed under the total while the most recent meeting did go over.

Thus far in the playoffs Denver is a solid 10-2 straight up and a nearly perfect 9-0-1 ATS (against the spread). The lone push came in Game 4 in Dallas when the favored Mavericks got their lone victory in the series, winning by exactly the amount by which they were favored, 2 points.

The Denver totals in the playoffs have been streaky starting with a pair of overs, followed by 4 unders and then 4 overs.

The Lakers are 8-4 straight up, but just 6-6 ATS in their dozen playoff games. They have played 4 overs and 8 unders with their last 4 against Houston. Each stayed under the total with 3 of the results coming in by at least 12 points.

The Lakers have shown how dominant they can be when focused as in Games 5 and 7 against Houston. Yet Games 4 and 6 against the Rockets also showed their vulnerability when appearing to just go through the motions. It’s hard to knock anything Denver has done in these Playoffs and that 9-0-1 ATS mark attests to the high level of play.

After being scared by Houston we should expect the Lakers to take Denver seriously, which should start with a focused effort in Game 1.

Even though the Lakers have just a single day of rest following the Houston series they do catch what might be a rusty Denver team which last played nearly a week ago when eliminating Dallas.

LA LAKERS in Game 1.

• DENVER in Game 2 if losing Game 1.

• LA LAKERS in Game 2 if they lose Game 1.

• DENVER in Game 3 if down 2-0.

• LA LAKERS in Games 3 and 4 if tied 1-1 or down 2-0.

Series prediction: LA LAKERS in no more than 6, perhaps 4-1.

Cavaliers -800 vs Magic:

This is a most intriguing series when looked at in terms of what happened in the regular season. The teams met just three times, all won by the home team. Orlando hosted two of the games and thus holds a 2-1 edge over the Cavs. Interestingly, Orlando’s two wins were by the healthy margins of 11 and 29 points whereas Cleveland’s lone win was by 4. Two stayed under the total.

In the playoffs, Cleveland is 8-0 straight up and a nearly perfect 7-0-1 ATS. The lone point spread push came in Cleveland’s series clinching 84-74 win over Atlanta. In fact, Cleveland has not lost to the point spread in over a month, covering their final four regular season games before starting its playoff run. The under is 6-2 in Cleveland’s playoff run.

Orlando needed 6 to get by Philadelphia in the opening round of the playoffs before going the full 7 with Boston, putting its playoff mark at 8-5 straight up. The Magic are 6-7 ATS with 4 overs and 9 unders, including their last four games against Boston.

Orlando came up big against Boston winning both Games 6 and 7 when facing elimination. The confidence should be at a high level after winning on the road in Boston and with the knowledge of having defeated Cleveland twice in three games this season.

The two days rest should also benefit Orlando in facing perhaps a too well rested Cleveland team in Game 1. The Cavs will take the court after having not played in nearly 10 days after eliminating Atlanta last Monday.

• ORLANDO +9 in Game 1.

• CLEVELAND in Game 2.

• ORLANDO if down 2-0.

• CLEVELAND if up 3-0.

Cleveland has been dominating on defense all season and thus we can expect more unders than overs in this series. Although Orlando has played well in its first two series, Cleveland has been the team to beat in the East from early this season. Orlando had several lapses in their series against Boston, beginning in Game 1. Several times double digit leads were frittered away against the Celtics.

Cleveland should face more of a challenge from Orlando, but is clearly the better team. MVP LeBron James has emerged into arguably the best player in the league along with the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. "King James" is a leader in every sense.

Series prediction: CAVS in 5.

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