As we come off the Memorial Day holiday, the two NBA Conference Championship series have been much more competitive than speculated in this column last week.
Both series have seen three games played and every one between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets has gone right down to the wire. The same is true of the three games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic.
Both Cleveland and the Lakers were solidly favored to advance to the NBA Finals but each lost home court advantage by splitting their first two home games in the Conference Finals.
The Lakers were able to regain that advantage with their last second Game 3 win in Denver on Saturday. But Cleveland was faced with the prospects of returning home down 1-3 in their series pending Tuesday’s Game 4 against the Magic after Orlando extended late in their 99-89 win Sunday night.
Here’s a look at how both series may play out over the next week.
Lakers at Nuggets: Monday’s Game 4 was critical to Denver’s chances of upsetting the Lakers. Trailing 2-1 in the series the Nuggets were favored by 4½ points at home. A win and the Conference Finals become a best of three affair. A Denver loss gives the Lakers a commanding 3-1 lead with two of the next three games in Los Angeles, if needed.
Should the Lakers win Game 4 and take that 3-1 lead they would be solidly favored to wrap up the series back home in Game 5. The price would likely be close to double digits as the trailing team in an elimination game often sees the margin extend late if the contest has been all but decided.
Denver has been a very competitive team throughout the playoffs, elevating its game round by round.
• Nuggets +10 would be attractive in Game 5.
• Nuggets +8 if the series is tied 2-2
• Lakers in Game 6 if up 3-2 or down 2-3. LA could be favored in both situations.
• Lakers in Game 7 at -7 or less.
• Nuggets in Game 7 at +9 or more.
Cavaliers vs Magic: This series became extremely interesting when Orlando won Sunday night to take a 2-1 lead over heavily favored Cleveland. An Orlando win in Tuesday’s Game 4 would give the Magic a commanding 3-1 lead heading back to Cleveland.
A win by the Cavs to even the series would make this a best of three series with two of the games in Cleveland. Clearly, Tuesday’s Game 4 is critical to both teams’ chances to advance and that result could significantly alter the way this series is played out.
The Cavs have been a dominant home team all season but Orlando nearly won both Games 1 and 2 to open this series. In Game 2 the Cavs were up by more than 20 points in the second quarter only to see Orlando stage a rally in the second half.
Clearly Orlando is not intimidated by the LeBron James mystique or the Cavs’ lofty home mark.
Orlando might compete for a while in Game 5, but if Cleveland extends to a large lead the Magic might just let the game play out and take what would be its best shot to win the series back home in Game 6.
It’s hard to envision Cleveland losing straight up in Game 5 regardless of the series situation, but the point spread is a different matter. The Cavs, as stated above, are in the more attractive point spread situation if facing elimination.
Back in Orlando for Game 6 the Cavs would be the play if they are in position to end the series with a third straight win. Orlando would only be playable if an underdog and in position to close out the series. Cleveland would be a tough out if facing elimination.
A Game 7 scenario would point to a play on Cleveland at a less than likely line of -6 or less. An Orlando play would require at least +10 or more.
• Cavaliers might be a shaky play back home at -9 in Game 5 if tied 2-2.
• Cavaliers at home in Game 5 down 1-3 as -8 favorites or less.
• Magic in Game 5 at +10 if tied 2-2.
• Magic in Game 6 if up 3-2 and listed as an underdog.
• Cavaliers in Game 7 giving 6 points or less.
• Magic in Game 7 getting 10 points or more.
By this time next week we may know one or both participants in the NBA Finals which are slated to begin next Thursday, June 4.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe