For almost six months, 29 NBA teams
battled each other to eliminate less than half the league and gain positioning
for the post-season. The regular season ends Wednesday and as we go to press
much has yet to be decided for the playoffs which begin this weekend.
All eight teams in the Western
Conference have been determined but most of the seeds are still unknown.
Sacramento has secured the top seed and the league’s best overall record and
thus will have home court advantage for as long as they remain in the playoffs.
Kings unseated the Los Angeles Lakers as champions of the Pacific by fashioning
the NBA’s best home record. They’ve won 35 of 40 home games with just
Tuesday’s home finale against Golden State remaining. The Kings will open the
Playoffs against either Utah or Seattle, the teams currently tied for the
seventh and eighth seeds.
Whichever of those teams winds up as
the seventh seed will battle the Midwest Division winner, either Dallas or San
Antonio. The Mavericks and Spurs have identical records with two games
remaining. San Antonio holds the tie breaker after defeating Dallas three times
in four games this season. The second place finisher in the Midwest will be
seeded either third or fourth since the Lakers begin the week with the same
record as the Spurs and Mavs. Minnesota is likely to end up as the fifth seed
and Portland as the number six seed.
Most of the Eastern Conference playoff
teams are known with six teams having already clinched berths. Milwaukee,
Toronto and Indiana are battling for the final two berths and the right to face
either New Jersey or Detroit. New Jersey has clinched the top seed in the
Conference and won the Atlantic Division title ”” their first Division crown
since entering the NBA over a quarter of a century ago. Detroit is the East’s
second seeded team having won the Central Division ÂÃ‚Âtitle.
Boston will be seeded third in the
East. Orlando and Philadelphia are tied, a game ahead of Charlotte thus meaning
that any of the three could be seeded fourth or sixth. Toronto is just another
game back and could improve their current seventh seed. Or, with a pair of
losses and two wins each by Milwaukee and Indiana, the Raptors could be out of
It’s hard to remember any season
since the NBA expanded the playoffs that so much has rested on the results of
teams’ final two games.
Since exact matchups are not known at
press time it is impossible to make specific recommendations on the opening
round, best of five, series. Rather, what follows will be general in nature by
looking at those teams most vulnerable to being upset in the first round and
those teams likely to pull upsets and advance to conference semi-finals.
No team in the East has been playing
outstanding basketball over the last month and a half. Boston has won 14 of
their last 20 games heading into Monday night’s game at Minnesota and that is
the best mark in the conference during this stretch. Contrast that to the
performance of both San Antonio and Sacramento. The Spurs and Kings have won 18
of 21 games entering the final two games of the season.
The Eastern conference is wide open.
The top three seeds, New Jersey, Detroit and Boston, did not even make the
playoffs last season. Experience is a factor in playoff basketball so the lack
thereof makes any of these top seeds vulnerable, especially with none of the
three entering the post season on a lengthy winning streak. Jason Kidd gives New
Jersey a formidable weapon in controlling the pace of their games. The halfcourt
game is extremely important in the Playoffs which gives teams with solid floor
leadership an advantage.
Detroit may be the most vulnerable of
the top three seeds and may well be worth playing AGAINST if they happen to face
Milwaukee in the opening round. The Bucks are a very talented team that has
underachieved most of the season. Yet they took Philadelphia to the wire in last
season’s conference championships. They are a dangerous team and are worth
backing to pull a first round upset but ONLY if they are made the underdogs in
their series. Defending conference champion Philadelphia’s chances hinge on
the availability of Allen Iverson, out for the past month with an injury. If
Iverson is available the 76ers will likely be favored in their opening round
Philadelphia may have a better chance
of advancing if they have to play without Iverson. Philly may actually play with
greater intensity knowing that they don’t have their superstar on whom to
The West is much more interesting and
the quality of the series should be at a much higher level than in the East.
Sacramento and San Antonio should advance easily but will be too high priced to
back. The best propositions may be to take either the Spurs or the Kings to
advance in a sweep if you can find it offered at any of the Sports Books.
Mavs are likely to be solid favorites to advance and if they have to face
Portland or Utah a first round upset is worthy of consideration.
In general playoff games are lower
scoring than regular season games by an average of from six to eight points. But
the linesmaker has recognized this development and has set lower Over/Under
lines in the Playoffs. Yet the percentage of games going UNDER the total has
historically been greater in the playoffs by from three to four percent. So the
first way to look at totals is to the UNDER.
The “zig zag” theory is also worth
tracking in the playoffs. This theory, which has been popularized by the Gold
Sheet over the years, holds that you play on the loser of any Playoff game in
the next game.
Thus, you’d have no plays in the
first games of series but you’d play the loser of game one in game two, the
loser of game two in game three, and so forth.
Right now it’s hard to go against the Lakers. But, the best opportunity for a longshot winner resides in the East. The Charlotte Hornets should carry an attractive price to make it to the NBA Finals.