Playoffs slowly sweeping ahead

April 23, 2002 9:48 AM
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The two-month journey to the NBA Championship has begun. Several of the series could end this weekend as it is quite likely there will be at least a pair of sweeps.

The opening weekend of the playoffs featured wins by seven of the eight home teams. Only Indiana won on the road at New Jersey. Just three of eight home favorites, however, managed to cover the spread with both Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers missing by a scant half point.

There were two blowouts but only Detroit’s rout of Toronto was one-sided from virtually the outset. San Antonio’s 110-89 win over Seattle was somewhat misleading. The game was tied at 52 at the half before the Spurs outscored the Sonics by 25 points in the decisive third period.

Sacramento’s opening victory over Utah and Charlotte’s come from behind one point win over Orlando were the only nail-biters of the opening weekend.

As pointed out last week, scoring is down in the playoffs. Seven of the first eight games went UNDER the total with four falling short by double digits. Despite some relatively high scoring first halves, a more deliberate pace takes over after half time discussions are held and adjustments made.

When contemplating second half wagers, unusually high scoring first halves may present some solid UNDER plays in the final two periods. It is quite possible some teams will be facing 0-2 deficits in the best of five series. Only Indiana has the chance of returning home up 2-0.

Other teams in an 0-2 deficit will be playing their first home games and will be in "must win situations" to extend their seasons. Be cautious when considering a play on the home underdog down 0-2.

Remember that the home team in game three is the lower seeded team and most likely has been an underdog throughout the series. Sometimes these home underdogs are able to make a valiant last stand and win that third game to avoid being swept.

At other times such teams may have accepted the inevitable and put in a dull effort and wind up being swept. It’s important to consider the character of these teams and that of the head coach and star players.

Considering both historical performance and late season momentum, it would not be a surprise to see Utah defeat Sacramento in Game 3 if the Jazz are down 0-2. Even if Utah returns home tied 1-1, the Jazz are worthy of a play at home. Sacramento is the better team and, regardless of the Game 3 result, is worth playing if a Game 4 is necessary. We like the Kings, even as a small favorite.

Toronto is another team worth backing at home in Game 3 against Detroit if the Raptors are down 0-2. But if the Raptors pull the upset in Game 2, then Detroit becomes the play in the next contest.

Philadelphia is worth a play in Game 3 against Boston regardless of the result of the previous contest in Boston. The 76ers’ prior playoff experience works to their advantage if they return home either down 0-2 or tied 1-1. This is Boston’s first postseason appearance in several seasons and might not be able to close out a 2-0 lead. Boston could lack confidence if tied at 1-1 but, as an underdog, would be worth a play in a possible Game 4.

San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers are both likely to sweep their respective series against Seattle and Portland. If they return home tied 1-1 it might be best to pass on Game 3 and play the Spurs and Lakers in the next contest.

The 4 vs. 5 match-ups are generally the most competitive. Such should be the case in the Eastern Conference where Charlotte rallied for a one point home win over Orlando in the opening game.

The Hornets should win this series in four or perhaps five games but the entire series should be close, making more than four points worth taking with the underdog. Charlotte is one of just seven teams that had a winning record on the road. The Hornets are unique because of a superior road record compared to home.

Minnesota was reasonably competitive in an opening loss in Dallas. If the Timberwolves are able to win Game 2 and return home tied 1-1, they could pull the upset over the Mavericks. Dallas is weak defensively and does not match up well against Minnesota on the boards. At 1-1 the Wolves would be worth backing in the next two games. But, not down 0-2. If trailing 2-1, the Wolves could be a good play in Game 4.

Finally there is the New Jersey vs. Indiana series. The Pacers will return home either up 2-0 or tied 1-1. They have a big edge in experience over the Nets and the results of Game 2 will guide us through the rest of the series.

If New Jersey wins impressively to even the series, then the Nets would be playable as an underdog in Game 3. Should the Nets trail 2-1, then Indiana becomes the play to end the series in four.

With New Jersey up 2-1, look for the Nets to wrap it up in Game 4. New Jersey’s ability, or inability, to rebound from what were clearly opening game jitters will be telling.

Next week: The picture clears