Lakers, Mavs take first step to NBA title

Apr 30, 2002 9:45 PM

The first round of the NBA playoffs winds up throughout this week with Dallas and Los Angeles Lakers sweeping their respective best 3-of-5 series.

The other six matchups are all poised for at least a fourth game, with the second round set to begin this weekend. Dallas meets the winner of Utah/Sacramento, which will probably be the favored Kings. The Lakers face either the Seattle/San Antonio victor, probably the favored Spurs.

All four Eastern Conference series find the favored team leading 2-1 in games heading into this week’s slate. Detroit, Boston, New Jersey and Charlotte each held the edge in their respective series.

Historically home teams have fared very well in the opening games of series and it makes sense. The home team is arguably the better team and is a stronger position to take an early lead by asserting its advantages and challenging the opponent to make adjustments.

But we can take a look at prospective series matchups and how they may unfold.

REST ”” Kobe, Lakers breezed.

Lakers v Spurs/Sonics: Seattle may actually give Los Angeles the tougher series. The Lakers were 3-1 against each club, but in last season’s playoff sweep of San Antonio, the Spurs appeared to be intimidated and seemed to quit in several of the games.

The possible absence of David Robinson should not be nearly as significant as the inexperience of Tony Parker. Parker was huge in a Game 3 blowout win in Seattle but will face a much tougher test against the Lakers.

Seattle’s experience and on court leadership of Gary Payton gives the Sonics a chance to win Game 1 or 2, but the call is for the Lakers to beat the Spurs in no more than five games and the Sonics in no more than six.

Mavs v Kings/Jazz: Dallas fared well in both season series, losing the first game and then winning three in a row. In fact, Dallas won the two most recent games against Sacramento and both were played in the second half of the season. The Mavs won by 14 at home in late February and by 13 on the road in the regular season’s final week.

The Mavericks will be a very live underdog to defeat Sacramento. In sweeping Minnesota, the Mavs made the big plays down the stretch and have multiple options. The weakness of Dallas is defense, which is not a major concern against the Kings.

Dallas did defeat Utah twice in April by nine points each time, once at home and once on the road. Utah will make Dallas work hard offensively, but ultimately the Mavs have too much for the Jazz. Dallas would defeat Utah in no more than six games, most likely in five. If the Mavs are to upset Sacramento it most likely would be in six. As for futures, Dallas can be backed against Utah up to minus 250 and may be played against Sacramento if at least a plus 150 underdog.

The Eastern Conference is much more difficult to forecast because none of the series have been decided at press time. There are no dominant teams and the ones with prior playoff experience are seeded fourth through eighth.

New Jersey: The Nets did win three of four against both Orlando and Charlotte. New Jersey has not played Charlotte since late February. The Hornets’ only win in the season series was a 21-point blowout in that final meeting. A healthy Jamal Mashburn would make Charlotte a very live underdog. The Hornets could also be a favorite of minus 200 against Indiana. Charlotte was 3-1 against the Pacers.

The Nets should be able to get the inexperienced Magic with Jason Kidd’s overall contributions offsetting the scoring of Orlando’s Tracy McGrady. New Jersey should win in six games or less. Indiana, the number eight seed, won three of four against Orlando and has to be given a decent chance to pull the upset. At a price of at least plus 150 the Pacers are worthy of consideration.

Detroit: The Pistons, in the other half of the Eastern bracket, is clearly the team to beat. However, Detroit is beatable. The Pistons split their season series versus Boston with each team winning at home. The Detroit wins were by just three and eight points, while Boston was victorious by 14 and 25 points.

The Pistons were 2-1 against Philly but the three games were decided by 5, 4 and 4 points. Detroit’s edge is on defense while Boston has the Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker duo and Philly has experience and Allen Iverson.

Detroit will be favored against either team but if the price is too high the underdog is worth backing. The Pistons should be extended to at least six games by both Boston and Philadelphia. There will be chances to cash underdog money line tickets during either series.

For series futures, unless the underdog is getting at least 2-1 odds, the preference is to pass. Should the upset happen, and Toronto ultimately defeats Detroit in the opening round. either Boston or Philadelphia can be backed against the Raptors in the second round. Boston likely need no more than five games to defeat Toronto. Philly probably gets extended to six.