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Look to East for surprises

May 7, 2002 9:41 AM

Thus far form has up in the NBA playoffs. The top four seeds in each conference each advanced past the first round. It is very unusual for there to be no upsets but none occurred in the opening round best of five series.

The rest of the playoffs feature all best of seven series and it would be a surprise if there were once again no upsets.

The East might produce at least one upset and it’s quite possible that both of the lower seeded teams, Charlotte and Boston, can advance to the conference championship round.

Charlotte has an edge in both experience and balance over top seeded New Jersey. While the Nets may have Jason Kidd, the best player on the court, Charlotte has more reliable scoring options and perhaps the better overall backcourt with the combination of Baron Davis and David Wesley.

Of course the absence of Jamal Mashburn does reduce some of Charlotte’s edge but the Hornets played a good part of the early season without him. The projection is for Charlotte to defeat New Jersey in six games.

The scenario suggests a play on New Jersey as an Underdog in Game 3, their first game at Charlotte. The play in Game 4 would be on the team down 2-1. Should the series be tied 2-2 when New Jersey hosts Game 5, the play would be on Charlotte as a slight underdog.

Detroit had a much easier time defeating Boston in their opener and is likely to be up 2-0 when the series shifts to Boston. In such a scenario the play would be on the Celtics even though they will be a likely favorite of 4 to 6 points.

If form holds and the Celts pull within 2-1, the Pistons become the play as a solid underdog in Game 4. This series has all the makings of going the full seven. Both teams are in the playoffs for the first time in several seasons and were extended to five games in the opening round after winning the first two games at home.

Detroit’s defensive edge is offset by Boston’s Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker but the determining factor should be the home court. It’s tough to win on the road in a seventh and deciding game so the projection is for Detroit to advance in seven.

The West may go more true to form, although an injury to Kobe Bryant in Game 1 of the Lakers’ come from behind win over San Antonio leaves his status for Game 2 in doubt. With both Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal the Lakers should get past the Spurs with ease, likely in five or less.

Without Bryant, San Antonio has a chance to make it a series for as long as Bryant is out. The early expectation is that Bryant will be available for Game 2. Should the Spurs pull the upset, the play would be on the Lakers in Game 3 in what would be close to a pick’em. The Lakers would also be the play in Game 4 if laying no more than two points.

Notice that the Lakers have been winning but not covering. Despite winning their first four playoff games Los Angeles has yet to cover a pointspread. But note that all four games landed within a half point to two points of the pointspread. The UNDER is also preferred for the remainder of the series provided the posted total is no lower than 185.

The more competitive series in the West is Sacramento vs. Dallas. The Mavericks have an excellent chance against Sacramento because of the similar styles of play. Both teams love to run the court. Despite the UNDER in Game 1, the pace was frenetic and only poor early shooting by both clubs and a prolonged drought by Dallas in the fourth quarter prevented the game from going OVER.

The OVER remains the preferred play in the series provided the line is no higher than 212. If the series goes to Dallas with Sacramento up 2-0 the play in Game 3 becomes Dallas. The Game 4 play is Sacramento. If the series is tied 1-1, the play would instead be on Sacramento as an underdog. The play in Game 4 would be on the team down 2-1.

If the Mavs are the team down, play them as long as they are not favored by more than four. Should Sacramento be up 3-0, then Dallas can be played as up to a six-point favorite to avoid a four-game sweep.