The second round of the NBA playoffs finds four teams with commanding three game to one leads entering this week with the chance to earn spots in the conference finals by the weekend.
New Jersey, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento have taken advantage of their home court edge to take nearly insurmountable leads into the week. Boston is the one team that has a chance to wrap up its series on the road, having split the first two games in Detroit before sweeping the Pistons at home.
It’s difficult to see any of the teams trailing in their series winning three in a row and advancing to the next round. Of the four teams facing elimination, perhaps Detroit is in the best position since two of the final three games will be at home.
The pressure will be on Boston to win a Game 6 if Detroit pulls to within 3-2 with a home win Tuesday. Charlotte, San Antonio and Dallas would each need to win two games on the road to advance and that is a very difficult task given that these teams managed to lose at least one game at home.
San Antonio’s position is especially precarious. The Spurs could just as easily be up in their series against the Lakers as being down. They simply blew Game 4, leading by 10 points at home with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Their spirit is likely broken and although they may cover in Game 5 it’s likely that the Lakers will wrap up their series Tuesday.
The Dallas firepower and the high scoring nature of the series still gives the Mavericks a chance but having to win two games on the best home court in the league, Sacramento, suggests it may be tough. In fact, even if Dallas won Game 5 on the road on Monday there’s a good chance the Kings will still wrap up the series on the road in Dallas.
Charlotte has been unable to overcome injuries in their series against New Jersey and the Hornets may likely have played their last game in Charlotte before moving to New Orleans next season.
If conference finals do get underway this weekend the matchups would be Boston against New Jersey and the Lakers against Sacramento. Of the two series the upset is more likely in the East. Boston’s balance might be enough to get by New Jersey in six games.
The tandem of Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker will be formidable against the Nets who must still be concerned about the condition of Jason Kidd’s eye. And while it is tough to buck the home team in Game 1 of a playoff series the Celts would be an attractive play if getting at least five points.
Both Sacramento and the Lakers are nursing injuries but the Lakers will still be favored to win the series despite opening on the road. Shaquille O’Neal’s ankle and toe problems are a concern but Sacramento has also contended with a significant injury. Peja Stojakovic missed most of the games in Dallas yet the Kings were able to win both.
The Lakers have been the team to beat all season and although they may have looked vulnerable at times it’s extremely hard to pick against them in a seven game series.
The Lakers might need six games to win the series but they should advance for a chance to win a third straight title.
Barring an upset during the remainder of this week it’s quite possible we’ll return to the 1980’s for the NBA Finals with the Lakers facing the Celtics for the title.