Nets most comfortable in playoffs

May 13, 2003 6:40 AM

As the week began, New Jersey appeared to be in the best position of advancing to the conference final of the NBA playoffs.

Three of the four series are knotted at two games apiece. The Nets was on the verge of sweeping Boston with a victory in Game 4 at the Fleet Center.

Home teams have won all four games in both the Detroit-Philadelphia series in the East and the San Antonio-LA Lakers series out West. Dallas and Sacramento have each won once at home and once on the road.

New Jersey would be the play in Game 5 back home if the series were extended. Should the Celtics somehow force a Game 6 back in Boston, the Nets become a better play as likely a very small underdog or at pick’em.

The remaining series have now become best 2-of-3, with the team hosting Game 5 retaining home court advantage. Both Philadelphia and Los Angeles have momentum heading into their respective Game 5 tests following home wins. Philadelphia might have led 3-1 in the series if not for a pair of missed free throws by Allen Iverson near the end of regulation in Game 2.

The 76ers are the superior team and the choice to win the series before it began. Philadelphia will be a good play in both Game 5 and 6, but home teams have a tremendous edge in a deciding Game 7. We’ll let the lines guide us in a Game 7, taking the points with the 76ers if we get at least 5 or laying points with the Pistons at 3 or less.

The Lakers/Spurs series has become very interesting. San Antonio won the first six games between the teams this season, including the opening two games of this series at home. The Lakers blew out the Spurs in Game 3, but San Antonio was in control for much of Game 4. Despite blowing a double-digit lead, San Antonio still had the advantage in the final minutes before the Lakers made the big plays.

The choice here all along has been the Lakers, who will be playable as a small underdog in Game 5 and as a moderately priced favorite of 5-to-7 points in Game 6. In a Game 7, the Lakers would be the choice as an underdog despite the strong history of home team success. The Lakers present an entirely different set of circumstances as they seek a fourth straight title. Those intangibles and ability to win big games count for much.

Sacramento has been the deepest team in the NBA, but has battled injuries all year. Now star Chris Webber is lost for the balance of the playoffs. Still, the Kings responded with a huge win in Game 4 when Dallas had a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead heading home for Game 5.

The absence of Webber may not hurt the Kings as much as many observers believe, but it should give the line additional value. Sacramento at +3 in Game 5 is attractive and the Kings will be worth backing in Game 6 whether up or down 3-2 in games.

A possible Game 7 presents a dilemma because Sacramento is the better team but, unlike the Lakers, doesn’t have that edge in intangibles to warrant blind loyalty. Again, we’ll use the line as our guide, taking at least 4 with the Kings and laying 2 or less with Dallas. The odds makers have been forced to make huge adjustments in the OVER/UNDER. The posted total in Game 1 was 204. After three straight OVER results, the total in Game 4 opened at 220. That fourth game finally went UNDER, though the double overtime game just 24 hours earlier in Game 3 created a lot of tired legs. Look for the OVER to continue, especially at 220 or less.