Sweeps week

Apr 27, 2004 4:09 AM

Seems like the networks are having to deal with the NBA’s version of Sweeps Week in round one of the playoffs.

At press time, three teams have completed opening round sweeps and await the determination of their second round opponents. New Jersey took its series against New York in four straight games as did Indiana against Boston and San Antonio against Memphis.

Indiana and San Antonio were especially impressive and perhaps may be the teams to meet in the NBA Finals.

In addition to gaining confidence with first round sweeps the Nets, Pacers and Spurs also get extra rest as they prepare for the next round. San Antonio plays the winner of the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets series. The Lakers hold a 3-1 lead and could wrap up the best-of-7 series this Wednesday. The longer it would take the Lakers to win the series translates into an even greater benefit for the Spurs.

Houston could easily have won Games 1 and 4 and could be up 3-1 instead of down 1-3. Despite all their talent the Lakers are looking very vulnerable, suggesting San Antonio may indeed be the team to beat in the West.

Detroit took a 2-1 series lead into Milwaukee on Monday night and have had its usual problems against the Bucks. The 10-point win in Game 3 was deceiving as the Pistons fell behind early by 12. Milwaukee has played Detroit well going back several seasons and should the Bucks have won Game 4 this series could well go the full seven.

Minnesota holds a 2-1 lead over Denver heading into Tuesday night’s fourth game. Denver was very impressive in winning Game 3, sprinting out to an early 23-6 lead and answering every Minnesota attempt to narrow the gap. Game 4 is the key contest in this series. A Denver win would knot the series at 2-2 and awaken the ghosts of past Minnesota playoff failures.

Denver is playing loose, with nothing to lose. Should the Nuggets win Game 4, and guarantee at least a six game series they become a confident and dangerous foe. Recall that Denver is the only franchise to ever pull an upset over the No. 1 seed as the eighth seed when upsetting Seattle exactly a decade ago. Minnesota is still the pick to advance and face the winner of the Sacramento/Dallas series in Round 2.

Both the Sacramento/Dallas and Miami/New Orleans series have held true to form through the first three games with the home team winning each contest. Sacramento was an attractively priced underdog at Dallas in Monday’s Game 4. Should the Kings pull the outright upset, they might well carry that momentum to a Game 5 home triumph over the Mavericks and a 4-1 series win.

Should Dallas prevail in Game 4 and even the series at two apiece then we can expect this series to go the full seven with Sacramento winning. It is very rare for a road team to win a seventh and deciding game and given Dallas’ poor road record during the regular season (16-25) that history should continue. Sacramento tied for the second best home record in the league (34-7) behind Dallas (36-5).

The Miami/New Orleans series has also seen the home team win each of the first three games as they prepare for Tuesday’s Game 4 in New Orleans. The Hornets’ Baron Davis was banged up in Game 3 and if he is less than 100 percent Miami has an excellent chance to take a 3-1 series lead back home. Miami is still the pick to advance.

The first three games of the series went "under" the total, making 10 straight between the teams that have gone below the posted figure. The linesmaker has finally recognized this oddity. The total in the first game of the series opened 182. The Game 4 opening total was 169½. That’s an adjustment of more than a dozen points.

Thus far in the playoffs, home teams are 19-9, covering in all but three of those wins. In the first two games of the opening round series (when the higher seed was home) the home team went 15-1 with 12 covers. In the dozen games since (when the higher seed was on the road) the away team has won 8, bringing the overall mark to 23-5.

This is a further validation of the huge gap that exists between the "haves’’ and "have nots’’ in each conference. Favorites are covering two of three games in the playoffs, standing 18-9-1 ATS through Sunday. There have been 19 games decided by at least 10 points with seven decided by at least 20 points.

Overall, the linesmaker has done a much better job in setting totals lines with 14 "overs", 12 "unders" and 2 pushes thus far.