NBA playoffs: Expect better in Round 2

May 4, 2004 7:02 AM

The first round of the NBA playoffs is nearly complete with Miami hosting New Orleans in Game 7 of their series Tuesday night. All seven other series were won by the favored team in five games or less.

Indiana, New Jersey and San Antonio each swept, while Detroit, the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota and Sacramento advanced in 5. That means that the seven teams who advanced won a combined 28 of 31 games. These results confirm the clear delineation that has existed all season between the very best teams in each conference and the merely good teams or, in the East, the mediocre and poor teams.

The second round should be more competitive with at least two of the four series extended to at least 6.

Heat/Hornets vs Pacers: Indiana will have had an 11-day layoff before taking the court Thursday against Miami or New Orleans. While there may be some rust, Indiana should have little trouble getting past either opponent.

New Orleans is more capable of giving the Pacers a test because of a strong front court and veteran leadership. The teams split four games this season but New Orleans did win the last two and both were by double digits. Indiana won all three meetings with Miami with the most recent two meetings being decided by seven points or less. Look for INDIANA over Miami in 5 and ousting New Orleans in 6.

Nets vs Pistons: New Jersey opened its second round series at Detroit earlier in the week. Despite being the second seed in the East, the Nets open on the road because Detroit had the better overall season record. The teams split four games this season with each winning once on the other’s home court. The first game this season featured 182 total points but the three games thereafter saw no more than 167.

This should be a low scoring series likely to last at least 6. New Jersey has won the last two Eastern Conference titles and returns pretty much the same nucleus led by Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson. The Nets swept the Pistons last season including winning the first two games on the road, each by exactly two points.

Detroit is now coached by Larry Brown and added Rasheed Wallace in midseason to bolster the starting five. The combination of Jason Kidd’s experience and leadership points to New Jersey pulling the mild upset. The Nets were +165 to win the series when the price first came out. Early money was on the Pistons, making the Nets even more attractive. The selection is NEW JERSEY in 6.

Lakers vs Spurs: Most of the season the Lakers have been even money or lower to win the NBA Title. However, San Antonio was -140 to eliminate Los Angeles. On the one hand you say that price gives great value to the Lakers. Instead having to lay a price to back the Lakers, you could get them as an underdog to win just one series. Or, you could accept the linesmaker’s point of view (shared by many observers) that San Antonio is the team to beat for the title.

San Antonio justified this thought with an impressive fourth quarter in a come from behind win in Game 1. The Spurs defense was outstanding as point guard Tony Parker is emerging into one of the premier players at his position and giving great support to star Tim Duncan. The Lakers may have more ”˜big name’ players but the Spurs are the better team. The Lakers plus the points will be an attractive play in Game 2.

Shaquille O’Neal’s vulnerability at the free throw line means that it will be tough for them to extend late leads and that keeps the Spurs in it all the way. SAN ANTONIO wins in 5, including at least one of the two games in Los Angeles.

Kings vs Wolves: Minnesota won its first-ever playoff series after seven failures, defeating Denver in 5. The Timberwolves have opened as —210 favorites to get by Sacramento. The Kings were a fashionable pick to win the NBA title last fall but have been overshadowed by the Lakers and Spurs for much of the past two months when Sacramento began to sputter.

The Kings strength has been depth but they seem to greatly miss the spark provided by the injured Bobby Jackson. Chris Webber’s strong showing in the Kings’ opening round ousting of Dallas was a marked departure from past poor playoff series and his play during an injury-filled regular season. Minnesota has been led by MVP Kevin Garnett and a strong supporting cast keyed by newcomers Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell. Sacramento is keyed by Mike Bibby and a deep cast of veteran players.

Minnesota was 3-1 against the Kings this season. The proverbial window of opportunity may be closing on Sacramento while there is still some upside for Minnesota. SACRAMENTO in 6 is our selection, starting with a split of the first two games in Minnesota. Sacramento at +5½ points is attractive in Tuesday’s opener. If the Kings can pull the upset, Minnesota would be our play in Game 2. If Minnesota wins Game 1, the Kings would be the play.