Heat off Indiana until
Eastern finals

May 11, 2004 6:44 AM

The second round of the NBA playoffs are nearly half complete and the four series have taken on individual identities.

INDIANA: The Pacers have won all six playoff games by double digits heading into Monday night’s contest at Miami. The Heat have been very strong at home over the last two months but it would be a major upset if Indiana did not win at least one of the two games in Miami before wrapping up the series in 5.

The Pacers had the best record in the NBA this season and would have home court advantage in the NBA Finals should they advance past the winner of the New Jersey/Detroit series. The best remaining plays in this series would be to back Indiana if they needed to win Game 5 at home if failing to win both in Miami.

Secondly, Indiana would be a solid play in Game 4 should Miami have won Monday night to pull within 2-1 in the best of seven series.

NEW JERSEY: The Nets won a crucial game Sunday in their series against Detroit as the home team has won all three games. Unlike Game 2, in which the Nets blew a 12-point halftime lead in Detroit, the Nets managed to maintain and extend in the second half. New Jersey has won the last two Eastern Conference titles and that experience is likely to be a factor in extending this series to at least 6.

Look for the Nets to even the series on Tuesday with a win in Game 4 and it would not be a surprise to see them win Game 5 in Detroit. In fact, the Nets would be an attractive play as an underdog if the series is tied 2-2. The pick here still is for New Jersey to advance.

Should the Nets fall behind 3-1 returning to Detroit, the Pistons would be an attractive play to close out the series if favored by no more than 4 points. New Jersey would be the play if there is a Game 6 and the Nets are either ahead or behind 3-2.

SAN ANTONIO: The Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers have performed according to form through three games with the home team winning by double digits in each game. The Lakers are favored to even the series Tuesday night. If they can repeat their performance of Sunday, the series will then be a best of three.

That’s exactly what occurred last season after the home team won the first four games. The Spurs won in 6. We thought the Spurs would win at least one of the first two games in Los Angeles and then wrap up the series at home in Game 5. If the Spurs indeed do win Tuesday, they will be favored to win Game 5 and will be a solid play if laying no more than 5.

Should the Lakers even up the series and have the momentum heading into Game 5, then Los Angeles would be attractive getting points. The four future Hall of Famers would see a title within their grasp, especially Karl Malone and Gary Payton. The Lakers were effective in frustrating both Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in Game 3 and those events make this now the most intriguing of the four series.

MINNESOTA: The Timberwolves are fortunate to be tied at one game each heading into Monday night’s Game 3 in Sacramento. After being totally outplayed in Game 1, the T’wolves built an early double-digit lead in Game 2. only to find themselves down by 10 with four minutes to go. Minnesota rallied, while Sacramento collapsed.

And, Minnesota had a rare win but no cover victory to avoid almost certain elimination that would have followed by being down 0-2 and heading for two games on the road. Interestingly the road team has won four of six meetings this season with Minnesota winning both regular season meetings in Sacramento.

Still we have to expect the Kings to win at least one of two games at Arco Arena and are still the pick to win in 6. Sacramento would be an attractive play in Game 4 if losing Game 3. The Kings would be our choice again in Game 5 in Minnesota when they may have Bobby Jackson back in action.