The NBA Playoffs Really Heat Up


By Jim Hurley:

It's true.

The NBA Playoffs are always great spring-time excitement but this year's first-round series were - let's face it - not always exactly spellbinding stuff.

That's until Friday night:

Not only were hoop fans treated to a great Game 6 between the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers at the Oklahoma City Thunder but the Game 6 theater between the triumphant Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets wasn't half-bad either (until things deteriorated very, very late).

In fact, in the West it was a case of "The Joy of Six" as all four opening-round NBA Western Conference series went six games but now we're also getting treated on Sunday with a Game 7 - yes, the Atlanta Hawks showed a little backbone en route to a Game 6 win in Milwaukee on Friday night and so Bucks-Hawks becomes "must-see TV" this weekend too.

Gotta love it, right?

We'll get to our Jim Sez Game #7 preview of the Bucks vs. Hawks in just a few moments plus we'll digest what just happened in those series-clinching wins by the Lakers and the Jazz and then get you our Game #1 preview of the NBA's Western Conference Semifinal Series between Utah and LA but first this rather important reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA Playoffs and all the Major-League Baseball Winners each and every day when you either call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or else when you go online right here. Check-in times are after 11 a.m. ET for the weekday afternoon Baseball games; after 1 p.m. ET for all the NBA and MLB weeknight games; and, of course, anytime after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays. Go ahead and pile up your spring-time profits with America's #1 Handicapper - the one-and-only Jim Hurley.



Now, let's look back before we move ahead to Sunday's NBA Playoff tilts - and note that all home teams are in CAPS in our accompanying charts below:


LOS ANGELES LAKERS 95, OKLAHOMA CITY 94 - Lakers win series 4-2
Maybe it simply was a case of being in the right place at the right time - in any event, the Lakers' Pau Gasol proved he had a real sense of drama when he tipped in Kobe Bryant's missed jumper with a scant half-a-second left on the clock.

Could any one of three Okie City front-court men have boxed out Gasol and thus prevented the Lakers from stealing this one at the Ford Center?

No doubt about it but - without "naming names" - nobody saw fit to put a body on Gasol and so it's the Lakers movin' on for another playoff round and a case of extreme growing pains for the young-and-spunky Thunder.

You can sit there and recite all the key stats from this one - such as Gasol gobbling up a game-high 18 rebounds and the fact that Oklahoma City's megastar Kevin Durant couldn't hit the broad side of a barn for much of the night (see 5-of-23 field-goal tries and a misleading 26 points) but let's point a finger of blame at NBA Coach of the Year Scott Brooks who, for some unknown reason, called a timeout with his team in possession of the ball and leading 92-90 with 2:41 to go and with all the momentum in the world on Oklahoma City's side.

Heck, even the ESPN cameras caught Durant asking Brooks, "Why are you calling a timeout now?"

For someone who didn't have a good game shooting, it was a good question and it seemed to give the Lakers a necessary moment or two to recharge its batteries - hey, the Thunder only scored two points after that timeout and really had much of the building's energy pulled like a plug right than and there (of course the ESPN announcers never asked why the timeout there because they never criticize a coach!).

The reality was the Lakers' Lamar Odom snatched up a couple of critical late-game defensive rebounds and Bryant (32 points) and Gasol made 11th-hour key hoops and so Phil Jackson's crew survived a tougher-than-they-expected series here.

Lessons learned by the Lakers in Round I:

Don't allow defensive whiz Ron Artest to take any shots when it most matters (see 3-of-10 FGs and some bad chucks late) and get some more minutes for reserve guard Shannon Brown who scored 11 points in 15 minutes of action (and he should have played a whole lot more!).
UTAH 112, DENVER 104 - Jazz win series 4-2
It's funny how "gloom and doom" can switch sides in a heartbeat:

When this best-of-seven first-round series opened up all the way back on April 17th, there were Utah Jazz fans bemoaning the fact that key swingman Andrei Kirilenko would not be able to play in this series because of injury and then moments into Game 1 there was star forward Mehmet Okur going down with a painful Achilles Heel injury - now just how much worse could things get for Hall of Fame head coach Jerry Sloan?

Well, when the dust finally settled on this series with Utah snagging this Game 6 win in frenetic Salt Lake City, nary a word was being uttered regarding Kirilenko or Okur - the Jazz managed to win Game 2 in Denver and all of a sudden had plenty of inner confidence and Friday's gritty win showed that the more things change in Utah the more they stay the same.

It's called character and heart - two things this Nuggets team didn't show a whole lot of late in this tilt as Denver was slapped with four technical fouls and that sure had to make cancer-stricken head coach George Karl awfully proud watching back home in Colorado!

The Jazz had an array of stat-sheet stuffers in Game 6 including soon-to-be-free-agent F/C Carlos Boozer (22 points and 20 rebounds) and All-Star point guard Deron Williams (14 points and 10 assists) but it was those all-important role players who gobbled up extra minutes without the presence of Kirilenko and Okur who helped secure this series win.

Rookie guard Wesley Matthews finished Game 6 with 23 points including a sensational night at the free-throw line (see 13-of-15) and forward Paul Millsap poured in 21 points to go along with 11 boards and - more importantly - these guys ripped the hearts out of the Nuggets who basically went through the motions late once they realized they were cooked.

A great first half by Denver's Joey Graham - he registered 18 of his 21 points in the second quarter after basically riding the pine for the first five games of this series - was a major bonus for interim head coach Adrian Dantley's team but star Carmelo Anthony was streaky (he needed 22 FGs to get his 20 points) and PG Chauncey Billups sat out way too long on the sidelines in the final quarter when this one was still a toss-up.

Folks, we won't go so far to say Dantley "cost" the Nuggets this series but he sure didn't help matters!
On Sunday, it's the Western Conference Semifinals ...

Here's the lowdown on the start of this best-of-seven series that could add or subtract players along the way:

Note that Jazz star Williams injured his left elbow/arm in the game's closing seconds on a blind screen from Denver's Chris "Birdman" Andersen - he appeared in major pain and late word on Friday said nothing about any broken bones and so expect this to be full steam ahead for the Utah backcourt leader.

Then there's the story of Kirlenko who may be able to go at some point in this series - but should Utah keep him out completely and go with this current cast of characters that really have formed a wonderful chemistry? Boss-man Sloan is gonna have to wrestle with that one, not us.

On the Lakers side there's Bryant continuing to play with a damaged right index finger - look for Jackson to give him major minutes off if any of the first few games in this series is a blowout in the second half - plus note that reserve forward Luke Walton is playing a bit more (and much better) in recent days and he could be a bigger-than-you-think factor in both Game 1 and this whole best-of-seven series.

Now, here are the regular-season meetings in 2009-10 between the Jazz and the Lakers:







- 10.5

LAKERS 101-77



- 2

UTAH 102-94



- 5.5

Lakers 96-81



- 4.5

LAKERS 106-92



MILWAUKEE at ATLANTA - Series tied 3-3; Game #7 is Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Now that this one is going the distance, what can be gleaned from the first six games here?

Well, as you can see by our accompanying game-by-game chart, when the Hawks have won they've done so by double-digit margins (10, 10 and 14 points) and they've usually gotten key points from NBA Sixth Man Award winner Jamaal Crawford (he scored a game-high 24 points in Friday's 83-69 win after really suffering through a rotten Game 5 in Atlanta) but no doubt the Hawks here need point guard Mike Bibby to kick it into gear as he's been unbelievably quiet here (just 10 points in 36 minutes on Friday night) while any Milwaukee hope here in Game 7 hinges on the Bucks making those spot-up trifectas.

In Friday's game - where Milwaukee experienced a major third-quarter scoring drought - the Bucks connected on a mere 7-of-26 triples and rookie guard Brandon Jennings was the biggest culprit en route to a 1-of-9 game from trey-land.

Now, fiery Bucks boss-man Scott Skiles must convince his heavy-duty underdog side it can win two straight playoff road games (never easy!) and here look for Milwaukee to try and get John Salmons heated up early after a dreadful 2-of-13 FG game on Friday plus don't be surprised if Bucks veterans Kurt Thomas and Jerry Stackhouse get lots of first-quarter minutes while Skiles looks for them to stabilize things in the first seven or eight minutes.

The Hawks have been given a reprieve - now let's see who finally wants to play the Orlando Magic (remember them?) in the next round.
Here are the first six games in this Bucks-Hawks series with the home teams in CAPS:








- 8.5


ATLANTA 102-92



- 7.5





- 1





- 2





- 9


Milwaukee 91-87



- 2


Atlanta 83-69

NOTE: Catch our Jim Sez weekend recap in the next edition of Jim Sez as we detail the NBA Playoffs and Major-League Baseball action too.

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