Hurley: NBA Thursday Night Previews

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

GAME THREE'S BEGIN WITH EXCITING TRIPLEHEADER

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

If the Vegas pointspreads are any indication, we may be in store for the most exciting night of the playoff so far with this evening's tempting trio.

You just watched a bunch of games with pointspreads like 12, 11, 10, 8...now, with the change in sites under way, three potential nailbiters!

  • Cleveland is just a 3½-point favorite in Chicago, and the underdog hosts truly have their backs to the wall in a must-win situation.
  • Oklahoma City is a 2½ or 3-point favorite at home against the LA Lakers in what still has time to be a very compelling series. Oklahoma City was nip and tuck with the Lakers late Tuesday Night. Now they get to play in front of a very inspired home crowd.
  • Portland is a 1-point favorite vs. Phoenix, and gets to play in front of arguably the most loyal crowd in all of sports. These fans don't even run to buy a hot dog or popcorn when the ball is in play!

A great card indeed...with ramifications involving championship contenders in the first two games on the schedule. Will Cleveland and the Lakers make statements about their roles as favorites to win their respective conferences? Will shaky performances provide hope for their rivals? Big games...big night...and big plays from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK if you call 1-800-323-4453!

Let's jump right into the previews, using our standard format for the 2010 campaign...

 

GAME THREE: CLEVELAND AT CHICAGO
Chicago leads the series 2-0
Current Vegas Line: Cleveland by 3½, total of 193

Cleveland was favored by about 11 in both home games, so the line adjustment is fairly standard for the playoffs. Vegas often allots 4 points for home floor. That's an eight point adjustment from one place to the other (4 if they played on a neutral court for some reason). The total matches the first game mark on the board. Vegas lowered Game Two off a 179 point first game result...but then the Bulls and Cavs combined for 214 points in a much higher scoring rematch.

CLEVELAND 112, CHICAGO 102
Three-Point Scoring: Chicago 12, Cleveland 30
Two-Point Scoring: Chicago 74, Cleveland 60
Free Throw Scoring: Chicago 16, Cleveland 22

There was a lot of talk about how LeBron James took the game over in the final minutes. That's always fun to watch. Just be aware that Cleveland's big edges here came not from LeBron hitting jumpers...but from a +18 edge from long range and a +6 edge from the free throw line. Chicago's strengths are inside when Joakim Noah is healthy. Chicago actually won "inside scoring" (one's and two's) by a surprising 90-82 margin. And, that was after an 80-78 win in that stat in the opener.

In terms of the big picture in the East, it's a good sign for Cleveland that they're getting production from long range. It's a bad sign that they're losing outright inside to Chicago though, because Orlando will just be more of a handful.

Can Chicago make this a series? There comes a point in many of the 1-8 matchups where the big series underdog throws in the towel. There's just no way the Bulls will win four of the next five games against the superior Cavs. Do they just suck it up and try to win a couple? Or, do they let nature take its course and start their vacations after the weekend? We've seen both in recent years.

To us, that's the biggest handicapping factor tonight. If Chicago shows up, they can win outright...particularly if the Cavs get complacent. If Chicago's given up, the line doesn't matter. Cleveland will win by 10-14 again. Home court means nothing when the lesser team has thrown in the towel. You've seen that with Cavs opponents in prior seasons.

Our on site sources will get us the right info here. We could have a very big play in either direction based on what they're telling us.

 

GAME THREE: LA LAKERS AT OKLAHOMA CITY
Los Angeles leads the series 2-0
Current Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 3, total of 191

More of a move from the first game opener that we saw in the Cleveland series. The Lakers were -8 in the first game of the series, but the line has moved all the way to Oklahoma City by 3 in Game Three as we go to press. That's an equivalent of 5.5 points for home court! Maybe it's justified given how well Oklahoma City played in big home games this year, and how shaky the aging Lakers were on the road in the final month of the season. Let's remember though that Andrew Bynum is back in the lineup, meaning the Lakers shouldn't be pushovers away from home any more. The total is in the same neighborhood as the second game's line...which had dropped to 192 from 198. Each of the games in LA went Under, landing on 166 and 187.

LA LAKERS 95, OKLAHOMA CITY 92
Three-Point Scoring: Oklahoma City 15, Lakers 18
Two-Point Scoring: Oklahoma City 48, Lakers 54
Free Throw Scoring: Oklahoma City 29, Lakers 23

You can see why Phil Jackson was so adamant about officiating in this series. Oklahoma City was +6 points here, but -9 in everything else. In the opener, they were +4 in made free throws but -12 in everything else. If the Lakers can keep the Thunder off the line, they can coast to wins. That's a big "if" though...as OK City is great at attacking the basket. And, a few of the Lakers are prone to get flat footed during the course of a game.

If you've been watching the first two games, you get a clear sense that a "changing of the guard" is nearing, but not quite here yet. The Lakers aren't ready to go away. Kobe Bryant isn't ready to give his "King of the West" title to Kevin Durant either. The kids are on the block, and ready to storm the city. This isn't the year they crash the scene unless they win four of the next five games.

Even though this is a 1-8 matchup like Chicago/Cleveland, we don't see the same "throw in the towel" potential. Oklahoma City still believes they can win...and they've got a bunch of kids who could care less about early tee times next week anyway. They sense a vulnerability in the Lakers that just isn't there with the Cavs right now. Maybe both series are destined to be sweeps. We expect a high quality war here, as this is much more like a 3-6 or 4-5 matchup in terms of the talent on the floor rather than a 1-8 series.

Should the Thunder be laying THIS many points? It's one thing to say they're a strong up-and-comer. It's another to say they're a big game favorite over the team that's ruled the West of late. We see a lot of volatile potential. A sky high Thunder could definitely post a big result in front of that great home crowd. But, the Lakers know how to neutralize playoff crowds. Kobe lives for that. You could easily say this game is a true pick-em, and any points are a plus.

Once again our sources will be helping us out here with the questions about mindset and confidence. Our trend historians have looked very closely at Game Three histories in recent years as well. What do young teams do in their first home game? What do established series favorites do after holding serve at home? You can't pick this game if you don't have that information at your fingertips.

GAME 3 TRIFECTA!

 The NBA playoffs finds another level in intensity on Thursday as venues shift and Game 3s began the Jim Hurley Network has found all the edges to make Thursday a 3-0 night! We'll start with the Cavs & Bulls, where our stat handicappers have found three angles that when aligned correctly, produce the pointspread winner 84 percent of this time in this matchup. The stars are aligned on Thursday! In the Lakers-Thunder, our on-scene sources have delivered penetrating insight on whether to play the feisty young team playing their first home playoff game, or to stick with the veterans to cover the line. And in Suns-Blazers, our basketball experts are convinced that two key mismatches in the starting lineup will swing the game. We're launching this trey from downtown and will light up the oddsmakers on Thursday!

 

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GAME THREE: PHOENIX AT PORTLAND
Series Tied at 1-1
Current Vegas Line: Portland by 1, total of 205

We see about a nine point move here from the games in Phoenix, where the Suns were laying 8 points on their home floor. This line actually opened pick, then moved quickly to Portland by one. That suggests oddsmakers put in four points for home floor, and early betters thought it needed a bigger adjustment. The totals is still sitting at 205. The first game landed right on 205, and the second was a garbage time game that reached 209. Traditionally, defenses do start to kick in the more a series progresses. Sometimes the style of play Phoenix brings to the table trumps that though. Do you want to play any Unders in a series with a team that can drop 119 on your head?

PHOENIX 119, PORTLAND 90
Three-Point Scoring: Portland 12, Phoenix 24
Two-Point Scoring: Portland 50, Phoenix 74
Free Throw Scoring: Portland 28, Phoenix 21

Phoenix was in the must-win situation, and Portland had already stolen its road victory. The stats in a game like this don't really matter much...other than showing how dominant Phoenix can be when their opponents are going half speed! If the refs hadn't kept putting Portland on the free throw line, the blowout would have been even uglier. Phoenix won three's and two's by a 98-62 margin. Portland fell behind early, then decided to rest up for their home games.

That was quick! It's time for a home game. We really like this series right now. Vegas is treating it like a 2-7 matchup, while Portland clearly thinks it's more like a 4-5 and they have a real shot to advance. Tonight is when we find out who's right, the oddsmakers or the Blazers themselves.

Key players will be Marcus Camby and Andre Miller. They're aging veterans who are capable of playing four big games in seven...but not seven big games (or six now since both got a lot of rest in Tuesday Night's loss). Portland HAS to win those four big games. Should Phoenix sneak out a win when Camby and Miller are shining, it's all over. If Phoenix can't pull that off...then we'll have a surprise team in the second round!

Our indicators are suggesting some interesting things about the side and total here. We won't say any more than that because we want to protect the information for our clients.

That wraps up today's TRIPLEHEADER preview. Back for another one Friday when the following three matchups take center stage:

Boston at Miami (Boston leads 2-0)
Dallas at San Antonio (quick turnaround from Wednesday's G2)
Denver at Utah (slow turnaround in a 1-1 series)

Be sure you're with us every day in the NOTEBOOK so you know what's REALLY happening in the NBA playoffs!

For BIG JUICY WINNERS every night, sign up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK by calling 1-800-323-4453. Game day releases and packages can also be purchased here at the website with your credit card. Don't forget about baseball! Games of interest for us Thursday include Phillies/Braves, Cubs/Mets, Yankee's/A's, and Rangers/Red Sox.

JIM HURLEY is on a 37-23-1 stretch in the NBA, for 62% winners. And the most profitable stages of the opening round series have arrived. Las Vegas is really at the mercy of great information from Game Three forward because intangibles like confidence, fatigue, chemistry, and so many others play such a vital role the deeper you go.

NETWORK IS RED HOT AND THE WINNING IS JUST BEGINNING!

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