NBA Sunday Previews
SUNDAY SLAM SHOWCASES
CRITICAL FOURTH GAMES
by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor
One NBA team is facing elimination today, as the Miami Heat trail the Boston Celtics 3-0 in their best of seven Eastern Conference series. Three other teams could be dealing with it shortly if they don't even up their series today with victories.
Chicago, at home against Cleveland as a 5.5-point underdog
Dallas, on the road at San Antonio as a 2.5-point underdog
Denver, on the road at Utah as a 2-point underdog
If we don't see upsets in those games, those series are all over but the crying. The relatively small Vegas lines suggest we could well see one, two, or even three pointspread upsets though. This has a chance to be a very exciting day!
Let's run through the games in schedule order, using our standard 2010 approach of breaking down inside and outside scoring in the last game to hint at what might be ahead in the next one. Four games to discuss, so let's jump right in!
GAME FOUR: BOSTON AT MIAMI
BOSTON leads 3-0
Current Vegas Line: Miami by 1, total of 185
We see a big adjustment here, as Miami was -4 on the opener in their first home game, and got bet up to -5. They never looked like they should be that big a favorite, and ultimately lost the game at the buzzer. The markets have misread this series very badly, with Boston covering by 5, 28, and 7 points on the closers. Dropping the line to Miami -1 is a belated attempt to get closer to reality. Is it an overadjustment given Miami's 'must-win' mentality? The total is up two points from the lines in Boston. We saw 198 points scored in the Miami opener, with a little more flow and less defense.
BOSTON 100, MIAMI 98
Three-Point Scoring: Boston 24, Miami 18
Two-Point Scoring: Boston 58, Miami 66
Free Throw Scoring: Boston 18, Miami 14
Not much separated these teams through the evening, with three-pointers ultimately providing the difference for the Celtics. The fact that Miami couldn't get any distance in a must-win game suggests they may be in huge trouble today. If your PEAK motivation creates a nailbiter, what's going to happen when you throw in the towel? Handicappers have to determine if that's happened already before making any calls in this game.
We'll be working very closely with our sources to gauge the Miami mindset. The fact that Jermaine O'Neal has been unable to contribute looks to have demoralized the whole team. Dwyane Wade is still doing whatever he can to try and win. The rest of the team needs to kick things up about two notches if they want to send the series back to Boston.
We mentioned this the other day. Boston continues to own the free throw category...suggesting they've figured out a way to contain Wade. You can't shut him down. If he's not getting a lot of freebies at the line, Miami has little chance of beating you. Good defensive effort from the Celtics, suggesting a very smart gameplan from coach Doc Rivers. We're guessing our sources will have us on Boston either today or in Game Five depending on their read of the Miami motivation.
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GAME FOUR: CLEVELAND AT CHICAGO
CLEVELAND leads 2-1
Current Vegas Line: Cleveland by 5.5, total of 194
We see a jump here in the line from Cleveland by 4.5 last time up to 5.5 today. A lot of folks are expecting a bounce back for the #1 overall seed in the playoffs. Can't say that's a bad strategy given what champions often do after a loss. The total is up a smidge from the earlier games. We've just seen scores land on 214 twice in a row (112-102 and 108-106). If Cleveland is going to re-emphasize defense...then the Cavs and Under might make sense. If they're going to be satisfied trying to outscore Chicago...then this total may be about 20 points too low!
CHICAGO 108, CLEVELAND 106
Three-Point Scoring: Cleveland 42, Chicago 15
Two-Point Scoring: Cleveland 44, Chicago 74
Free Throw Scoring: Cleveland 20, Chicago 19
That three-point margin is out of whack because the Cavaliers kept launching a bunch of treys after falling way behind...then made them! They don't normally go 14 of 35 from long range. Mike Brown has to be disturbed about the inside deficit. Chicago had a huge game inside the arc, winning 'inside scoring' (one's and two's) by a stunning 93-64 score. A team with LeBron James on it should never lose like that, particularly when Shaquille O'Neal is healthy and getting minutes. Horrible!
We expect to see more intensity from the Cavs this time around. Will it be enough to win by at least six points? Chicago doesn't look like they're about to lay down just yet. They battled deep into the fourth quarter of Game Two, then won Game Three. We believe we'll learn a lot about the crunch time character of Cleveland in terms of future matchups with Boston and Orlando (and maybe the Western champion) based on how they handle today's challenge. Champions can't afford to be complacent two games in a row.
We should mention that our trend historians have data for 2-1 series going back to the start of the NBA playoffs. There are some very interesting trends that we tend to keep under wraps because they're not reflected in the Vegas line. ONE of those is in play in this particular seed scenario.
GAME FOUR: DALLAS AT SAN ANTONIO
SAN ANTONIO leads 2-1
Current Vegas Line: San Antonio by 2.5, total of 193
The line has come down a point from the 3.5 we saw Friday Night. Oddsmakers expect most bettors to take Dallas in the must-win bounce back scenario, so they're making them pay a premium to do so. What's interesting is that the results so far, and the caliber of play at the end of the regular season suggest that San Antonio may be the better team. That's odd for a 2-7 matchup in the seeding! But, less crazy when you realize that San Antonio is healthy now for the first time all year. Huge game for Dallas after the tough loss in Game Three.
SAN ANTONIO 94, DALLAS 90
Three-Point Scoring: Dallas 24, San Antonio 0
Two-Point Scoring: Dallas 52, San Antonio 74
Free Throw Scoring: Dallas 14, San Antonio 20
How about that? Dallas wins three-point scoring 24-0 but still loses! The Spurs are the kings of the inside game when healthy. We've been talking about their defense and rebounding edges throughout their dynasty run here in the NOTEBOOK. They win 'inside scoring' 94-66 to dodge the three-point bullets. And, that was after a 78-67 win on the ROAD in inside scoring back in Game Two.
Dallas just learned it's not enough to win the three-point category. They're going to have to get tougher inside and figure out a way to contain the San Antonio slashers. We may be saying that about the Spurs a lot over the next few weeks if the Mavs can't find the solution today. On the other hand, Dallas is fully capable of breaking serve to regain home court in the series.
Two quality teams playing at a very high level. It's too bad they had to meet in the first round.
Our Texas sources are all over this one...and may have us thinking about the Under given the intensity we saw in Game Three. That one stayed Under by 9 points. There may be even more defensive intensity here. Dallas has to pull out all the stops on that side of the ball.
GAME FOUR: DENVER AT UTAH
UTAH leads 2-1
Current Vegas Line: Utah by 2 total of 212.5
Similar situation here to Dallas/San Antonio in that sportsbooks are defending against betting action on the 'must-win' underdog. What isn't similar is that Denver didn't give you any reason to think they're going to toughen up on the road! Dallas went all out vs. San Antonio, had a 19-2 run in the third quarter, and made the Spurs battle for everything. Denver fell behind in the second quarter and laid down. Another series where the inferior seed may actually have been the better team...and it wasn't reflected properly in the markets. Yet, another series where the original favorite can break serve and regain home court advantage in Sunday action. BIG DAY!
The total is down to 212.5 off the last game's mark of 214. Scoring and pace slowed down just a bit in Utah off the true frenzy in Denver.
UTAH 105, DENVER 93
Three-Point Scoring: Denver 12, Utah 21
Two-Point Scoring: Denver 54, Utah 64
Free Throw Scoring: Denver 27, Utah 20
At least Denver kept attacking the basket. A victory from the free throw line helped keep this from being worse. Denver may lay down on defense (allowing 113, 114, and 105 so far), but they don't lay down when it comes to shooting the ball! They should think about doing more passing of the ball. As the TV announcers mentioned during this game, Denver only has 12 assists on the evening, compared to 27 for Utah.
We talked about that prior to the series. Too many alpha dogs on Denver who want to be the guy scoring points. Not enough people who realize that 'alpha dog' means DEFENSE!
We're talking a lot about mindset today. It could well be more important in this game than any other. If Denver's stars are all pouting, they're going to get obliterated by a well-coached aggressive team playing in front of a great crowd. If they realize they have to win as a team rather than a collection of individuals...this is a group that makes a lethal team. All the spreads have missed the final scores by a bunch in this series (8, 9, and 10 points). We wouldn't be surprised if it happens again.
Given all the talk about INTANGIBLES, it's very clear that handicapping success TODAY is going to come down to INFORMATION. Who's ready to win? Who's accepted they're going to lose? Stats and trends don't matter if Miami and Denver have given up hope. They don't matter if Cleveland is still arrogant. If Dallas doesn't stop the San Antonio slashers, you can throw all the math formulas out the window.
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