NBA Saturday Preview

 HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

CAVS AND CELTICS ARE OFF TO THE RACES
ON DERBY DAY!

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

It's one of the most exciting days in all of sports...KENTUCKY DERBY DAY at Churchill Downs. JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK has the big race...ALL the races from the full day's card...and other top bets from elsewhere in the world of sports all covered for you here at the website.

Our focus here in the NOTEBOOK today will be basketball, as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics start their best of seven series tonight in Cleveland. But, we did want to quickly mention that:

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For more details, call 1-800-323-4453. You can take care of business here at the website if you have your credit card handy.

Of course, basketball and baseball are also available on this very busy sports weekend. Our representative will be able to outline all the combo options for you.

Here in the NOTEBOOK today, the topic is BASKETBALL. The only game on the card is the series opener in Boston/Cleveland. Let's crunch some of our key indicator numbers to see who's likely to have the edge in the categories that REALLY matter!

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
Boston 5th in the NBA
Cleveland 7th

Boston actually has an edge this year in points allowed per possession. Both teams are among the league's elite in this category. That's why they reached the final eight in the playoffs! As strong as Cleveland has been over the years defensively, they're still not quite the match of Boston in a halfcourt game. That's important to remember if the series stays close, or if Cleveland's offense sputters because of the arm injury to LeBron James. There's just no way to know right now what kind of influence that will have over the full four-to-seven games. If James is less than 100%, that's really going to matter against a strong defense like Boston's.

REBOUND RATE
Cleveland 1st
Boston 25th

This was a shocker that we talked about in our Round One previews. Boston's old age is showing up dramatically in this stat. They just don't box out like they used to, or chase down long rebounds. We always say 'Defense and Rebound Wins Championships!' Boston won a championship that way two years ago. Bill Russell taught the world that motto as a Celtic star back in the 1960's. This year's team doesn't look like a true champion when you include rebounding in the analytical mix.

Cleveland was the best in basketball even though burly Shaquille O'Neal didn't play much this year. They run down lose balls. They box out. They rebound like animals! When you combine 'defense and rebounding' as a composite, it's clear that Cleveland has a decided edge in this series.

OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
Cleveland 4th
Boston 13th

Another edge for the Cavs, who have become quite efficient on offense since they added three-point scoring to their arsenal. James is always efficient because he earns so many trips to the free throw line. Cleveland is no longer just a 'defense and rebounding' team that can be outscored by long range shooting (which is how Orlando beat them last year).

Boston is playoff caliber, but not championship caliber once again. We should note in today's comments though that the Celtics did play better in the Miami series than their full season stats would have suggested. Some of their regular season rankings reflect pacing themselves for the long haul. Some do reflect an actual drop off. Boston is older and slower. They'll bring peak intensity to the games that matter most though.

THREE-POINTERS PER GAME
Cleveland 7.3
Boston 6.1

We'll be paying close attention to this because it was such an important factor last season. Orlando won the East by out-treying opponents. It's very tough to win a playoff series if you start the game down 3-6 points (or more) because you're likely to lose treys. The Cavs do have a 3 point edge here off the extra made trey. That plus their normal 3-4 points for home court will provide

To this point, it's fairly clear that Cleveland is the better side. Even if Boston plays its best ball of the year...Cleveland's best ball is superior. The defenses are close, rebounding and offense aren't. The key element for the series is OBVIOUSLY the status of Lebron's arm. He's part of the three-point arsenal. He's a huge part of offensive efficiency. Should Cleveland fall to 6 treys a game and about league average in efficiency, we legitimately have a dead even series!

TURNOVER RATE
Cleveland 16th
Boston 27th

You've probably heard 10 different announcers this week talking about how important it is to protect the ball in big playoff games. It's important to note that Boston won a championship two years ago with a HORRIBLE full season turnover rate that they cleaned up a bit in the playoffs. They're bad again this year (remember, there are only 30 teams in the NBA!). Cleveland is about league average.

We don't want to say that offensive turnovers aren't important. They're less important than defense and rebounding though. If two teams are roughly dead even at everything else...it can be an important tie-breaker in close games. We may not include this stat in the other series for that reason. This is the first Round Two preview. Many of the teams that were best in turnover rate this season will be home like you watching the games on TV!

Let's see what Vegas has posted for tonight's opener:

GAME ONE: BOSTON AT CLEVELAND
Vegas Line: Cleveland by 7.5, total of 191.5

In our view, that's a line that reflects LeBron James at full strength. He seemed to practice well Friday. For now, the market believes he'll be his usual self, and the Cavs will be comfortable favorites in all four home games. Game One totals are usually feelers based on full season data. From low to high, here's what these teams did in the first round on totals:

Boston: 161-182-183-193-198
Cleveland: 179-190-214-214-219

Surprisingly big differences given that neither team likes to run and gun. If Cleveland is able to maintain its normal efficiency, the low 190's may be too low in this series. If James is bothered to a significant degree...then it's probably going to be too high. We may have to think about the Over given the fact that defenses are usually less intense in a series opener than they are later on...and given LeBron's form in practice on Friday. We'll get the final word from our sources before making a decision of course.

This is the only Saturday game. We're used to previewing 2-3-4 games each day lately in the NOTEBOOK. It's great to have the expanded room to go over the keys in this series. We'll do this in the other second round matchups on game day as well. The NBA doesn't want to throw any games up against the Kentucky Derby...so on marquee showcase like this is a great scheduling plan.

We know you'll be parked on the couch watching sports all day and night (including some very interesting MLB matchups like Mets/Phillies, White Sox/Yankees, and Angels/Tigers). Why not WATCH AND WIN?!

Call JIM HURLEY right now at 1-800-323-4453 for A DAY AT THE RACES...AND MORE! Don't forget it's $20 for the winner, Exacta, Trifecta, and Superfecta...$50 for that offer in all three Triple Crown races over the next three weeks...and $125 for the FULL DAY at ALL THREE TRACKS!

Do you know who's going to be in the WINNER'S CIRCLE at the end of the day? YOU!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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