NBA Sunday Previews

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

WORST SERIES FINALLY ENDS...
PLUS: LAKERS/JAZZ BEGINS!

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

It figures that all the series with exciting matchups would end in five or six games, but the WORST PLAYED opening round series would go the full seven!

Atlanta hosts Milwaukee this afternoon with hopes of finally putting that series out of its misery. Neither team has played well. Milwaukee has used motivation and effort to hang around longer than anyone expected. But, it's ugly basketball even when things go well! Atlanta's been less ugly three times, and is heavily favored to be less ugly this afternoon.

Let's take a look at how Game Six stats may foreshadow what's ahead today. Then, we'll preview the Utah/LA Lakers series that gets underway this afternoon. Busy day...let's get right to it!

GAME SEVEN: MILWAUKEE AT ATLANTA
SERIES TIED 3-3
Current Vegas Line: Atlanta by 8.5, total of 185.5

Atlanta was a favorite of 8.5, 7.5, and 9 in the first three games of this series. They won the first two games by 10, but lost the third one by four even though they had a nine-point lead with about four minutes to go. Clearly Vegas isn't adjusting much off the prior results...and they don't except the Hawks to fall apart with a lead if they get one today. The total of 185.5 is well below earlier numbers in the series (191 in Game Six for example). That's standard for Game Seven in a series. Pace slows way down. Shooters get nervous. Referees swallow their whistles. In fact, Game Six looked a lot like a normal Game Seven because Milwaukee was playing so nervously, and Atlanta was playing very carefully knowing they had to win.

Take a look and you'll see what we mean...

ATLANTA 83, MILWAUKEE 69
Three-Point Scoring: Atlanta 15, Milwaukee 21
Two-Point Scoring: Atlanta 52, Milwaukee 35
Free Throw Scoring: Atlanta 16, Milwaukee 12

Atlanta actually had a strong second half just to get to 83. They only had 16 points at the end of the first quarter, and 31 at halftime. Milwaukee basically had four bad quarters. Very ugly game, with very nervous shooters offending the eardrums with loud clanks off the rim. This WAS a Game Seven in terms of how it played out, suggesting the 185.5 posted today in Vegas may still be too high. There's a lot of room between 152 and 186 even if Milwaukee plays free and easy now that the pressure is off. There's always a chance Atlanta will get nervous again. Atlanta's nervous Game Five yielded a 178 final sum.

We mentioned early on that Milwaukee's loss of Andrew Bogut hurt their inside game. Atlanta finally went back to taking advantage of that in Game Six. Let's look at “inside scoring” (two-pointers and free throws) by game.

INSIDE SCORING
Game One: Atlanta 84, Milwaukee 74
Game Two: Atlanta 87, Milwaukee 74
Game Three: Atlanta 80, Milwaukee 77 (Bucks won anyway)
Game Four: Milwaukee 90, Atlanta 74 (poor Hawks effort)
Game Five: Atlanta 83, Milwaukee 67 (Bucks won treys 8-2)
Game Six: Atlanta 68, Milwaukee 48

If victories were based only on one's and two's....Atlanta would be 5-1 straight up in the series, with four double digit victories! They are clearly the much better team in terms of playoff basketball. Milwaukee has to win treys big again, or hope Atlanta feels the pressure on their shots again for today's game to be a nailbiter.

The Vegas line is aware of this, and makes it expensive to back the Hawks. Handicappers have to determine how much pressure Atlanta will be feeling...and how much damage Milwaukee can do from long range.

We have a very strong feeling about this game...and that major release will be part of today's package. Game Two of that package will feature the series out West...

SERIES PREVIEW: UTAH VS. THE LA LAKERS

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
LA Lakers 5th in the NBA
Utah 11th

Both teams did well this year obviously. Both had tough challenges on this side of the ball in the first round of the playoffs. We were more impressed with the Lakers, particularly once Kobe Bryant switched over to guard Bryant Westbrook. LA knows how to focus on the right opponents when they need to. This is a VERY smart defensive team that's never gotten enough credit in our mind for what they do in protecting the basket.

Utah was sporadic in terms of shutting down Denver's threats. And, much of that was due to selfishness on the part of the Nuggets rather than true defense from the Jazz.

Both teams have playoff caliber defenses. We have to give the edge here to the Lakers, and might be an even bigger edge than the league rankings suggest because of how officials call fouls. Utah tends to get the worst of it because they're physical. The Lakers get more respect as defending champions, and they're long rather than physical.

REBOUND RATE
Utah 4th
LA Lakers 8th

Here's where Utah has an edge they can hang their hat on. Both teams are good. Utah uses its physicality to box out, and the speed of its younger players to chase down loose balls. The Lakers are getting older...and their younger guys aren't particularly great at rebounding. If Utah is going to grab some wins in this series, it will be in the games where the Lakers aren't shooting very well. LA won't get many second chance points.

The “defense and rebounding” combo in our mind still goes to the Lakers. It is close though.

OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
Utah 8th
LA Lakers 11th

Here's a bit of a surprise. Would you have guessed Utah gets more out of its possessions than the Lakers do? The bad news is that much of that edge is the result of two key things:

*Fast Break Points: which are less common in the playoffs than in the regular season, particularly the deeper you get in a series.

*Marching to the Free Throw Line: which is harder to do against the Lakers than somebody like Denver who stands around and hacks. Oklahoma City did get to the line consistently because of guys like Kevin Durant flying at the basket. Utah will need to fly at the basket just as often, or they'll lose this statistical edge in efficiency.

THREE-POINTERS PER GAME
LA Lakers 6.5
Utah 5.4

Utah starts every game in a 3-0 whole basically because of this differential. It's very tough to beat a superior seed that has home court advantage when they ALSO make more three's than you do. It's becoming clear that the ability for Utah to get to the free throw line is going to be huge in this series. They HAVE to counteract this category with bonus points at the line or they have no shot. That was easy to do against uninspired Denver. Much tougher task here!

TURNOVER RATE
LA Lakers 5th
Utah 26th

We mentioned yesterday that this category often fades in importance in the playoffs. Boston won a championship two years ago with a very poor league ranking in offensive turnovers. You have to be better in everything else though to trump a discrepancy THIS big.

The Lakers are great at protecting the ball. Kobe doesn't make too many dumb passes. The big guys know what to do with the ball when they get it. Utah had a very poor turnover game in their clincher vs. Denver, losing the ball 16 times. They were tied midway through the fourth quarter with a laydown opponent because they kept losing the ball.

Sometimes turnovers don't matter as much as the announcers say. In this series, they could loom very large, particularly since it's the inferior team with the problem. If Utah gets a bit frantic playing from behind, that's just going to dig a deeper hole for them. Very important to remember if you're taking any shots on them as underdogs.

That's a look at the indicator categories. Clearly the Lakers are the better team, and heavy favorites to advance to the Western Finals. Let's see what Vegas has posted for this afternoon's opener:

GAME ONE: UTAH AT LA LAKERS
Vegas Line: Lakers by 7, total of 202

Not a surprise there. The Lakers were about that size a favorite in the last round vs. Oklahoma City, and OK City is similar to Utah in terms of power ratings. Frankly, in terms of how everyone was playing at the end of the year, Oklahoma City and Utah could have been identical seeds even though one was a five and the other was an eight.

The total of 202 is kind of a feeler number because you never know for sure how a series is going to start out. We've seen in the past that they start high and gradually work their way lower...though that wasn't so much the case with the first round series involving these teams. We've been studying Game One histories going back many years (decades!). We think we have a better feel for this total than Vegas does. And, that's all we're going to say about that!

Two big games today...at least two BIG WINNERS from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

Call 1-800-323-4453 right now to sign up for the rest of the playoffs, or just for today's special feature. Selections can always be purchased right here at the website with your credit card as well.

Back tomorrow to preview San Antonio/Phoenix and Game Two of the Boston/Cleveland series. Tuesday we'll preview Game One of Orlando versus today's Atlanta/Milwaukee survivor. It's been a lot of fun taking you game by game through the playoffs so far. THE BEST GAMES ARE STILL AHEAD!

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.

19
Aug

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