NBA Monday Previews

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

SUNS/SPURS START...
CELTICS STRIVE FOR A STEAL

We have two games to look at tonight in the NBA playoffs. Phoenix and San Antonio both enjoyed long layoffs before beginning their Western Conference second round series. That helps the old guys on both teams, namely Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Antonio McDyess, Steve Nash, and Grant Hill. That could set up a very exciting series opener with so many quality contributors coming in fresh!

Boston and Cleveland resume their Eastern Conference second round series. Cleveland won the opener by eight points Saturday Night, looking sluggish for much of the game, but closing very strong to steal a cover against the closing Vegas line of -7. Boston would like to steal an outright win in the bounce back spot. Will Cleveland relax off the win? Or, did that second half blowout show that the Cavs can pretty much do whatever they want whenever they want?

A lot to talk about. We'll start by previewing the Western Conference series (with one final preview to come once Orlando finally takes the floor again!). Then, we'll review the key stats from Game One in Cleveland to see if they'll shed any light on what might happen this evening.

SERIES PREVIEW: SAN ANTONIO VS. PHOENIX

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
San Antonio 9th in the NBA
Phoenix 19th

Big edge to the Spurs here, though they're not quite as high as they were in their glory days. Part of this has to do with injuries. Remember, the Spurs are a 7th seed because they spent so little time this year at full strength. It's probably a good sign that they could still rank 9th in the league in this stat when they were shorthanded so much. Phoenix isn't a disaster on defense, and had some very nice efforts in the last round vs. Portland. Still, it's now how they butter their bread. In terms of most recent form...we'd say the Spurs are playing more like a top five team defensively, and the Suns more like a top 12 team. Still an edge for the Spurs, but both teams are better than those rankings right now.

REBOUND RATE
San Antonio 3rd
Phoenix 13th

Defense and rebounding wins championships. You do it long enough with the same players and it builds dynasties. The Spurs have been a relative dynasty during the Duncan/Popovich era. Even shorthanded this year, they still were the third best team in the league on the boards. Phoenix ranks as a playoff caliber team on rebounding, but not as an elite playoff team. No surprise here. The Spurs win the defense and rebounding analysis...which helps explain why they've owned the postseason when these teams have squared off in recent years.

OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
Phoenix 1st
San Antonio 9th

Now we get to the strengths of Phoenix. They were the very best in pro basketball at getting the most out of their possessions. They try to outscore people, but playing decent defense and GREAT offense. San Antonio is surely respectable here. In a sense, these teams are equal teams with opposite styles...with the San Antonio style showing that it's likely to have more success in playoff games.

THREE-POINTERS PER GAME
Phoenix 8.9
San Antonio 6.8

Phoenix is popping about nine treys per game, which is one way to maximize your point-per-possession efficiency! The Spurs will need to guard the perimeter aggressively to they don't dig too big a hole for themselves. In this one category alone, Phoenix starts with a 6-point per game edge. That plus home court is quite a perk. The Spurs will hope to counteract that with defense and rebounding obviously.

This is an area where Phoenix really can make some hay. Look at the trey-per-game performances in the last round, going in game order:

Phoenix: 11-8-13-6-10-12
San Antonio: 4-8-0-6-6-4

Phoenix made 8 or more treys in five of six games. San Antonio peaked at eight, and made six or less in five of six games.

TURNOVER RATE
San Antonio 11th
Phoenix 17th

We're a bit surprised Phoenix ranked so low. Steve Nash is getting old! Both of these teams have shown a tendency to make more mistakes when getting the ball to their big men, and to make fewer when the guards are getting their open looks. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. This category could turn out to be a wash, or a really big deal later in the series.

Overall, we have to honor history and give a slight edge to San Antonio. The burden of proof is on the Suns to show they can win a big series against a physical high quality team. They might be able to pull it off. Phoenix does represent the very best of their style. It's just not a style that's gotten the job done in recent postseasons.

What about tonight's series opener?

GAME ONE: SAN ANTONIO AT PHOENIX
Vegas Line: Phoenix by 4, total of 203.5

That's a fairly standard opener, with home court advantage being worth about 3-4 points in the NBA, probably a bit more in the first game of a series. We're a bit surprised the total is that high given all the Unders these teams played in their first round series. Vegas never caught up to that reality. Of course...things started high in the first round then trended down. Tonight's game represents a new start. Note that Game One's landed on 205 (Portland/Phoenix) and 194 (San Antonio/Dallas in a more defensive matchup) in the last round.

We can't tell you who we like this evening. That information is for paying customers! Call 1-800-323-4453 for tonight's parlay.

TNT DYNAMITE

 It was a strong 2-0 day on Sunday, as we cashed the Under ticket in Atlanta's Game 7 win over Milwaukee and picked up the cover on Utah in their closer-than-expected loss in Los Angeles. Now with a TNT doubleheader on Monday, we're set to explode for two more! Our basketball experts have studied the tape of Game 1 of the Boston-Cleveland series and have a strong opinion on how Game 2 will play out. Phoenix-San Antonio is the nightcap, and our Vegas pipeline have given us critical information on how betting patterns are creating an edge for one particular angle. Get with us for both games on TNT Monday!

 

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GAME TWO: BOSTON AT CLEVELAND
CLEVELAND leads 1-0
Current Vegas Line: Cleveland by 6.5, total of 191.5

Not much movement from Game One here, with the opener landing so close to the Vegas numbers. Cleveland was -7 in that game and rallied very late to win by eight. The total was 191, and snuck over with late free throws to land on 194. Oddsmakers are expecting some 'textbook' plays on Boston in the bounce back spot. But, you'll note that the movement is only half a point rather than something more dramatic. Maybe the stats from Game One will explain why there isn't more passion for Boston...

CLEVELAND 101, BOSTON 93
Three-Point Scoring: Boston 12, Cleveland 12
Two-Point Scoring: Boston 64, Cleveland 68
Free Throw Scoring: Boston 17, Cleveland 21

It's important to remember that the game was closer than this most of the evening, with Boston holding a double digit lead at halftime. When it was all said and done though, it was hard for fans and legal sports gamblers to see where Boston would be able to exploit an edge.

Can they count on winning from behind the arc? No. They 'can' have a big game or two from long range. So can Cleveland. Neither team did much on treys Saturday Night, combining to go 8 of 28.

Can they count on wining inside? Against Cleveland?! This isn't the Boston Celtics of two-years ago. These guys are older and less able to bang. Cleveland added Shaq and has plenty of big guy backups. It's hard to see Boston dominating inside. Rajon Rondo had a big game with penetration, yet they STILL couldn't win two-point scoring.

Can they count on winning free throws? Maybe at home. They lost 21-17 here, and that's with Cleveland failing to exploit a higher volume of trips to the line. Boston just doesn't attack the basket the way they used to outside of Rondo. Kevin Garnett settles for jumpers. Paul Pierce is starting to do the same thing.

SATURDAY SHOOTING
Garnett: 20 shots from the floor, ZERO free throw attempts
Pierce: 17 shots from the floor, TWO free throw attempts
R. Allen: 14 shots from the floor, ZERO free throw attempts

The Celtics of two years ago got respect from the refs. Cleveland's higher on the food chain now, and will get more respect. Only Rondo has a shot to get to the line often (12 of 14 Saturday Night) unless some very friendly officials show up in the remaining games.

Our Monday Night Parlay featuring selections in both games is available right now at 1-800-323-4453. You can also purchase tonight's games or service packages here at the website with your credit card. Be sure to check on baseball too. Some big series are set to get underway tonight, including St. Louis/Philadelphia in a potential playoff preview, and LA Angels/Boston at Fenway Park.

Back tomorrow to talk more baskets. Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY going on in the NBA Playoffs!

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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Nov

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