NBA Friday Previews

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

BIG DRAMA! SPURS MUST WIN...CAVALIERS IN TROUBLE

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Who would have thought the stage would be set so quickly for big drama in these two series?!

The Cleveland Cavaliers look to be in big trouble in their Eastern Conference series with the Boston Celtics. League MVP LeBron James is obviously troubled by his arm. Reports are that it's getting worse rather than better. Though the Cavs were the top seed, and the pick of many to win the East this year after falling short last season, they're obviously NOT championship material if their best player can't play up to expectations.

Boston may not be either, but they're certainly playing better now than they were during the regular season. The Celtics see that fate has dealt them a friendly deck. Tonight could allow them to make it clear that this series is basically over already. Boston broke serve...two holds tonight and Sunday and their virtually home free against a lame LeBron.

For its part, Cleveland can grab home court advantage right back with a victory tonight. They bounced back off a loss very well in the Chicago series. And, you'd have to think the supporting cast now knows it's on THEM to get the job done. Fans could be in store for a very intense battle in Beantown tonight.

San Antonio has seen things sour very quickly in this fast-paced series. They fell short in Game One at Phoenix. But, Greg Popovich dug out of a similar hole in Dallas in the first round. No big deal, right? Well, San Antonio brought everything in Game Two, jumped out to a double digit lead, yet STILL ended up losing the game by eight points. That wasn't part of the script!

Now, with little time off for the aging stars, the Spurs find themselves in must-win spot against a motivated foe that has franchise revenge from past slights, and a swagger about them that seems to grow with each game. Amare Stoudemire is SCARY when he has a swagger!

Let's crunch the numbers from the previous meetings in these series to get further perspective on how things may go tonight. As always, we'll take the games in schedule order...

GAME THREE: CLEVELAND AT BOSTON
Series tied 1-1
Current Vegas Line: Boston by 1, total of 191

Cleveland laid 7 and 6 points on their home floor, so this represents the low end of the turnaround. It wouldn't have been a surprise to see Boston by 2 or 3 points in this spot normally, even four. The fact that it's Boston by 1 tells you that the market is expecting a big effort from the Cavs tonight. We said earlier this is a team that bounces back well off losses. That's how you earn the best record in the league! If you're thinking of playing the bounce back, be aware that the sportsbooks are trying to defend against you.

The totals were 191 and 192.5 in Cleveland, with the actual games landed on 194 and 190. Not reason to tinker much given the consistent pace in the prior meetings.

BOSTON 104, CLEVELAND 86
Three-Point Scoring: Boston 27, Cleveland 12
Two-Point Scoring: Boston 62, Cleveland 48
Free Throw Scoring: Boston 15, Cleveland 26

Some amazing differentials in there. LeBron's arm won't let him shoot three-pointers accurately. It hurts too much to try. That suddenly drops Cleveland from a team likely to make a run at 7-9 treys per game to a team that may have to settle for just four every time out (4-4 in makes so far in two games). An important series edge has disappeared!

The Celtics really owned inside play, with the big guys making their jump shots off Rajon Rondo passes. He had 19 assists! Cleveland's defense was really abysmal when they fell way behind. Boston just kept getting open jumpers that pro's can drain with little sweat...particularly Boston's pro's!

Cleveland did make a run from the charity stripe, winning attempts 38 to 18. They only won makes by 11 though...meaning it's going to be tough to WIN games from this category. If you're +11 in makes from home, you're probably going to have less of an advantage on the road. Cleveland HAS to win a road game to survive the series.

Will we see similar extremes tonight? The laws of math suggest things will even out a bit. You can't assume Boston will be plus five in three-pointers made, though it's certainly possible if Rasheed Wallace has his head on straight. Cleveland will bring more defensive intensity this time, which should help shrink the two-point margins. Officials tend to favor the home team, making it unlikely Cleveland dominates from the charity stripe.

In our minds, these are the keys:

  • Will Cleveland's role players bring peak intensity now that they know it's on them?
  • Will Boston lose a step from overconfidence off a blowout win?
  • Can LeBron still do enough to contribute even if he can't dominate any more?

You answer those questions, you have the team side winner. And probably the Over/Under winner too. We're working very closely with our sources to determine the mindsets of the teams coming in. We're also experimenting with our simulation software to see what Cleveland does with LeBron at 90% of normal, 80%, and so on down the line. We think we have a very good read on tonight's game.

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Out West...

GAME THREE: PHOENIX AT SAN ANTONIO
PHOENIX leads 2-0
Current Vegas Line: San Antonio by 6½, total of 206

Phoenix was -4 and -2½ at home, so we see a 10.5-point jump from the first game, and 9 from the second. The Spurs were a popular betting choice after their Game One loss...and the sportsbooks are expecting similar support for San Antonio in this one based on that high number. Remember that San Antonio only won Games Two and Three by 4 and 3 points in the Dallas series (94-90 and 92-89).

The total of 206 is up a point from the 205's we saw in Phoenix. Both of those games went Over, landing on 213 and 212

PHOENIX 110, SAN ANTONIO 102
Three-Point Scoring: San Antonio 21, Phoenix 27
Two-Point Scoring: San Antonio 66, Phoenix 54
Free Throw Scoring: San Antonio 15, Phoenix 29

This was a very discouraging game for San Antonio. They basically got everything they needed to get from contributors, and it STILL wasn't enough!

  • Their "big three" of Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker combined for 60 points and 21 assists.
  • Richard Jefferson was 8 of 13 shooting for 18 points instead of being a bump on a log.
  • Tony Hill bounced back from a shaky first game to score 14 points on 5 of 11 shooting.

The Spurs were supposed to score just over 100 based on the Vegas line. They did what they were supposed to do on offense.

On defense, two big issues:

  • They kept fouling Amare Stoudemire, who played like a man on a mission even if he wasn't shooting well from the floor. Stoudemire was 11 of 13 from the free throw line, almost matching the Spurs 15 makes all by himself.
  • They didn't get the memo that Channing Frye is deadly on three-pointers, even though THE WHOLE WORLD knows that Channing Frye is deadly on three-pointers! Frye was 5 of 6, with the makes all seeming to come at critical times when the flow of the game was at stake.

That's an inside outside combo that's difficult for any defense to deal with. If you keep a guy in Frye's shirt, it's easier for the inside shooters to create havoc. If the defense condenses toward the middle, Frye gets left open.

Sure, you can't assume Frye will hit 5 of every 6. And, Amare has trouble being a superstar every single night. Well, Jefferson and Hill aren't sure things to contribute either. San Antonio is in some trouble! They have to win four of the next five games to advance, while Phoenix only has to win two, with eight and nine point home wins already in the books.

And, the Spurs have to win four of five against a team that's outhustling them on the boards.

REBOUNDS SO FAR
Game One: Phoenix 44, San Antonio 38
Game Two: Phoenix 49, San Antonio 37

Defense and rebounding wins championships. If the Spurs can't win rebounding, this series is already over.

We have a very strong PARLAY going tonight for paying customers. Don't be surprised if a special total play shows up in the mix. Complete details are available at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about our hot baseball service, and the rest of our Triple Crown package in horse racing. The Preakness is just a week away!

Baseball series of interest for us this weekend:

  • NY Yankees at Boston
  • Tampa Bay at Oakland
  • San Francisco at the NY Mets
  • Atlanta at Philadelphia

It's a great month to be a sport fan...and a BIG MONEY month if you're a legal sports bettor. Call JIM HURLEY NOW...YOUR NEXT WINNER IS JUST MINUTES AWAY!

20
Aug

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