NBA Sunday Previews

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

CAVS BACK IN FORM...
SPURS ON THE BRINK!

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

You'd be hard-pressed to find many basketball fans or analysts who thought the San Antonio Spurs might get swept in their second round series against the Phoenix Suns.

*San Antonio closed the season ON FIRE after getting their key players healthy.

*San Antonio dominated Dallas 4-2 in the first round, and Dallas was another team that had closed the season well.

*San Antonio had owned Phoenix in recent playoffs, particularly with the cast of veterans still in the lineup for both teams.

*San Antonio is ideally suited to playoff basketball in terms of their halfcourt style of play.

Phoenix was still the series favorite because of home court advantage. Nobody would have been surprised if this was a competitive two-week battle that could have gone either way when it was all said and done. But...wins by 9, 8, and 14 out of the gate for the Suns? With no injuries to the Spurs?!

Amazingly a second round series could come to an end TODAY if Phoenix can get another win in Texas. Cleveland is looking to make short work of Boston too after getting back on track with a 124-95 slaughter Friday Night in Game Three. If THAT version of the Cavs shows up today and in Game Five, you can pencil them into the Eastern Finals right now.

Once again...we're in position to see some drama, or to be disappointed by the lack of drama in these two particular matchups. Let's crunch the numbers from Friday Night to see if the stats offer any key hints about what might happen today. As always, games are presented in schedule order...

GAME FOUR: CLEVELAND AT BOSTON
CLEVELAND leads 2-1
Current Vegas Line: Cleveland by 1, total of 196

Cleveland is now a 1-point favorite, after being a 1-point underdog Friday in their bounce back game. That one was never a contest, with the fired up Cavs jumping to a big first quarter lead...then continuing to pour on the points all game long. Talk about sending a message! Vegas has moved the line a bit...but that won't be enough if the Cavs still have that chip on their shoulder. The market noticed there was a one-game chip in the Cleveland-Chicago series...with the Cavs winning their only bounce-back in that series by a lot, then returning to normal the next time out.

The total is up to 196, after a progression of 191, 192.5, and 193 in the first three games. Friday's blowout went Over by 26 points.

CLEVELAND 124, BOSTON 95
Three-Point Scoring: Cleveland 15, Boston 12
Two-Point Scoring: Cleveland 78, Boston 62
Free Throw Scoring: Cleveland 31, Boston 21

Things got nasty quickly, as Cleveland attacked the basket while Celtics players were ducking to protect themselves from falling plaster. You can see the bulk of the edge inside, representing a big gut check after a second-game win on deuces for the Celtics.

TWO-POINT SCORING
Game Two: Boston 62, Cleveland 48
Game Three: Cleveland 78, Boston 62

A replay for Boston...but a 30-point improvement for the Cavs!

The key to handicapping today's Game Four in our view is to have the proper read on the Celtics mindset. Good teams bounce back well from spankings. Intimidated teams tend to roll over and stay dead. So far, we've seen this interesting pattern:

*Boston jumped to a big lead in Game One, but completely fell apart once Cleveland made a run.

*Boston jumped to HUGE lead in Game Two, partially fell apart while Cleveland was making a run, but held on to win because their initial 25-point cushion was so large (plus LeBron's elbow seemed to be a big deal).

*Boston never took off their warm-ups.

It's pretty clear...when Cleveland is a mouse, Boston plays with aggression. When Cleveland turns into a dragon...the Celtics duck and cover. You have to assume Cleveland is going to stay in dragon mode. They don't want to have this series drag out while Orlando efficiently takes care of business. They want to earn some rest for LeBron's elbow instead of making him go to war every other day. And, they're still embarrassed about that debacle on their home floor.

Cleveland is going to show up. Will Boston?

If yes...we've got a great game where Under might make more sense than anything. If not, Cleveland and Over is going to make sense given that relentless Cavs attack.

We've worked very closely with our sources to make the right call here. Our final decision(s) contribute to today's WATCH AND WIN EXTRAVAGANZA that also includes the other NBA game, and Sunday Night baseball on ESPN featuring the Yankees and Red Sox.

THE GAME 4 GRAND SLAM

The next two days are going to be jam-packed with outstanding basketball action. It's Game 4 in every series in the NBA and the Jim Hurley Network is on top of the action from Boston to Atlanta to San Antonio to Salt Lake City, where the eight remaining teams are squaring off. Our sources have monitored reaction by the players and coaches to Game 3. Our basketball people have more videotape to break down. Our Vegas connections have told us how both the syndicate players and the general public is responding to the most recent game. And Jim Hurley is the master who can put that all together and use it to make money!

What's more the baseball action ahead is fantastic. Sunday night offers Red Sox-Yankees from Fenway in the finale of a three-game set on ESPN. Then New York picks up and flies to Detroit to face the contending Tigers in another ESPN showdown on Monday.

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Out West...

GAME FOUR: PHOENIX AT SAN ANTONIO
PHOENIX leads 3-0
Current Vegas Line: San Antonio by 3.5, total of 207

Big drop here, as a Friday Night line of 6.5 has fallen to 3.5. The market has accepted that Phoenix is the better team. San Antonio is getting credit for home court, and probably some too for being a veteran team in a must-win situation. You don't often see the market capitulate to this degree...accepting an error and re-evaluating a series on the fly.


The total is only up half a point from Friday. That game landed on 206, the first in the series to go Under the total (213, 212, 206 so far).

PHOENIX 110, SAN ANTONIO 96
Three-Point Scoring: Phoenix 45, San Antonio 24
Two-Point Scoring: Phoenix 54, San Antonio 56
Free Throw Scoring: Phoenix 11, San Antonio 16

A treat to watch, with the San Antonio crowd (and much of the NBA nation) sitting in shock watching Goran Dragic score at will in the fourth quarter. The Spurs were worn out, and this fired up kid with fresh legs took them to school. That led to a big edge in three-pointers (Dragic was 5-5 on a night where the whole team was 15-26). But, his drives for layups helped neutralize what was expected to be an inside deficit. San Antonio was going to bring peak intensity...and the refs were probably going to help them in a home opener (ultimately resulting in a 28-17 edge for the Spurs in free throw attempts).

INSIDE SCORING (one's and two's)
Game One: Phoenix 90, San Antonio 90
Game Two: Phoenix 83, San Antonio 81

THIS was the game where the Spurs had to set the tone inside...pounding the basket and choking off anything the Suns were hoping to do.

Game Three: San Antonio 72, Phoenix 65

Improvement, but not a stranglehold on the jugular. A tie from long range meant San Antonio would have been lucky to cover the spread. Do you know how hard it is to tie Phoenix from long range?! If Phoenix was +3 or more on made treys, it was a win. They were +7 on made treys, so it was a double digit win.

Once again motivation is a key. We wouldn't be shocked if the final score here missed the spread by eight points or more in either direction. Phoenix could easily take the game off knowing that a home clincher awaits. You saw the Spurs do that in a loss at Dallas. If the Suns relax, the proud Spurs will fire off one final shot before riding into the sunset (though, this is a team that could fire more than one final shot!). But...if the Suns DON'T relax, they'll have a shot to wrap up the series and go home. Their inside-outside combination is giving San Antonio fits. Greg Popovich seemed at a loss for the antidote.

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Back tomorrow to talk about Monday's NBA doubleheader (Game Four in both Orlando-Atlanta and LA Lakers/Utah). Now...LET'S GO MAKE SOME MONEY!

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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