Celtics/Magic Series, Game One Preview
FRESH AND RESTED ORLANDO
IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT VS. BOSTON
We begin several days of NBA Conference Championship coverage today with a preview of the Boston/Orlando series in the East. Tomorrow we'll preview Phoenix/LA Lakers out West that's set to begin Monday Night. From that point forward, we'll preview each game on game day...by looking back at the key stats from the prior outing.
The second round was WAY too short for our tastes. The more games...the more BIG JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!
Hopefully the Conference Finals will have more drama and last longer. Unfortunately, there are two heavy series favorites who are very motivated to get things over with quickly. Let's start today by evaluating Orlando's chances to do that in the East.
SERIES PREVIEW: BOSTON VS. ORLANDO
The first thing we need to mention is that Orlando comes in with an ENORMOUS fatigue advantage. They swept the first round, and the second round. Boston is coming off a physical six game series with Cleveland that had them playing at peak intensity with a shot to knock off LeBron James and company. You saw what a big edge it was for Orlando to be rested vs. Atlanta. That was never really a series because Orlando went for the jugular early. They're likely to try that again here.
Boston is perceived to be a much better team than Atlanta right now. One of the tricky things for our handicapping purposes is the fact that Boston has lifted its game significantly since the regular season. We're about to run through rankings in all of our key indicator stats. Boston is actually WORSE than Atlanta in most of them! But, a 4-1 mark vs. dangerous Miami, and a 4-2 victory over heavy favorite Cleveland makes it clear that Boston is playing much better now than their regular season rankings would suggest.
We'll make some mental adjustments as we go. Be aware that Orlando may also have lifted its game as well!
Orlando 1st in the NBA
This is points allowed per possession. Orlando was the best in basketball during the season. Boston maintained their abilities in this area even during a surprisingly poor (for them) regular season. You saw good defensive efforts from the Celtics in the last round, particularly in the area of forcing turnovers. This is one category where the teams are close to even.
Perhaps the most important thing for handicappers to remember here is that Orlando's defense is likely to be MUCH better than Cleveland's was in the last round. Boston won't be getting as many wide open jumpers. There won't be an overweight, past his prime Shaq rotating too slowly in the middle. Orlando will have some plans to contain Rajon Rondo even if they can't shut him down completely. Boston advanced past Cleveland with jump shots. Atlanta showed how futile that approach was vs. Orlando in the last round.
This was one of the regular season shockers of the year statistically speaking. When did Boston forget how to rebound?! It was more a case of old beat up players losing their hustle. You saw in the postseason that a healthy Celtics squad was much better in this key area. We'd certainly consider them a top 10 rebounding team when motivated and healthy. That's still a disadvantage in the category, but not as much as this stat would make it appear. You hear us say 'defense and rebounding wins championships' all the time here in the NOTEBOOK. Orlando is a very tough out in the playoffs because they're GREAT in those categories.
We'll talk more about three-pointers in a second. Orlando's extremely productive on a per-possession basis because they've aggressively incorporated a three-point attack in combination with great inside play. Most defenses have little hope of slowing them down. Boston is probably better than 13th right now in terms of a true level of performance. They're not going to be as efficient as Orlando unless they make as many three's. Let's see if that's likely.
THREE-POINTERS PER GAME
Atlanta was at 6.4 heading into their series with Orlando, and got OBLITERATED in this stat. Boston has shooters...and should certainly have a game or two where somebody gets hot from long range (Ray Allen, or even Paul Pierce if he gets left alone). Over the course of the full series...Boston is basically starting out with a 9-15 point deficit whenever they take the floor because of Orlando's strength from behind the arc.
Boston cut down on their turnovers in the latter stages of the Cleveland series. Rondo is prone to drive into trouble, but is getting better about that. The big guys don't have very good hands, which is why the Celtics have ranked very poorly in this stat the past few seasons. It's something they live with. In the best of times, they get so many defensive stops that they can live with a few extra turnovers.
If this were a game in March or early April, it's pretty clear that Orlando would be grading out to utterly crush the Celtics. They're better at everything that matters. They match up well talentwise. Even before a fatigue advantage, Orlando would be the big favorite.
Here in the middle of May, that could still be true...but Boston has a puncher's chance. Keys to remember:
*Orlando fell apart against the Lakers in the final round last year, which means they could fall apart here if the pressure gets to them. The Magic have barely been scraped by inferior opposition in the first two rounds. Boston is going to hit them in the mouth.
*Three-pointers are the first thing to go when you get nervous. Should Orlando start feeling the pressure, that 9-15 point head start largely disappears.
*Dwight Howard is an implosion waiting to happen. Boston has the physicality and the mindset to make him implode.
All in all, this is a very volatile series. If Orlando maintains its composure, they can pretty much do what they want. If Boston gets under their skin, things could get interesting very quickly.
WATCH & WIN SUNDAY
The games are fewer in the NBA playoffs now, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in QUALITY, both in terms of importance and handicapping opportunity. As Boston and Orlando get set to tip off, our connections in Las Vegas are keeping us in tune for what square bettors are doing, and how their ignorance is creating edges in the line for savvy players. Are they overreacting to Boston's win over an wounded LeBron? Or have they failed to consider that Orlando's 8-0 playoff mark is as much a reflection on the quality of the opposition as it is on the quality of the Magic? We know! We're going to start the Conference Finals off with a big win on Sunday afternoon. And then you can switch your TV channel from ABC over to ESPN in prime-time and roll your winnings onto our play on the Phillies-Brewers battle in Milwaukee. The Network has terrific sources amongst the good people of Wisconsin and they've got us in the loop on this one!
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Let's see what the oddsmakers are saying about today's game...
GAME ONE: BOSTON AT ORLANDO
Vegas Line: Orlando by 6, total of 189.5
Home court is worth about 4 points in an opener, so the betting markets are saying Orlando is two points better on a neutral floor. Or, maybe they're saying fatigue is worth 1-2 points, and Orlando is 0-1 points better on a neutral floor.
If you watched the Atlanta/Orlando series closely (which was admittedly tough to do), this line would strike you as too low. Fresh Orlando had a habit of running away and hiding from people. Boston has certainly established that they belong here though. If they've truly regained their championship form of two seasons ago (with the improvement of Rondo counteracting the aging of other stars), then the 'right' line is probably about 3-4 in both cities.
JIM HURLEY has some big stuff planned for this week in the baskets. We'll have four straight days of action to kick off the Conference Finals. We may have a MAJOR RELEASE each and every night!
Call 1-800-323-4453 for complete details. Game day releases and packages can also be purchased here at the website with your credit card. Be sure to check out how you can include baseball in a combo package. .We've got some marquee matchups today (including Minnesota/NYY, Boston/Detroit, Philadelphia/Milwaukee, and LAD/San Diego). Monday's schedule features Boston's first trip to Yankees Stadium and a few other rivalry series getting under way.
Back tomorrow with a preview of Phoenix/LA. The playoffs have been fun and profitable so far. Now it's time to determine the conference champs. WHEN CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE ON THE LINE, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!
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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