Magic Under Pressure
ORLANDO IN EARLY TROUBLE
VERSUS SURGING CELTICS
by Jim Hurley, Managing Editor
Charles Barkley likes to say that an NBA playoff series doesn't really begin until one team wins on the road.
The Boston/Orlando showdown for the Eastern Conference championship got under way quickly! The Celtics jumped to a stunning 1-0 series lead with what was mostly a dominating performance Sunday afternoon. They did blow most of a 20-point lead before holding on. But, they sure showed during the good stretches that they're still capable of playing basketball at a very high level.
Orlando wasn't scary any more. Boston wasn't old any more. Ray Allen could scoot and score instead of standing in one place waiting for a pass. Orlando's big guys were afraid of the ball on offense, and unable to cover enough ground on defense. For most of the day, it looked like the wrong team had been favored in Game One, and in the series.
And, this was particularly dramatic because Orlando had such a big rest advantage. We've often seen in the playoffs that the rested team blows and go's in the series opener, then things get back to normal after that. Boston was supposed to be tired, but played like they were fresh as a daisy (until that fourth quarter fade). Orlando's fresh legs were nowhere to be found during a stunningly bad first quarter and first half.
Let's run some numbers from Sunday to see if they'll have predictive value for tonight's game and the rest of the series. We start with a look at potential oddsmaker adjustments...
GAME TWO: BOSTON AT ORLANDO
BOSTON leads series 1-0
Vegas Line: Orlando by 7.5, total of 188
Orlando was -6 in the opener, so we see a clear move toward the 'bounce back' here...as Vegas defends against the natural tendency to play a good team off a loss. This kind of game has historically been pretty volatile. If the series favorite DOES bounce back, they win by double digits over a favorite that's saving itself for upcoming home games. If the series favorite has legitimate matchup problems that aren't going away...then the line off by even more now! If Boston is so good that Orlando should only be -2.5 or -3 at home normally, then this line is obviously WAY out of whack.
The challenge for handicappers is determining the mindsets of the teams. (That's why it's great to have scouts and sources with each squad!)
Vegas has dropped the total by a point, with the first game staying Under by 8 points (180 vs. a total of 189). It should be noted though that Game One started out VERY slowly scoring-wise, then picked up the pace in the second half. If that first half was an anomaly...then this was a move in the wrong direction. Be sure to check with JIM HURLEY today because we may have a side and total in play this evening.
Here's the scoring breakdown from Game One...
BOSTON 92, ORLANDO 88
Three-Point Scoring: Boston 18, Orlando 15
Two-Point Scoring: Boston 54, Orlando 54
Free Throw Scoring: Boston 20, Orlando 19
GAME 2 SHOWDOWN
The Jim Hurley Network is on the scene in Orlando and ready to win Game 2 of the Celtics-Magic series on Tuesday night. Orlando got its first setback of the playoffs when Boston took them apart in Game 1 and then held off a late rally. Our on-scene sources will make all the difference in getting the winner on this one. The handicapping world is abuzz with speculation--did the Magic have the confidence shaken bad enough that they are a risky bet to win and cover? Or did the late rally give them confidence, that combined with the wakeup call they got, will make them a solid play in Game 2? The Network is not involved in the speculation--because we're too busy finding out the REAL ANSWERS! We've got the connections close to the scene to avoid guesswork and make our plays from a reliable base of GOOD INFORMATION, and it's why we'll win Game 2 on Tuesday night!
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If you'll recall from our previews, plus all the recaps from the first two rounds, Orlando typically dominates three-point scoring. That's a very low number for them (high 20's or more is more common). If you pencil in their normal number, they win the game. This is likely to be the linchpin element for the whole series. If Orlando can't win that category consistently, their edge disappears and this is a pick-em series. If this was just a one-game slump...then Orlando is still in the driver's seat in terms of winning four of the next six games.
We have to say that we were impressed with Boston's ability to score inside. They get more respect than Atlanta does in terms of drawing fouls. If you count free throws as 'inside' points (because they're typically generated on drives to the basket, the Celtics scored 74 that way Sunday.
Atlanta scored 64, 80 (in their one good game), 63, and 75. This is another area where we'll have to look for changes. Was 74 'over their heads,' or a sign of things to come? You answer that, and you get a good read on the series as well.
It's a very good sign for Celtics fans that the team played THAT well in a potential fatigue spot. You didn't get the sense Boston was outclassed or overmatched. Let's remember that this is now a team that just went:
*4-1 vs. a Miami team that was far from a pushover
*4-2 vs. a Cleveland team that was favored to win the whole league
*1-0 vs. an Orlando team that had been a perfect 8-0 prior to the meeting
That's 8-3 vs. a tough slate! And, it's 4-2 on the ROAD, which is even more impressive when you consider how much respect D-Wade, LeBron, and Orlando get from officials at home.
All that being said, you did get the sense that Orlando was playing well below its norm on Sunday. The Magic suffered 18 turnovers, and was just 5 of 22 on treys. Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was rustiness. Maybe it was overconfidence. Maybe Boston's so healthy now that all the rules have changed and Orlando will have to make some significant adjustments. In our mind, Boston has established a level they're going to play at much of the time (granting the potential to no-show off a big win which we saw in Game Three last series). It's up to Orlando to improve on treys and cut down on the turnovers.
Who does JIM HURLEY like tonight? Well, we can't tell you that here. We can say that we wouldn't be surprised if the final score missed the line by at least six points. Orlando is capable of winning a rout if the Celtics take a game off to rest up for the homestand (remember, the Magic has a bench that's great at running up the score too). Boston is capable of winning again. They took two games in Cleveland and one so far in Orlando. That's a high level of basketball no matter how badly LeBron's elbow was hurting him.
The total is also volatile. If Orlando keeps missing treys, we're in the 180's again (maybe less if the refs call fewer fouls). If this game matches the second half from Sunday, we'll be in the 200's.
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Back tomorrow to preview Game Two of the Phoenix/LA Lakers series. Then we'll have a couple of days of baseball coverage here in the NOTEBOOK before the basketball picks up again over the weekend. It's a great time of year to be a sports fan, and legal sports bettor in Las Vegas.
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