Orlando Must Win Today in Boston

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

SERIES FAVORITE ORLANDO ON THE BRINK
OF ELIMINATION AND IT'S ONLY GAME THREE!

NBA fans and handicappers have gotten used to surprises in the Eastern Conference playoffs of late, so it's not exactly the shocker of the century that Orlando dropped the first two games at home to Boston in the championship round.

After all,

*Last year's Eastern Conference favorite Cleveland was taken out by Orlando in this very same round. Cleveland was a HUGE favorite going in, but never once looked like the superior team in the series.

*Last week, Cleveland was again taken out...this time by Boston. And, except on the days when LeBron James had extra rest for his ailing elbow, Cleveland rarely looked like the superior team in that series either.

Something about Eastern basketball creates illusions that only get punctured when championships are on the line!

Boston was CLEARLY the better side in the first two games in Orlando.

*They played with a purpose.
*They played with confidence.
*They had a gameplan that they followed to a tee.
*They were physical defensively
*They were composed rather than panicky late in close games

Everything people expected from Orlando, Boston delivered. Orlando was the exact opposite.

*They acted like they didn't realize the series had started
*Nobody wanted to take any shots
*They kept adjusting gameplans on the fly, and never really came up with a defensive gameplan.
*They were surprisingly soft defensively considering their reputation.
*They GAGGED late in close games when they had rallied from poor efforts to give themselves a shot to steal a win.

It's tempting to say the series is over already. Orlando has to win four of the next five games to survive...and three of those games will be played on the road. They'd have to win at home too, and they haven't even established they can do THAT yet!

We don't think the series is over yet...but we're certainly open to the possibility. Boston is indisputably playing like champions right now. Orlando had a leadership void that wasn't exposed until they were challenged.

*Dwight Howard is more of a cartoon character than a warrior right now. He's close to breaking through...but HAS to be a monster on both sides of the ball.

*Vince Carter has a well-deserved reputation for disappearing in the playoffs for long stretches. He did that in Game Two, then missed two critical free throws late in the game to make things even worse.

*Rashard Lewis is missing in action. He's supposed to be a team leader, and you can barely find him on the court.

*Jameer Nelson is suddenly being overshadowed by Rajon Rondo.

Those are the guys. That's the leadership council. Maybe this series IS over!

Let's crunch run our preview data and see what the evidence suggest. We'll do the same thing for you tomorrow here in the NOTEBOOK for Game Three of the LA Lakers/Phoenix series.

GAME THREE: ORLANDO AT BOSTON
BOSTON leads series 2-0
Vegas Line: Boston by 3.5, total of 190

Orlando was -6 and -7.5 in the first two games, lines that seem way out of touch now. You'll note though that the transition from one city to the other has only yielded a 9-point change from the low point, and a 10.5-point change from the peak. That's close to standard for home floor in the playoffs. To us, this suggests either:

*The market still doesn't believe Boston is the superior team, or else we'd be seeing -5 or -6 for today's number.

*The market accepts that Boston is better, but is fading against expected Orlando action as everyone bets the 'must win' team that entered the series with such a great expectations. The market sees the 'right' line as Boston -5.5 or so, but has moved two points because of projected 'must win' action on the dog.

Note that Boston's last two home games in the Cleveland series saw:

*Boston (+1.5) beat Cleveland 97-87
*Boston (-1.5) beat Cleveland 94-85

The market wasn't capturing Boston's superiority then, were they?

The total of 190 represents a slight lift from the 189's we saw in Orlando. Both of those games stayed Under because of very dead fourth quarters. Our condolences go out to anyone who had the Over in Game Two! Oddsmakers may be reacting to the likelihood of a high scoring fourth quarter...and also the fact that the general public may be more involved here in a weekend game. The public likes betting Overs.

There's been a bit of a layoff since the games in Orlando. Because of that, we're going to briefly run the numbers from BOTH of those matchups. Interestingly, they were very similar in scope. And, you could make the case they were dead ringers for the last two home games of the Cleveland series we just looked at too. Boston is playing VERY consistent ball right now.

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 TWO
BOSTON 95, ORLANDO 92
Three-Point Scoring: Boston 15, Orlando 21
Two-Point Scoring: Boston 58, Orlando 42
Free Throw Scoring: Boston 22, Orlando 29

Boston basically had clone games, with a few extra points coming from the inside this time around.

Orlando was slightly different. They added two treys, but are still below the 27-30 long range points they were expecting to get per game. Dwight Howard was the subject of a fouling strategy that sent him to the line all night. That reduced their two-point scoring but increased their free throw scoring. In terms of 'inside' points, it was about the same (73 points in Game One, 71 points in Game Two).

For all the talk about adjustments that Orlando needed to make...rising to the occasion...getting their act together...defending their turf...showing who's boss...and whatever other cliche's you want to throw in there...they didn't do ANYTHING differently that mattered.

Boston is controlling the flow of this series. They're doing what they want. The Celtics dictate the flow with their decision-making. Orlando sits back and hopes somebody makes a shot.

So, IS the series over?

We'll say it this way. If Orlando doesn't change anything, the series is DEFINITELY over barring an injury to a key Celtic. Orlando is a not-so-innocent bystander to this point. Rashard Lewis isn't even bystanding. He's buying a hot dog from a vendor.

Orlando can certainly get back in the series. They need to bring more defensive intensity, (like HURTING somebody on a drive). They need to hit some treys. They need to see if they can set off Rasheed Wallace in a way that causes the Celtics to lose their focus for awhile.

None of those are impossible. Heck, all of them seem fairly easy to pull off!

Bottom line, today's game is likely to miss the Vegas line by many points in either direction. If Orlando gets things in gear, they win the game and the points are a gift. If we see the same Celtics doing the same things, they win by 9-10 points again and coast to a cover.

Which way is it going to be? ONLY JIM HURLEY KNOWS FOR SURE!

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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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