Saturday's NBA Previews

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

BULLS, HEAT HIGHLIGHT DAY ONE OF NBA PLAYOFF ACTION

We've got a full QUADRUPLEHEADER to preview for you today. So, we're going to jump in very quickly. The key stats we're focusing on in our expanded previews this year are as follows:

Pace: Simply the average number of possessions in that team's games this season. Teams who can enforce their preferred pace on a game generally do well. If two teams prefer the same place, oddsmakers have trouble getting the total in the right place.

Efficiency: Points scored and allowed per 100 possessions. This is scoring adjusted for pace. You don't want to think slow teams automatically have great defenses just because they play low scoring games. Adjusting for tempo makes the cream rise to thetop.

Rebound Rate: to keep it simple we're looking at the league rankings in rebounding, defined here as what percentage of available rebounds you grab.

Turnover Rate: league rankings in the percentage of offensive possessions that end in turnovers. We want to know who's sloppy. We want to know who will value their possessions late in close games.

The data is presented in rotation order, starting with the Indiana/Chicago matchup that kicks off this year's festivities...

INDIANA (8) at CHICAGO (1)
Vegas Line: Chicago by 11, total of 190

Pace: Indiana 97.2 (6th in NBA), Chicago 92.9 (22nd in NBA)
Classic battle of fast vs. slow (which will be rare this year because so many slow teams are in the playoffs). Indiana will try to make Chicago run. But the Bulls are the much better team, and are likely to impose their will on pace whenever they want to.

Efficiency Rankings (points per 100 possessions)
Indiana: 101.9 on offense, 103.4 on defense,
Chicago: 105.5 on offense, 97.4 on defense
Indiana only made the playoffs because they're in the thin Eastern Conference. They have the efficiency stats of a non-playoff team despite playing in the easier half of the league. Chicago has a differential here that makes them clear championship material. They're not alone in that though, as you'll see over the rest of the weekend.

Rebounds and Turnover Rankings
Indiana: 15th in rebound rate, 24th in offensive turnover rate
Chicago: 1st in rebound rate, 17th in offensive turnover rate
The Bulls are the class of the NBA in the areas of defense and rebounding. You regulars know how much weight we place on t hose categories. They will also have the edge here in the turnover department. In addition to all of Indiana's other negatives, they're sloppy with the ball! Put a sloppy team on the court with Chicago's great defense, and it's going to get ugly quickly.

Series Outline: Chicago is the dominant side by a mile here, which isn't a secret to anyone. Indiana will have to make a lot of treys just to stay competitive because they literally have nothing else going for them. We'll be checking with our on site sources to make sure the Bulls aren't taking this series, or the opener, too lightly. Indiana is capable of covering any of the games. They will be lucky to win one game straight up. It will be a big surprise to us if the Pacers win two. We may step in on the big Game One dog if we here the right news from our sources.

 

PHILADELPHIA (7) at MIAMI (2)
Vegas Line: Miami by 10.5, total of 191

Pace: Philadelphia 93.9 (16th in NBA), Miami 93.2 (21st in NBA)
The Sixers are near league average in pace, and Miami is less than a possession away from league average. We can expect things to slow down in a playoff series, particularly as one progresses. Can't see pace being much of  a factor in this matchup.

Efficiency Rankings (points per 100 possessions)
Philadelphia: 104.0 on offense, 102.5 on defense,
Miami: 109.3 on offense, 100.7 on defense
Miami is another championship contender with a huge differential in efficiency. They have some of the best scorers in league history on the roster, and they also play great defense. Philadelphia does grade out as a playoff caliber team...but not as a serious threat to the league's elite.

Rebounds and Turnover Rankings
Philadelphia: 18th in rebound rate, 1st in offensive turnover rate
Miami: 3rd in rebound rate, 19th in offensive turnover rate
Miami is much like Chicago in terms of defense and rebounding, which is why those two teams are getting all the ink in the press right now about reaching the Finals. We're not going to argue until somebody like Boston or Orlando gives us a reason to argue. Note that Miami's also similar to Chicago in turnover rate. In this case, it's a negative because the thing Philly does best of all is protect the ball. It's not much to go on though if you're looking for any possible surprises. Miami will probably make an extra trey per game, which would make up for a couple of turnovers.

Series Outline: Not as one-sided on paper as Chicago/Indiana...but it will also likely be a 4-0 or 4-1 series win for the superior team. We are hoping Philadelphia can take a few games down to the wire so we can see how the Miami offense will perform in crunch time. That's been a problem vs. good teams this season for the Heat. Another series where we'll only play the big dog if we're hearing that the favorite isn't focused on winning a blowout. Wouldn't you love to be one of our sources in South Beach?!

 

ATLANTA (5) at ORLANDO (4)
Vegas Line: Orlando by 8, total of 181

Pace: Atlanta 91.6 (27th in NBA), Orlando 93.5 (18th in NBA)
We expect a very slow pace in this series because Orlando doesn't mind walking it up, and Atlanta is slow as molasses. Atlanta can take some faster teams out of their comfort zone. That won't be an issue with Orlando, who likes playing the inside-out game with Dwight Howard and their three-point shooters.

Efficiency Rankings (points per 100 possessions)
Atlanta: 103.2 on offense, 104.6 on defense,
Orlando: 105.7 on offense, 99.1 on defense
Atlanta grades out as a non-playoff team even though they've got the fifth seed! That's a bit misleading because the Hawks were known to tank if they fell behind. The bench was awful, which lead to some monster-sized losses. Atlanta isn't as bad as its stats. But, they've lost so many games to quality opposition lately that it's hard to take them seriously in the postseason.

Rebounds and Turnover Rankings
Atlanta: 22nd in rebound rate, 17th in offensive turnover rate
Orlando: 2nd in rebound rate, 26th in offensive turnover rate
Orlando is another classic defense and rebounding team. They're too sloppy with the ball though. And, they have a tendency to fall apart offensively late in close games. You could make a reasonable case that Orlando is a serious threat to Chicago and Miami because of their defense and rebounding...because turnovers won't be a big negative against the Bulls and Heat who are mediocre in that stat...and because Orlando makes more treys than the others do. Eyeballing their games though, they seem so psyched out by officiating that you wonder if they still believe in themselves.

Series Outline: Who knows which Orlando we'll see? Orlando at its best is probably the true #3 seed in the East. Orlando at its worst is upset fodder if they take Atlanta too lightly. We're working closely with our sources here on both sides of the aisle. Some nights you get the idea that neither wants to be embarrassed by Chicago in the second round, so they're not fired up at all about playing in the postseason. When Orlando has its heads on straight, their perfectly built for playoff success.

 

PORTLAND (6) at DALLAS (3)
Vegas Line: Dallas by 5.5, total of 187

Pace: Portland 90.5 (30th in NBA), Dallas 93.4 (19th in NBA)
There are only 30 teams in the league, so Portland was the slowest team in the NBA this year. Dallas is near league average, but has emphasized playing well in slower games this season because they know that's what you have to do to advance in the playoffs. Portland can go faster with a small lineup, so they may not play like anvils in this series. We're interested to see how things shake out.

Efficiency Rankings (points per 100 possessions)
Portland: 105.6 on offense, 104.2 on defense,
Dallas: 107.6 on offense, 102.3 on defense
Portland's been playing better than those numbers would suggest since the trade deadline. Dallas hasn't been playing nearly as well as those numbers suggest for several weeks. The Mavs have had particular troubles vs. playoff caliber teams, dropping seven of their last eight games vs. quality. And, the win came against New Orleans who may have been losing on purpose in the season finale! You should probably think of both of these teams as being near the +3 range at the moment in differential.

Rebounds and Turnover Rankings
Portland: 17th in rebound rate, 5th in offensive turnover rate
Dallas: 11th in rebound rate, 20th in offensive turnover rate
Dallas owns a slight edge on the boards, but then Portland has a big edge in the turnover category. We tend to weigh rebounding more heavily than turnovers in a playoff series. Boston's been to the finals a few times with lousy turnover rates. Dallas has less margin for error than those Boston teams did though. Dallas just doesn't scare anybody the way a top four seed usually does.

Series Outline: We were more impressed with Portland down the stretch, so we're looking for ways to find an edge at the projected Vegas lines. Should we step in early at today's price? Or, will Portland need a game to get its postseason sea legs before becoming a factor? Our sources are hard at work getting us the answer. At some point in the first four games of this series, we're likely to have a major release on the Blazers. We will say that much.

You regulars know we can't talk specifically about game day major releases because we have to protect that information for our paying clients. You can become a paying client right here at the website with your credit card. Purchase today's TRIPLE PLAY of action to check out the service (take care of business EARLY just in case we have something in Pacers/Bulls). Or, sign up for the rest of the playoffs at reduced rates. Be sure to check on baseball combination packages too! The best time to beat baseball is in April when oddsmakers are way behind the curve.

If you have any questions about NETWORK service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Back Sunday with FOUR MORE expanded NBA previews. THE PLAYOFFS ARE HERE...LET'S GO MAKE SOME MONEY!

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