Sunday's NBA Matchups

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

DAY TWO DYNAMITE WITH ANTICIPATED SERIES SET TO START

There were two series that were clearly the most anticipated in terms of being good "first round" matchups. That's Oklahoma City vs. Denver in the 4-5 matchup out West...and Boston vs. New York in the Eastern Conference's 3-6 matchup. Other series could turn out to be thrillers. Either of those could turn out to be duds.

But...OKC and Denver have been playing some of the best ball in the league since the All-Star Break, and either is capable of taking out top seeded San Antonio in the next round. And, Boston is the most vulnerable of the big name franchises at this point...just as they run into a Knicks team with nothing to lose and everything to gain early in the Carmelo Anthony era.

THOSE TWO SERIES FINALLY START TODAY!

Unfortunately, they're the last two games on the card. Talk about anticipation! Let's run through our key indicator stats for Sunday's QUADRUPLEHEADER just as we did yesterday for the 2011 postseason debut. We'll use the exact same format, and once again run the games in rotation order...

MEMPHIS (8) at SAN ANTONIO (1)
Vegas Line: San Antonio by 6.5, total of 196

Pace: Memphis 94.5 (15th in NBA), San Antonio 94.6 (14th in NBA)
Almost a dead heat. Pace won't be an issue at all as two league-average tempo's will collide, then hold hands. Let's note though that San Antonio got a lot of press this year for being an up-tempo team. That was true every early in the season. They haven't been running now for many months.

Efficiency Rankings (points per 100 possessions)
Memphis: 104.4 on offense, 102.5 on defense,
San Antonio: 109.4 on offense, 102.8 on defense
San Antonio did the bulk of its damage in the first half of the season in this stat. They stayed healthy, and kept piling up the points against opponents who were either hurt, saving themselves until later in the season, or just plain inferior. San Antonio hasn't played this well for awhile. They even lost a home game to Boston, and good teams have been beating Boston lately. Memphis is a shade better than this since the trade deadline, as the puzzle pieces started to fit together a bit better with some maneuvering. Note the Vegas spread here is MUCH smaller than you normally see in a 1-8 pairing. It was smaller than what you saw in 4-5 in the East!

Rebounds and Turnover Rankings
Memphis: 9th in rebound rate, 9th in offensive turnover rate
San Antonio: 11th in rebound rate, 7th in offensive turnover rate
Very similar teams here as well as in pace. They're basically dead even except for the fact that San Antonio makes a lot more treys than Memphis does. If Memphis can guard the perimeter and take that away, we're going to have quite a series. If they can't, then it's going to be very hard to overcome a couple of treys per game AND the home court edge that San Antonio enjoys.

Series Outline: It's been awhile since San Antonio truly struck avid followers of the sport as the best team in the West. The Lakers took over that spot with a 17-1 run after the All-Star Break. Oklahoma City and Denver were much better than the Spurs down the stretch. But, the Texans are now rested and ready for the games that matter most. We're very interested to see if they try to re-establish Western superiority in these first few games. Will we see the Spurs of December and January? Or, the Spurs of March and April? Answer that question properly and you've probably got 2-3 pointspread winners in this series.

 

NEW ORLEANS (7) at LA LAKERS (2)
Vegas Line: Los Angeles by 10, total of 185

Pace: New Orleans 90.9 (29th in NBA), Los Angeles 93.4 (19th in NBA)
This is going to be a very slow series. The Lakers grade out at 19th, but that's after about 25% of the season running and gunning, then 75% of the season playing slowly. New Orleans is just always slow. We expect this to be a walk-it-up series for whoever has the ball. That's why you see such a low total. The "Showtime" days are over.

Efficiency Rankings (points per 100 possessions)
New Orleans: 103.8 on offense, 102.5 on defense,
Los Angeles: 107.9 on offense, 101.3 on defense
Both of these teams have played to extremes this year. The Lakers of that 17-1 stretch would win this one in a laugher. The Lakers that just struggled over the last two weeks may have to sweat some fourth quarters because New Orleans sure isn't worse than the Sacramento and Utah teams the Lakers couldn't beat in regulation. Well, most of the time they're not. Sometimes they are! The injury to David West really hurts the Hornets against the Lakers huge frontline. We expect Kobe and company to win without much of a migraine. Covering big spreads is another matter. We'll be looking for spots to take Chris Paul as a value dog when the Lakers are most likely to lack intensity.

Rebounds and Turnover Rankings
New Orleans: 9th in rebound rate, 8th in offensive turnover rate
Los Angeles: 5th in rebound rate, 2nd in offensive turnover rate
Wow, great rankings here. The media loves talking about Kobe, but misses out on so many other strengths of this team. Did you realize the Lakers were second best in the NBA at avoiding turnovers? Hopefully you avid readers know how great they rebound. We've been harping on that through the Phil Jackson era. New Orleans is very clean fundamentally too. They're not at full strength though. That should hurt them in both of these categories.

Series Outline: We've pretty much touched the key bases already. The Lakers have the talent to sweep, and the drama to give away a game or two in a way that makes Jack Nicholson squirm uncomfortably. Our focus will be on finding value with the Hornets getting points. Though, we may look at the Lakers if they're cheap on the road in a bounce-back spot off a bad game. We'll be looking for Unders later in the series when the tempo is likely to be very slow and the refs are swallowing their whistles.

 

NEW YORK (6) at BOSTON (3)
Vegas Line: Boston by 6.5, total of 199

Pace: New York 98.1 (2nd in NBA), Boston 92.5 (23rd in NBA)
One of the few series where pace could be a big deal. Sure, slow physical teams tend to get their own way in the playoffs. But, Boston is playing without fire since the Kendrick Perkins trade...and that may allow the Knicks to push things up into a higher gear. Plus, Rajon Rondo needs to be at peak intensity for the Celtics to have a good postseason. He runs when he's in that mindset. Things could get very tricky for the Celtics if they're not careful.

Efficiency Rankings (points per 100 possessions)
New York: 108.3 on offense, 106.9 on defense,
Boston: 104.0 on offense, 97.8 on defense
Boston was dominant for much of the season, basically dead even with Chicago and Miami. The Perkins trade changed all that dramatically. So, you have to be careful with the full season stats. Boston isn't playing like a champion now, even with a great differential. They may only be a little bit better than New York. They may have fallen all the way down to equality in differential. But, let's not lose site of that defense. Boston still has a HUGE edge in that department...and it's arguably the most important department in the NBA playoffs.

Rebounds and Turnover Rankings
New York: 28th in rebound rate, 5th in offensive turnover rate
Boston: 19th in rebound rate, 28th in offensive turnover rate
Boston has basically given up on offensive rebounding. A shot goes up, and everyone races back down the floor. So, they only rank 19th in rebound rate because they're great at defensive rebounding but awful at offensive rebounding. New York is very poor on the boards. They'll look better than normal defensively because of how the Celtics prioritize the game. If they make their shots, a lack of offensive rebounding won't matter.

Series Outline: The stage is set for a Knicks upset...but it's also set for a physical squash from a resurgent Celtics squad. Stylistically, Boston should be able to take care of business. At their best, they can do that in dominating fashion. Will we ever see THAT version of the Celtics again? A key component was traded away, and other parts may have aged past the point of no return. We'll be watching tonight's series opener very closely. What we see early will strongly influence what we play later on in terms of both team sides and totals. Our New York sources will be of assistance. But, this is a series where the players may come right out and tell us themselves how it's going to play out.

 

DENVER (5) at OKLAHOMA CITY (4)
Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 4, total of 202

Pace: Denver 97.9 (3rd in NBA), Oklahoma City 95.3 (13th in NBA)
Denver settled into slower tempo's in games vs. playoff teams down the stretch. The bench will run in blowouts. The starters are more possession-by-possession focused in the post-Carmelo era. Oklahoma City has slowed down since acquiring Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics. We expect this series to play slower than those full season numbers would suggest. Given this high Vegas total, we'll probably be on some Unders later in the series.

Efficiency Rankings (points per 100 possessions)
Denver: 109.5 on offense, 104.8 on defense,
Oklahoma City: 108.6 on offense, 104.0 on defense
Those are good differentials off the bat, but each team has been more impressive since the All-Star Break. It's very hard to statistically separate these two teams from the Lakers and Spurs if you're focusing on the parts of the season that tell the story best. As has been said by us and many others, it's a shame these two had to square off in the first round. If they don't beat each other up too much, the winner will be quite a challenge to the Spurs in the second round. Let's note also that both have been much better defensively of late than those numbers would suggest. Denver has been an ELITE defense since getting Anthony out of the mix. Oklahoma City scares people when Perkins is on the floor. 

Rebounds and Turnover Rankings
Denver: 11th in rebound rate, 11th in offensive turnover rate
Oklahoma City: 6th in rebound rate, 11th in offensive turnover rate
Yes, both were 11th in turnover rate. We had some ties! These have become similar teams down the stretch in almost every way imaginable. The only difference is that OKC is more star oriented on offense, while Denver spreads thing around through a variety of weapons. When the final buzzer sounds, that TEAM data looks a lot alike. Both teams are doing everything well, and some things very well.

Series Outline: Wow...what a series! We won't pretend to say we've got this one all figured out now. This is an ideal handicapping series for bouncing back and forth with the prior loser at value prices. It also may be a series where home court means more than usual...with the altitude at Denver being very meaningful, as well as the rabid home crowd in Oklahoma City. We have an approach in mind. We'll be watching this game very closely to see if we can find the personnel matchup that's going to swing the series one way or the other.

That wraps up today...and the first big weekend of expanded NBA previews. Starting tomorrow, we'll use the prior boxscore as a way to preview each subsequent meeting. The format you read yesterday and today will be reserved for the start of a new series. Back Monday to look at Game Two in Philadelphia/Miami and Indiana/Chicago. Be sure you get the best plays on the board in all of the Game One's on Sunday's card. You can always purchase JIM HURLEY'S top plays here at the website with your credit card. We also have great rates for the full playoff package from NETWORK. You can pile up your profits even higher if you add in some Major League Baseball. If you prefer talking to a live person to take care of business, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

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21
Nov

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