Thursday NBA Previews

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

PACERS, SIXERS, BLAZERS ALL TRAIL 2-0
HEADING INTO THURSDAY ACTION

It's always tough in a best-of-seven series for the teams who don't have home court advantage. If they can't break through with a road win in the first two games...then their backs are to the wall even when the series is still on serve!

The Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers were longshots entering their Eastern Conference matchups with Chicago and Miami respectively. They're really just battling to avoid a sweep, or put up a respectable showing against the powers who many expect to play for the Eastern crown in a few weeks. The Portland Trailblazers however were picked by many to knock off the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. Now, they're a loss away from pretty much being finished for the season.

So, we have two games tonight where home underdogs 'might' make a statement in a way that delays the inevitable. Then we have one where a home favorite HAS to make a statement or else their season will be ending at least a few days earlier than expected, if not a couple of weeks.

As always we attack the games in schedule order. We look at the most recent boxscore in each series for context as we project best expectations for the evening.

GAME THREE: CHICAGO AT INDIANA
Chicago leads 2-0
Vegas Line: Chicago by 4.5, total of 189

The Bulls were favored by 11 and 12 at home so this is a fairly standard move for the site switch. Home court advantage usually grades out to about 3 in the regular season, meaning there would be a six-point turnaround. In the playoffs it's higher because of the nature of the back-and-forth after a road loss, and because the general public likes betting home teams better than road teams. Here the line has moved 6.5 to 7.5 points. The total is back where it started. Games One and Two saw 189 and 192, with the lift coming off a high scoring opener. Game Two's actual score landed on 186, which brought things back down again.

GAME TWO STATS
CHICAGO 96, INDIANA 90

Shooting Percentage: Indiana 42%, Chicago 39%
Three-Pointers: Indiana 6/17, Chicago 5/14
Free Throws: Indiana 20/27, Chicago 27/34
Rebounds: Indiana 33, Chicago 57
Turnovers: Indiana 17, Chicago 21
Vegas Line: Chicago by 11, total of 192
Notebook: Indiana sure has raised some eyebrows with two very competitive losses in Chicago. They should have won the first game, and could have won the second game. It's hard to know yet if that's because Indiana is much better than everyone expected, or if Chicago is worse! It's a very bad sign for the Bulls that they're shooting so poorly. If you can't make shots at home against Indiana, what are you going to do vs. better defenses in late rounds? What if you have to win on the road in Orlando, Miami, or Boston? Chicago is still the better team in the series. But, to this point, their 5-6 points better at home rather than 11-12 points better. Playing on the road tonight, that would suggest a nailbiter.

This is the first night of Game Three action across the league. We should point out early that recent seasons have shown a VERY strong tendency for the home team to play a peak game. Their first appearance in front of a rabid home crowd inspires them. If they trail the series 2-0, the 'must win' mentality takes over against an opponent who can afford a loss as no big deal. Some conspiracy theorists believe home teams in Game Three get more favorable officiating calls too because the league wants to sell commercials on extra telecasts. It's worth nothing though that exceptions to this rule have been when a league power is focused on getting a series over with as quickly as possible so they can rest up for the next round. Chicago/Indiana is tricky because Chicago is a league power who hasn't been playing like one so far!

We'll be working closely with our on site sources here. Indiana may be ready for a big win. But, Chicago has shown an ability to grind on the road with Derrick Rose leading the way. They're more likely to cover a spread of 4-5 than they are 11-12 based on their results the past few weeks. Maybe Chicago's nature is to win grinders vs. playoff caliber teams...and you should bet in Vegas accordingly.

GAME THREE: MIAMI AT PHILADELPHIA
Miami leads 2-0
Vegas Line: Miami by 4.5, total of 187

Less of a line differential here, as Miami was laying 9 and 10 at home, but registers at the same -4.5 level Chicago did in Indiana. That's because Miami now has the look of a champion about them, meaning they'll get betting support on the road. Also, both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade know the importance of getting early series over with quickly. The market didn't see much life from Philadelphia in Game Two, and can't price them with much respect here as a result. The total has come down to 187 from 190. With the games landing on 187 and 167 thus far, 190 looks like it overshot the mark.

GAME TWO STATS
MIAMI 94, PHILADELPHIA 73

Shooting Percentage: Philadelphia 34%, Miami 47%
Three-Pointers: Philadelphia 6/14, Miami 3/15
Free Throws: Philadelphia 13/20, Miami 23/29
Rebounds: Philadelphia 40, Miami 46
Turnovers: Philadelphia 12, Miami 10
Vegas Line: Miami by 9, total of 190
Notebook: This wasn't much of a game, so there's no reason to dig too deeply. It should jump out at you that Miami won by 21 points even though they couldn't make a trey to save their lives. What's going to happen when Miami makes a more normal 5, 6, or 7-spot from behind the arc? They're already 2-0 in the series despite going just 7 of 32 from long range.

Philadelphia has no defensive answers for the composite of James, Wade, and Chris Bosh. They can slow down one guy. They can't slow down all three. The 76ers did catch Miami napping in the fourth quarter of the opener last Saturday. Maybe something like that happens again and this one gets interesting. Or, maybe the series is already over!

Our on site sources will help us with that. If we see the eye of the tiger from Philly (where the statue of Rocky still resides), we might make a move on the underdog here. If the vibe suggest that the Sixers just don't believe they have a chance...we might go Heat-Heat in these next two games because a sweep is so likely.

GAME THREE: DALLAS AT PORTLAND
Dallas leads 2-0
Vegas Line: Portland by 6, total of 186

Big jump here, as Dallas was favored by 5 and 4 at home to start the series. The line has moved 10-11 points from that because so many classic handicapping strategies point to Portland. The Blazers are a good team in a must-win situation...and are playing on a very strong home court. No way oddsmakers wanted to make it easy for you to back the Blazers. The total is in the range of the 186-184 we've seen already. The actual games landed on 170 and 190, making it tough to know which way the wind will blow. We'll think about the Under because that 190 was the result of 15 of 29 combined shooting on treys. Hard to expect something better than 50% repeating.

GAME TWO STATS
DALLAS 101, PORTLAND 89

Shooting Percentage: Portland 49%, Dallas 49%
Three-Pointers: Portland 7/14, Dallas 8/19
Free Throws: Portland 18/27, Dallas 19/26
Rebounds: Portland 37, Dallas 37
Turnovers: Portland 11, Dallas 6
Vegas Line: Dallas by 4, total of 184
Notebook: A very evenly matched boxscore, with Dallas being a little bit better on free throws and treys, and a lot better in the turnover department. Some veteran guards are doing a great job this year of cutting down on turnovers in early playoff action. And, Jason Kidd suddenly knows how to shoot! Dallas has lifted its game significantly from a stretch where they couldn't seem to beat any playoff caliber teams.

That being said, Dallas is also 18 of 38 from three-point land...and it's very hard to keep something like that going. More normal numbers would have led do a split in the Metroplex, and Portland being in control of the series with home court advantage the rest of the way. We're skeptical that Dallas can keep performing at such a high level. But, we will admit we underestimated the chance that Kidd and Peja Stojakovic would step forward with such authority in the series.

Tonight's release could be a very big one for us based on the composite of information coming in from our sources and staff. And, don't go making any assumptions because it might be on the total instead of the team side!

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23
Nov

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