Thursday's NBA Previews
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
TRIP SIXES...WITH THREE GAME SIXES ON THE THURSDAY NIGHT CARD
If you're watching a Game Six, then SOMEBODY has a chance to wrap up a series! You can't get to a sixth game without one team having at three wins. Tonight, it's Atlanta, the LA Lakers, and Dallas who are hoping to finish off the first round and move onto further battle.
Interestingly, the one team playing at home is an UNDERDOG to get the job done, with Atlanta currently +2 at home against Orlando as we go to press. Dallas is also an underdog on the road in Portland, in a series where the home team has won every game so far. The LA Lakers are a road favorite in New Orleans, but are still searching for the consistency it will take to finish off a three-peat in later rounds.
Let's look at how key stats from Game Five action may foreshadow what we're going to see tonight in these three games. As always, games are presented in schedule order for your convenience.
GAME SIX: ORLANDO AT ATLANTA
Atlanta leads 3-2
Vegas Line: Orlando by 2, total of 178
The line has move up half a point from the closers of Orlando -1.5 we saw in the first two meetings on this court. That's partly because it's a must-win game for the series favorite, and people like betting that spot. And, it's partly because the Magic finally looked like they knew what they were doing in the last game! The total continues it's slow descent from 180-ish toward reality in this series. The last four games have landed on 170, 172, 173, and 177. The 177 was a blowout without much defense from Atlanta. So, we'll have to think about the Under tonight if our sources are sure the Hawks will bring more intensity on defense.
GAME FIVE STATS
ORLANDO 101, ATLANTA 76
Shooting Percentage: Atlanta 36%, Orlando 41%
Three-Pointers: Atlanta 4/16, Orlando 11/26
Free Throws: Atlanta 22/32, Orlando 22/29
Rebounds: Atlanta 43, Orlando 48
Turnovers: Atlanta 11, Orlando 5
Vegas Line: Orlando by 7, total of 179.5
Notebook: It's best to see this as Atlanta taking a game off rather than Orlando finally figuring things out. You can see the Hawks only forced five turnovers. That's not playoff caliber defense. They were also slow to guard the perimeter, which is something they had emphasized in all the other games. Orlando made 11 treys in this one after scoring just 6-5-8-2 in the first four games. The Magic are capable of staying alive with a win tonight. They only lost by 4 and 3 points in the first two games on this floor. So, they don't NEED 11 three-pointers to even things up. They will need to perform against a more intense defense though. Atlanta won't take two games in a row off.
Our historians have quite a database to work with in terms of Game Sixes. We know the edges Atlanta will have at home, and the troubles they'll face trying to close things out as the inferior seed. What we've learned from our research will be the key here. We assume both teams are going to show up with peak intensity, so this isn't a "mindset" game like we've had the past few nights. As we mentioned above, we'll have to think about the Under because games with this much intensity tend to skew Under in the postseason. This series is 1-4 to the Under already, establishing that Vegas overshot the mark from very early on.
GAME SIX: LA LAKERS AT NEW ORLEANS
Los Angeles leads 3-2
Vegas Line: Los Angeles by 5.5, total of 184
The Lakers were -5 and -6 in their first two games at this site. The number we're seeing right now splits the difference. There were pretty split results in those games too. The Lakers won by 14 and lost by 5, suggesting quite a wide range for possibilities this evening. The total is up from the 183 we've seen the last two outings. Game Five had sharp shooting and consistent scoring on the way to almost reaching 200 points.
GAME FIVE STATS
LA LAKERS 106, NEW ORLEANS 90
Shooting Percentage: New Orleans 49%, Lakers 49%
Three-Pointers: New Orleans 10/21, Lakers 7/18
Free Throws: New Orleans 14/21, Lakers 25/30
Rebounds: New Orleans 25, Lakers 42
Turnovers: New Orleans 17, Lakers 15
Vegas Line: Los Angeles by 10, total of 183
Notebook: The Lakers have huge edges inside on the roster. For some reason, they can't exploit those edges every time out. They certainly did here. You can see above that they won free throws by 11 in makes and 9 in attempts because they were attacking the basket. They also won two-point scoring convincingly because they were -9 on three-point scoring. Inside the arc, the Lakers were +25 points! They should be approaching that more regularly. Look at the rebounds! A 42-25 edge just screams size advantage. Chris Paul wasn't scampering around to grab long rebounds in this one the way he had back in the Game Four upset.
The winner and cover team tonight will be determined inside the arc in our view. The Lakers have won by 14 and 16 when the big guys are playing well. They've lost outright when they've lost their focus. That means, our sources are focused very much on the focus of the Lakers. This isn't a team you want to buck in a close-out game as a general rule. We have to admit though that this year's team isn't living up to past rules as consistently as Phil Jackson would like.
GAME SIX: DALLAS AT PORTLAND
Dallas leads 3-2
Vegas Line: Portland by 4.5, total of 182
We're going to be in the 4-5 range for both home favorites in this series. The market has them as even teams. They'll shade the number based on "need" and bounce-back principles. You might think a Game Seven would tighten down if it goes that far. But, Dallas has won by 8, 12, and 11 at home...so probably not. The total is down two points from 184 in the last game, and 5 points from the 187 we saw the last time in Portland. The last two games have landed on 166 and 175, suggesting there still may be some work to do. It's worth noting though that Atlanta and New Orleans lost their defensive intensity in recent road games. Dallas might do that here knowing that a seventh game will be on their home floor if needed.
GAME FIVE STATS
DALLAS 93, PORTLAND 82
Shooting Percentage: Portland 43%, Dallas 41%
Three-Pointers: Portland 4/16, Dallas 3/17
Free Throws: Portland 14/19, Dallas 26/35
Rebounds: Portland 37, Dallas 49
Turnovers: Portland 12, Dallas 12
Vegas Line: Dallas by 5, total of 184
Notebook: The big edges for Dallas were in the areas of free throws and rebounding. After being too passive with jump shots while blowing their big lead in Game Four...they really crashed the paint with a vengeance in their bounce back spot. Can they keep that up? Or, will they relax again now that they atoned for their collapse? That's the key in our view tonight. Dallas has pretty much established they're the better team. If not for a fourth quarter debacle when they got overconfident, the series would be finished. This line is too high if Dallas shows up. It's not high enough if Dallas prefers to put everything into a home court effort to wrap things up (which we saw Atlanta do on the road to set up what they hope is a home series finale tonight in the earlier tip).
We have to say we're surprised Dallas has played this well so far. We thought this was going to be a matchup problem for them. Their older guys are playing younger than we thought. Portland's younger guys are playing younger than we thought too! Portland's lack of experience as a playoff unit has clearly been a big issue on almost a nightly basis.
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