Monday NBA Series Previews
SERIES PREVIEWS: ATLANTA-CHICAGO; DALLAS-LOS ANGELES
The second round of the NBA playoffs tipped off yesterday in Oklahoma City and Miami. Today we move to Chicago and Los Angeles as the rest of the Elite Eight take the floor.
As promised, we're back with expanded previews of Atlanta/Chicago and Dallas/LA Lakers...focusing on the key indicator stats that have worked so well for us this year and in the past. There's a lot to work through, so let's jump right in.
ATLANTA (5) at CHICAGO (1)
Vegas Line: Chicago by 8.5, total of 178.5
The Bulls are seen as the better team by about 5 points on a neutral court. They will likely be favored in the 8-9 range at home (more if they impress early), and are projected to be small road favorites based on what we're seeing now. Basically, this is Atlanta/Orlando all over again in terms of the spreads! Atlanta did a great job of beating expectations in that series, while the Bulls struggled ATS against Indiana in the first round. So, if "playoff form" continues, the Hawks will be more competitive than expected and the lines will have to drop. If play reverts back to late regular season form, we may see Chicago -10 at home and -4 to -5 on the road. Atlanta didn't fare well vs. many playoff caliber teams outside of Orlando down the stretch.
Pace: Atlanta 91.6 (27th in NBA), Chicago 92.9 (22nd in NBA)
This is going to be a slow series. Atlanta is one of the slowest teams in the league. Chicago isn't quite as slow as everyone thinks they are. It's great defense and an inconsistent offense that keeps their games so low scoring. But, they don't mind playing a halfcourt game because it allows Derrick Rose to take over. We expect a slow low scoring season unless there are games where somebody shoots lights out or the refs get whistle crazy.
Efficiency Rankings (points per 100 possessions)
Atlanta: 103.2 on offense, 104.6 on defense
Chicago: 105.5 on offense, 97.4 on defense
It's difficult for a team with a negative differential to get this far in the playoffs. Atlanta has a tendency to lay down when they fall behind, which leads to horrible stats. They're not as bad as this data would suggest (which we saw in the last round). But, even if you pencil in a more reasonable number, they're still WAY behind Chicago. And, of course, Chicago is capable of getting Atlanta down and winning a blowout once the Hawks give up. Chicago is +8.1, Atlanta is -1.4. That's +9.5 for Chicago over 100 possessions, which is around +9 on a neutral court once you bring it down to the low 90's in possessions that we're likely to see. That's why we commented earlier about regular season form or recent playoff form. Guess right and you'll cover some spreads!
Rebounds and Turnover Rankings
Atlanta: 22nd in rebound rate, 17th in offensive turnover rate
Chicago: 1st in rebound rate, 17th in offensive turnover rate
The Bulls are a classic "defense and rebounding" team, and they rank first in the NBA in both defensive efficiency and rebound rate. Atlanta just doesn't measure up in these key areas. Turnovers are a wash. Chicago is a bit sloppy in turnover rate because Rose is prone to run into trouble quite a bit when he's driving...and he has some teammates with bricks for hands. Probably a sloppy series (which we said about Boston-Miami too). The Bulls are best suited to grind if that's the style we see.
Series Outline: Everything's pointing to the Bulls in terms of indicator stats and what we learned from the regular season. But, we can't just pretend that the struggles with Indiana didn't happen. Was that a temporary case of nerves? An awkward personnel matchup? Or, would Chicago have joined San Antonio on the list of overrated top seeds had they played in a tougher conference? We'll learn more about those questions in this series. Atlanta's ability to guard the perimeter helped them greatly vs. Orlando. That's not much of an issue here. They have to guard the league's MVP and keep him off the free throw line. Tough task! For now, the Bulls are likely to win comfortably...and handicappers will have to determine if Vegas oddsmakers are properly capturing the extent of their advantages.
DALLAS (3) at LA LAKERS (2)
Vegas Line: Los Angeles by 6, total of 188.5
The Lakers are seen as three points better on a neutral court right now. The public loves betting the Lakers, so it's hard to see the line falling below this level unless there's an injury or the Lakers really fall apart. Expect something in the 6-7 range at Staples Center...more if the Lakers can maintain their late series form from the New Orleans matchup. Games in Dallas will likely be in the +2 to -2 range based on how competitive the Mavs appear in these first two games. If Dallas is solid, they'll be small favorites at home. If the Mavs can't matchup, the Lakers will probably be very cheap favorites.
Pace: Dallas 93.4 (19th in NBA), Los Angeles 93.4 (19th in NBA)
Yes, they tied for 19th in pace! That's only slightly below league average. But, it's important to note that the Lakers were slower than that most of the year after a racehorse first quarter to the season. Dallas played slower than that vs. Portland, which means they won't mind a slow down series. The Mavs get in trouble if the other team is fast breaking. They've given themselves shooters who can space out the floor in a halfcourt attack. So, we're likely to see a slower series than those averages would suggest.
Efficiency Rankings (points per 100 possessions)
Dallas: 107.6 on offense, 102.3 on defense
Los Angeles: 107.9 on offense, 101.3 on defense
For the season, Dallas is at +5.2, while the Lakers are at +6.6. That's only an edge of +1.4 on a neutral floor, suggesting this could be a competitive series. The problem is...the Lakers were just kind of going through the motions for long stretches this season. They had many highly publicized losses in the first half of the season. They went to sleep for two weeks after a 17-1 stretch after the All-Star Break. At their best, the Lakers are better than the +6.6 would suggest. Dallas was a power much of the season, but they struggled badly late in the year vs. quality opposition. They were the type of team who could embarrass weaklings, but didn't thrive when tested. They sure passed their test vs. Portland though, which is a good sign for this series. Frankly, this thing could veer off in any direction. The "championship" Lakers could take care of business quickly. An unfocused version of the Lakers could create a series that goes the distance. Can Dallas win? Hey, New Orleans took two games and that was supposed to be a sweep!
Rebounds and Turnover Rankings
Dallas: 11th in rebound rate, 20th in offensive turnover rate
Los Angeles: 5th in rebound rate, 2nd in offensive turnover rate
Another reminder that the Lakers are a "defense and rebounding" team even though everyone thinks they're a bunch of softies that Kobe has to bail out all the time. Their size and length inside are big advantages, which is important in this series because Dallas does have some softness issues (that aren't as bad as they used to be but are still there). It's often overlooked that the Lakers do a good job of protecting the ball on offense. Yes, "Showtime" is great at the fundamentals! Dallas can get sloppy with the ball at bad times, which could ultimately be a difference-maker if this is a competitive series.
Series Outline: Tough call because the Lakers are so up-and-down. As we've said above, the Lakers at their best really shouldn't have a problem here. But, the Lakers know that they only have to be at their best four times to advance. And, they seem to lack motivation to be at their best every single time they take the floor. Dallas impressed the world with their domination of Portland. Except for one bad quarter in Game Four, they were in command almost every single minute. They're better than we had expected before the playoffs. Are they good enough to take the Lakers to the wire? We'll see.
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Is the future NBA champion on the court tonight? The best seeds remaining are Chicago in the East, and the LA Lakers in the West. Maybe they're destined to meet in a few weeks. Maybe some surprises are in store. One thing we can tell you for sure...when championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!
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