Tuesday NBA Previews


The first day of NBA playoff action was full of surprises!

*#8 seed Memphis continued their superlative recent play with a dominating win at Oklahoma City. Just two days later the Thunder are in a must-win situation just so they have a chance to go to Memphis later this week to try and steal a game back.

*Miami was in control all day Sunday against Boston even though LeBron James and Chris Bosh didn't play very well. Role players stepped up (finally!), and showed the world that Miami may be ready to go the distance this year after all.

*Boston was more shorthanded than expected. Not only did Shaquille O'Neal stay in street clothes, but Rajon Rondo only played eight minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, and Paul Pierce got tossed in the second half because an overzealous ref wanted to show the world who's boss (maybe he can get a sitcom with Tony Danza instead of getting in the way of playoff basketball!).

Your handicapping Tuesday Night will involve trying to figure out if things are going to return to expected form (Oklahoma City bouncing back, Boston's starters staying on the floor, Miami's role players falling back to earth), or if a “new” form has taken hold. On paper, Memphis is playing as well as anyone in the league right now. With contributing role players, nobody in the East touches Miami.

MIAMI leads 2-0
Vegas Line: Boston by 5, total of 182.5

No line movement on the team side because supporters of the Heat didn't change their minds after watching a win…while bettors who like playing bounce backs are on the underdog. That tug-of-war has kept the line right at Miami by 5. The total has jumped two points because the first game coasted Over. It should be noted that there were a lot of three-pointers in that game though…and it's unlikely that the teams are going to combine to go 21 of 43 too many more times from this point forward.

Shooting Percentage: Boston 43%, Miami 47%
Three-Pointers: Boston 12/24, Miami 9/19
Free Throws: Boston 14/18, Miami 26/32
Rebounds: Boston 39, Miami 39
Turnovers: Boston 13, Miami 16
Vegas Line: Miami by 5, total of 180.5
Notebook: James Jones came off the Miami bench to score 25 points in 28 minutes, which pretty much determined the side and total outcome right there. Not much separates these teams when both are playing well. Each has a defense capable of greatly inhibiting the other. Unless…somebody comes off the bench and makes everything they put in the air! That could happen for Boston in this series too if somebody like Jeff Green gets hot. It happened Sunday in the form of Jones. If he keeps doing that…or half of that…the Heat are going to be very tough to take out. But, if that was a one-game aberration (like Tyler Hansborough making a lot of jumpers in the first game against Chicago), then we're about to see the classic steel cage match many were expecting.

Boston fans were complaining about the officials after the game. That is a big free throw differential for the Heat (+12 on makes and +14 on attempts). But, the Heat do attack the basket more aggressively than the Celtics do. Rondo is constantly driving, but then kicking the ball out to a jump shooter. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade fly at the basket and dare you to foul them. Miami will probably win free throws for the series. Boston is going to have to win jump shooting.

Traditional handicapping strategy says you're supposed to back the underdog as a Game One loser. We start with that premise, then tweak based on what the stats are telling us, and what our on-site sources are telling us. Given what's happened the last two meetings on this floor, our sources could very well be encouraging support for the home team. By the time you read this, a decision will be made on the side and/or total that you can purchase here at the website. We might as well slip in now that we could easily have a big play on an Over/Under in one of these two games this evening.

Memphis leads 1-0
Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 6.5, total of 197.5

The line was in the 6.5 to 7 range in the opener (sitting on OKC -6.5 most of the time, but surging to -7 on game day). Here we have a tug of war, but in the opposite direction! The bounce back favors the home team in the must-win situation. That would normally take the line higher. But, Memphis is playing so well right now that it's easy to make the case that these teams are dead even. And, if they're even, then there's no way either of them should be laying 7 points at home! Traditional handicappers and the public are on the home team. Analysts who look at players and coaching styles now seem to be sold on Memphis as being a true threat to take out another respected contender. The total jumped three points from the 194.5 we saw in the first game. There wasn't much defense in the opener, yielding a 215 final scoring total.

Shooting Percentage: Memphis 49%, Oklahoma City 45%
Three-Pointers: Memphis 3/8, Oklahoma City 6/14
Free Throws: Memphis 23/28, Oklahoma City 25/32
Rebounds: Memphis 45, Oklahoma City 42
Turnovers: Memphis 7, Oklahoma City 18
Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 7, total of 194
Notebook: You regulars know we invented a stat for college basketball called “Phantom Score” that we use to focus on the most important elements of the game. It's simply two-point scoring plus rebounding. On Sunday, Memphis would have won that 127-100. Normally three-point shooting either cancels out in the NBA, or is consistent enough that you don't need to make too many allowances for it. Memphis is a poor trey team that's still beating people anyway because they're so strong inside. What we saw in the opener suggests OKC is going to have to make A LOT of treys, or greatly improve their internal defense if they want to move on to the Western finals. They took the Grizzlies way too lightly needless to say.

Are the hopes of the Thunder already six feet under? It's important not to overreact. But, the talent matchup doesn't favor Oklahoma City at all inside. Bringing in Kendrick Perkins did help toughen them up. He was there Sunday and it didn't matter! They need to:

*Get MEAN inside…

*Get TOUGH on the boards…

*Get PASSIONATE about protecting the ball! Oklahoma City lost turnovers 18-7 on Sunday. If they can just turn that back to equality, then their edges in athleticism (and free throw attempts) will probably be enough to win at least their home games. You can't be soft inside AND sloppy or you have no chance in the NBA playoffs.

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It's already crunch time in the NBA playoffs for Boston and Oklahoma City. Crunch time in the world of sports is CASH TIME for JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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