Lakers On The Brink

LAKERS IN DIRE STRAIGHTS,
HAWKS SUDDENLY LIFELESS

Few in the sports world considered the possibility of a Dallas Mavericks SERIES SWEEP before the took the floor against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game One of their second round Western Conference series. That would have seemed in possible.

An upset on the road in Game One? Hey, New Orleans did that. TWO upsets on the road? Well, that would be a surprise...but the Lakers lost to some bad teams late in the season...and Dallas can get hot from long range. Unlikely, but not quite impossible.

But, a full 4-0 sweep with the Lakers NEVER bouncing back a single time to earn at least one victory in the series? That wasn't on the radar. Anyone putting it on the radar would have been laughed out of the building. Today, the Dallas Mavericks have a chance to make the impossible happen.

Let's see what the stats from Friday's Game Three suggest about this afternoon's meeting on ABC. Then, we'll do the same thing to preview tonight's Eastern Conference matchup between the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks.

GAME FOUR: LA LAKERS at DALLAS
Dallas leads 3-0
Vegas Line: Dallas by 2.5, total of 188

Dallas has moved up a point from a closer of -1.5 on Friday. It's odd for the market to move against a must-win team that was the series favorite coming in. But, Dallas is playing so well that they've made believers out of the world. And, the Lakers haven't yet that they can play emotional “must win” basketball for 48 straight minutes. They did it for 42 minutes on Friday, seemingly had a comfortable eight-point lead in the fourth quarter, but then disappeared down the stretch. The total hasn't moved much, as Friday's game was the second in the series to land on 190. Oddsmakers have been in the right neighborhood in general on the Over/Under postings.

GAME THREE STATS
DALLAS 98, LA LAKERS 92
Shooting Percentage: Lakers 48%, Dallas 46%
Three-Pointers: Lakers 3/13, Dallas 12/29
Free Throws: Lakers 11/14, Dallas 24/29
Rebounds: Lakers 37, Dallas 39
Turnovers: Lakers 10, Dallas 12
Vegas Line: Dallas by 1.5, total of 187.5
Notebook: The biggest difference was obviously at the three-point line. Dallas was +27 points on treys in a game they only won by six. That's been the difference in every single game so far. Dallas can seemingly get to 8-9 treys on command, which is a big deal if you can't make any yourself! The Lakers are now 10-52 over the three games on long range shots. Dallas made more than that tonight on less than 30 shots.

Normally, we're going to be against teams who rely on treys to get their wins. But, Dallas isn't a group that's been blowing hot and cold from long range. Any team who can pencil in 8-9 treys is going to be tough to beat unless the opponents can also make it that high. For the time being, Dallas has cracked the code on how to win from long range! They spread out a variety of weapons and dare you to cover them all. Younger faster teams can do that. The aging, shorthanded Lakers, with a few knee and ankle injuries in the mix, just can do that for 48 minutes. In the next round, Dallas may run into an opponent that has an antidote to this approach.

You can't count the Lakers out yet. They get Ron Artest back today. And, it's not like they were outclassed Friday. They were in the last six minutes when they ran out of gas. Artest brings some more fuel...though Coach Phil Jackson has to be concerned that his aging, slow team is playing its fourth game in seven days (really less than seven because it's a day game). If Los Angeles can keep things slow (Friday was the slowest game of the series with just 85 possessions per team), and put a dent in their three-point deficits, this series could go back to LA with a chance of getting interesting.

We'll be working closely with our sources to gauge the mindset of the Lakers. It's not like Artest is the most popular guy on the team. His return may not inspire teammates who are already down in the dumps about developments. If we here that the Lakers are already finished, we'll have no problem laying the small number with a motivated host. But, if we here Kobe and Company are going to make one last stand...well, it's good to have the Lakers AND points when that's going to happen.

GAME FOUR: CHICAGO at ATLANTA
Chicago leads 2-1
Vegas Line: Chicago by 3.5, total of 179

The line has moved up a point from Chicago -2.5 back on Friday. The market believes in the Bulls again, and saw for themselves that Derrick Rose is moving better on his bad ankle. Atlanta will have to shoot lights out to be competitive. The Hawks lost by 13 and 17 when they weren't shooting lights out. This line may go even higher by tip off because the public will have been listening to Derrick Rose hype all during the afternoon! The total is up a half point from 178.5. Friday's game landed on 181 even though Atlanta wasn't playing any defense.

GAME THREE STATS
CHICAGO 99, ATLANTA 82
Shooting Percentage: Chicago 47%, Atlanta 47%
Three-Pointers: Chicago 10/20, Atlanta 1/6
Free Throws: Chicago 15/18, Atlanta 15/25
Rebounds: Chicago 47, Atlanta 34
Turnovers: Chicago 11, Atlanta 10
Vegas Line: Chicago by 2.5, total of 178.5
Notebook: Chicago jumped to a big first half lead, which makes the boxscore stats less important. Atlanta was much worse than those shooting percentages make it look. Chicago did get a boost from a big edge on treys. But, when the game was on the line, they were scoring any which way they could. When they slacked off later Atlanta made some two-pointers but not any three-pointers. Note also the huge rebounding edge for the Bulls.

Atlanta isn't out of the series yet. They will at least come in well-rested because they put forth so little effort in the areas of defense and rebounding Friday Night! They will need to try harder to stop Derrick Rose. They did a good job in the series opener of getting people in front of home. Friday, it was as if they had been instructed to run away from him if they saw him coming. It's pretty simple. Any replays of Atlanta's non-effort Friday would suggest this series is already over. A replay of Game One means things might get interesting again.

Clearly it's all about mindset and effort in both games today. Here in Atlanta, if the Hawks don't bring any intensity, they can't stay within double digits of the Bulls. It doesn't matter what the line is. If the Hawks do show up, and do hit some jumpers, they're fully capable of evening the series at two games apiece.

Based on our initial reports, it's already clear as of this writing that we will have a HUGE play in the Sunday baskets. By the time you read this, the release will have been titled and unit-rated...possibly as a GAME OF THE YEAR caliber selection. You can purchase it right here at the website right now with your credit card.

We also have a full day of baseball available. We're paying particular attention to the Yankees/Rangers game this afternoon on TBS, and the Braves/Phillies matchup in prime time on ESPN. A pitcher we like a lot is throwing in another game too...and that's likely to show up on the ticket. What a great day to try out both sports!

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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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