Bulls-Hawks Knotted At 2-2

CHICAGO STRILL STRUGGLING
TO FIND PLAYOFF CONSISTENCY

They looked great in Game Two, beating Atlanta 86-73. They looked great in Game Three, winning even more impressively 99-82. It looked like the Chicago Bulls had finally found the form that made them #1 seeds in the East with the best overall record in the NBA.

THEN GAME FOUR HAPPENED!

Atlanta dominated the fourth quarter in a 100-88 victory that evened up this second round Eastern Conference series at two games apiece. The Hawks, dealing with consistency issues of their own, gave themselves a chance to rebound in this series after handing home court advantage back to the Bulls with the Game Three loss.

Let's crunch the numbers from Sunday Night to see what they might say about best expectations for this critical swing game.

GAME FIVE: ATLANTA at CHICAGO
Series tied 2-2
Vegas Line: Chicago by 8.5, total of 181

Chicago was -9 and -8.5 in the first two games at home. The market had been losing respect for the Bulls given their shaky play vs. Indiana, and the condition of Derrick Rose's ankle. The big wins had gained that respect. Now, the market has settled where it began, unsure of what to make of these teams and this series. The total is up from 178.5 in the last game. The four meetings thus far have landed on 198, 159, 181, and 188. That's an average of 181.5...so the market is basically posting the average figuring that will do a good as job as any of getting the job done.

GAME FOUR STATS
ATLANTA 100, CHICAGO 88
Shooting Percentage: Chicago 41%, Atlanta 49%
Three-Pointers: Chicago 3/16, Atlanta 4/11
Free Throws: Chicago 21/27, Atlanta 16/20
Rebounds: Chicago 37, Atlanta 36
Turnovers: Chicago 10, Atlanta 12
Vegas Line: Chicago by 3.5, total of 178
Notebook: These teams are evenly matched when Atlanta is playing intense defense, and/or hitting their jumpers. When Atlanta shows up overconfident, or otherwise distracted (there's just no excuse for their poor defensive play in Game Three), then Chicago can pretty much name the score.

You can see above that the Hawks held Chicago to 41% from the field. They did a very good job of converging on Derrick Rose and forcing mistakes. Most of his mistakes were throwing bad shots into opponent's swats...which is why he had few turnovers but a lot of blocked shots. The biggest problem for the Bulls as a team came from three-point land. They were a woeful 3 of 16, which was reminiscent of the poor 5 of 22 they shot in Game Two. They won that won anyway because Atlanta scored just 73 points.

In short, Atlanta CAN win this series if they can just keep their heads on straight two times in the next three. They can also get run out of the gym in two straight if they lose their intensity again, or if the Bulls make some treys even against an inspired effort.

Clearly this is a series where focus and mindset are everything. The stats don't matter because they're the tail getting wagged by the dog. When Atlanta is focused, they have good stats and Derrick Rose struggles to shine. When Atlanta is uninvolved, Rose can fly past 40 points on a soft ankle (which looks to be getting better every game as he recovers. We'll be working with our on site sources very closely to get the information you need to win. Our stat guys and computer programmers will be asked to focus on Game Five of Boston-Miami and Memphis-Oklahoma City, which you'll read about tomorrow.

Before we talk about what's available tonight and this week from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK, let's wrap up the final game of the Dallas/LA Lakers demolition...

DALLAS 122, LA LAKERS 86
Shooting Percentage: Lakers 38%, Dallas 60%
Three-Pointers: Lakers 5/24, Dallas 20/32
Free Throws: Lakers 19/26, Dallas 14/19
Rebounds: Lakers 39, Dallas 40
Turnovers: Lakers 16, Dallas 19
Vegas Line: Dallas by 2, total of 187
Notebook: It was amazing to see the Phil Jackson era come to an end this way. The Kobe Bryant era may go a little longer. But, the chemistry was so bad with a few of the players that you don't know who's going to be there in the future and who isn't. Derek Fisher is old. Pau Gasol obviously had something wrong with him. Ron Artest will always have issues, and he looks to be trending in the wrong direction anyway in terms of his contributions. Andrew Bynum is an immature good guy or more trouble than he's worth...and we may not know that for a few more years. What will the Lakers look like next year? Who's the head coach going to be.

Dallas did so many things right in this series that making a full list would be difficult. In the stats, their three-point advantages were the difference maker. There was just nothing the Lakers could do about guarding all the different weapons at the arc. In the middle, the team played much better defense this year than in past incarnations. And, of course, Dirk Nowitzki was such a dynamic scoring force that the Lakers had to emphasize stopping him when he had the ball. You do that, and you can't cover the whole arc!

We're looking forward to handicapping Dallas vs. either Memphis or Oklahoma City in the next round. That's likely to be a tougher series because those teams are more athletic than the Lakers, and have better benches. It's amazing how far the Lakers have dropped from their peak. The poor job they've done bringing in youth and speed has helped many others in the West become better and more dangerous. Given their form late in the season, the Lakers may have been in trouble in any Western playoff matchup except against the team they matched up against early. Portland or Denver was playing better late in the year. We would have been looking at Memphis or OKC at value prices against the Lakers if they met in the finals. We won't know for sure how good Dallas is until the next round, and beyond if they reach the Finals.

That's a topic for down the road. Tomorrow we'll run Game Five previews of Boston-Miami and Memphis/Oklahoma City. Thursday will bring Game Six of this Atlanta/Chicago series. When the NBA schedule lightens up again, we'll devote more space to Major League Baseball. We're on a very good run of late in the bases. Series of interest for us tonight and tomorrow include:

Philadelphia at Florida
St. Louis at Chicago Cubs
Kansas City at NY Yankees
Tampa Bay at Cleveland
Boston at Toronto
Oakland at Texas

You can purchase game day releases, such as tonight's NL East Parlay Of The Month, or extended packages here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call the NETWORK office at 1-800-323-4453.

We can tell you now that we'll have a MAJOR RELEASE in at least one of these next two Chicago/Atlanta games, and in Wednesday Night's doubleheader. Based on the projected pitching matchups, a GAME OF THE MONTH release is likely before the weekend, as well as one of our top underdog plays so far this season.

It's a great time to be a sports fan. And, it's a great time to be a Las Vegas bettor. DON'T SIT ON THE SIDELINES...LINK UP WITH JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK AND GET IN THE GAME!

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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