Super NBA Sunday

OUR FIRST GAME SEVEN OF 2011…
AND GAME ONE OF HEAT/BULLS!

Wow! Sunday was shaping up to be a huge day in the NBA already with Game One of the much anticipated Miami Heat/Chicago Bulls battle for the Eastern Conference Championship. Sure, odds favored Game One of the Western Finals with OKC and Dallas being played today too…but that was going to be an exhausted Thunder visiting the very well rested Mavericks in a game that will be more about storylines and less about star power.

Well, the odds favored that at halftime Friday Night when OKC held a 10-point lead over Memphis. The Grizzlies stomped on the odds and ate them before rallying to a 12-point victory to force a Game Seven.

That Game Seven goes this afternoon, so we'll preview that game first going in schedule order. Then, we'll crunch our key indicator numbers for the Eastern Finals. Miami at Chicago will be in prime time this evening…giving the proper showcase to this year's MVP Derrick Rose, and perennial 'best player in the league' LeBron James.

GAME SEVEN: MEMPHIS at OKLAHOMA CITY
Series tied 3-3
Vegas Line: Oklahoma City by 6.5, total of 192

Oklahoma City has been -6.5 or -7 in every game at home so far. They've covered two of the three, with wins of 9 and 27 points, but a loss by 13 points. So, the line hasn't mattered in other words! Oklahoma City is perceived by the market to be the better team. The fact that they're 2-1 at home, and took two of three road games to overtime pretty much confirms that. Throw in home court, and all the media talk about how great home teams are in seventh games, and this is a logical number. The total has dropped to 192 off of much higher numbers. That's typical for a seventh game. This may not be enough of a drop though. It's easy to forget how overtime inflated recent scoring. Regulation scores the last four games landed on 172, 192, 171, and 178. If tempo and pace drop off of THOSE results…then the right number here is well beneath what Vegas is suggesting.

GAME SIX STATS
MEMPHIS 95, OKLAHOMA CITY 83
Shooting Percentage: Oklahoma City 42%, Memphis 43%
Three-Pointers: Oklahoma City 4/25, Memphis 5/16
Free Throws: Oklahoma City 17/24, Memphis 18/22
Rebounds: Oklahoma City 41, Memphis 41
Turnovers: Oklahoma City 16, Memphis 11
Vegas Line: Memphis by 2, total of 195
Notebook: This was an odd game. OKC looked great in the first half, and seemed ready to wrap up the series and catch a plane to Dallas. Memphis finally found their legs again in the third quarter (they had been gone for six quarters and at least one overtime). Once that happened, the Grizzlies surged to dominance. Memphis would win the second half 51-29. In the process, Oklahoma City looked as tired and worn down in the third and fourth quarters as Memphis had up until then. Maybe the toll of the triple overtime game didn't hit them  until then.

JIM HURLEY'S team side play here will be determined by what we hear from our sources regarding fatigue and mindset for each team. The traditional intangibles favor the host. That won't matter if Kevin Durant has lost his elevation because of exhaustion! He was a non-entity Friday, barely trying to attack the basket in the second half. If he got his breather and his ready to go…we may well be laying the points. If our sources find out that it's Memphis who's better ready for this challenge, then the tall spread is a gift.

Which brings up our usual advice…DON'T MAKE A MOVE UNTIL YOU HEAR WHAT JIM HURLEY HAS TO SAY!

That brings us to the prime time showdown. It's been several days since we've done a series preview. Here's a quick review of the indicators we're using this season…

Pace: Simply the average number of possessions in that team's games this season. Teams who can enforce their preferred pace on a game generally do well. If two teams prefer the same place, oddsmakers have trouble getting the total in the right place.

Efficiency: Points scored and allowed per 100 possessions. This is scoring adjusted for pace. You don't want to think slow teams automatically have great defenses just because they play low scoring games. Adjusting for tempo makes the cream rise to thetop.

Rebound Rate: to keep it simple we're looking at the league rankings in rebounding, defined here as what percentage of available rebounds you grab.

Turnover Rate: league rankings in the percentage of offensive possessions that end in turnovers. We want to know who's sloppy. We want to know who will value their possessions late in close games.

MIAMI (2) at CHICAGO (1)
Vegas Line: Chicago by 2, total of 181

This line has been hopping between Chicago by 1.5 and 2. Heat backers like getting the full two points, and jump in when they see it. Bulls backers can't believe Chicago is so cheap at home given their regular season edge over Miami, and they're happy to lay the 1.5 points. If you have your own opinion here, be patient and get the best number. The total is a continuation of what we were seeing in Miami/Boston. The Celtics are seen as similar in style to Chicago in terms of pace and defensive intensity. That's a logical feeler number to toss on the board as a starting point. Note that Miami/Boston actually went over that total in three of five games in regulation, and in four of five because of overtime. Defensive struggles aren't always Unders.

Pace: Miami 93.2 (21st in NBA), Chicago 92.9 (22nd in NBA)
This is likely to be another very slow series. Both teams just played halfcourt battles in the last round. Miami says they like to run…but that's just on the automatic dunk flyovers. They don't want to wear down their three main stars…and a run-and-gun series would do that. Chicago prefers the halfcourt game too, because it's easier to get your defenders in the right spots. Playoff basketball tends to slow down of regular season tempo anyway. We expect this series to center around 88-89 possessions per game…possibly lower in later games. We don't see an advantage for either team in this area. Both play at each other's comfort zone.

Efficiency Rankings (points per 100 possessions)
Miami: 109.3 on offense, 100.7 on defense
Chicago: 105.5 on offense, 97.4 on defense

Miami had the better offense this year, because a unit led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade is going to be fantastic no matter who else is on the floor. Chicago had the better defense this year, thanks to a brilliant defensive minded coach and a roster built to discourage scoring. In terms of raw differential, Miami was +8.6, while Chicago was +8.1. If you treat the categories evenly, that's a slight edge to Miami. If you believe defense is more important than offense in the playoffs, then we're looking at a toss-up, or a slight edge to Chicago.

Rebounds and Turnover Rankings
Miami: 3rd in rebound rate, 19th in offensive turnover rate
Chicago: 1st in rebound rate, 17th in offensive turnover rate

Again, we see very similar teams. Not only do they play the same pace, they emphasize the same things. Both are great on the boards (defense and rebounding win championships). Both have some issues with offensive turnovers because attacking the basket aggressively often leads to strips or bad passes. On Chicago, it's Derrick Rose making the bad passes (or making good passes to guys with bad hands). On Miami, James and Wade will both run into trouble every so often, but the positives outweigh the negatives so everyone lives with it. No edge here.

Series Outline: Two very even teams who play the same way. That could set up thrills, or some very ugly basketball. Think how ugly the late game scenarios would have been in Miami/Boston if James hadn't been making his tightly contested three-pointers. Yes, they were heroic. But, they're far from a sure thing to continue.

We see possibilities breaking down two clear ways:

*Most (or all) games go down to the wire, and whoever can jam home a bucket or two in the last two minutes is going to win. The series will come down to figuring out how to score against a great defense, in front of refs who will probably swallow their whistles except for the most obvious fouls.

*A yet-to-be-determined Wildcard will get hot and swing a couple of games. That could be an additional shooter for Miami (remember how James Jones caught fire in the series opener with Boston), or one of a variety of players for Chicago on either side of the ball. Maybe a Bull starter gets more aggressive in such a challenge spot. Maybe somebody off the bench provides 10-15 killer minutes that prove to be a tie-breaker.

We've been talking with our sources, and combing over the boxscores from the playoffs and regular season to outline all the possibilities. Those efforts have yielded some strong strategies and opinions for this series, and today's series opener. You can purchase JIM HURLEY'S top plays here at the website every day with your credit card. Today's doubleheder, along with the prime-time baseball game of Red Sox-Yankees, are an absolute must-have!

We have great rates for the rest of the playoffs too. And, don't forget that you can create affordable combination packages with Major League Baseball and/or horse racing. Call 1-800-323-4453 right now if you'd like some guidance finding the right mix for your personal needs.

The championship picture gets clearer every day. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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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