NBA playoffs to begin Saturday

NBA playoffs to begin Saturday

NBA playoffs to begin Saturday
April 18th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Dallas Mavericks ripped through the NBA regular season with a league-best 67-15 record, but could they be ripe for an opening-round upset?

The Mavericks easily posted a franchise-record for wins and with Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Jason Terry leading the way it would seem they'd be hard to stop. That is if they weren't playing the Warriors.

Golden State secured the eighth and final playoff spot, moving to the postseason for the first time since the 1993-94 season with a blowout win at Portland on the final night of the regular season. Now, Baron Davis and Co. get to face a team they went 3-0 against this year.

The Mavericks, in fact, have lost five straight regular season games to the Warriors, but now come the playoffs. Golden State hasn't won a postseason series since 1991, while Dallas hopes to make the next step after losing to Miami in the NBA Finals a year ago.

The NBA playoffs start Saturday with four games, three of them in the Eastern Conference. The Mavericks begin their best-of-seven series Sunday night.

The Central Division-champion Pistons, who were beaten by Miami in the East finals last year, are the top seed in the conference and will take on the Magic, starting Saturday night. This is Orlando's first trip to the playoffs since 2003, when they were beaten by Detroit in the first round. The Pistons dominated the Magic this year, winning all four meetings.

LeBron James leads the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Washington Wizards in the first round, beginning Sunday afternoon. The Cavs beat Milwaukee on the final night of the regular season to edge Chicago by a game for the second seed. This marks the second straight year the Cavs and Wizards will meet in the opening round. Last year, James led his team to a victory in six games, with the Cavaliers winning three times by a point, including in the final two games. Cleveland then lost to Detroit in the East semifinals.

The Wizards, who secured the seventh seed by beating Indiana on Wednesday, enter the playoffs shorthanded due to injuries to Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Butler broke his right hand, but hopes to be ready possibly for the second round, if Washington gets that far. Arenas tore his left knee and needed surgery, and likely will be out for the entire postseason.

Toronto, the Atlantic Division champs, takes on New Jersey in the first round, starting Saturday afternoon. The Raptors are back in the postseason for the first time since the 2001-02 season when they were beaten by the Pistons in the first round. The Nets are making their sixth consecutive trip to the postseason and it will give Vince Carter a chance to play in the playoffs against his former team.

Even though the Heat are seeded fourth and won the Southeast Division, they will not have home-court advantage in the first round against the Bulls because Chicago finished with a better record. It's been a long and winding road to the regular season finish for the Heat, who had to endure injuries to Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade, but their two superstars are geared up for the postseason.

"It is great to wear the crown all year and to be rewarded at different places we go," Wade said. "It is great to be recognized as the champions wherever we went. It was also tough being the ones who are hunted for night in and night out. It was also tough not having Shaq for 40 games this year and not having me for 30. It was a tough year. But it is a different season now and we are looking forward to defending our crown."

The Bulls are trying to avoid being bounced in the first round for a third straight year. Their last playoff series win was over Utah in 1998 in the NBA Finals. One advantage, the Bulls won three of the four meetings this year against the Heat.

The Heat-Bulls series starts Saturday afternoon.

The Pacific Divison-champion Phoenix Suns, who attained a 61-21 record, are seeded second in the West and will play Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs for a second straight year. The series begins Sunday afternoon. The Suns rallied from a 3-1 series deficit last year to win in seven games, the season in which Steve Nash won his second straight MVP. The Suns are trying to overcome losing in the conference finals the last two years.

Allen Iverson gets his first taste of the playoffs as a Nugget, as Denver and Carmelo Anthony take on third-seeded San Antonio, starting Sunday evening. The Spurs posted 58 wins during the regular season, and with Tim Duncan in the middle and Tony Parker controlling the tempo, provide an interesting matchup with the Nuggets. Denver won 100-77 over the Spurs on the final night of the regular season, but reserves saw action most of the game.

The Nuggets haven't won a playoff series since 1994, while the Spurs are trying to get back to the NBA Finals for a third time in five years.

The 4-5 matchup in the West will be between Utah and Houston. Even though the Jazz won the Northwest Division, they will not have home-court advantage as the Rockets finished with a better record. Utah beat Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady's Rockets in three of the four meetings this season.

The Jazz-Rockets series starts Saturday night.

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Re: NBA playoffs to begin Saturday

NBA playoff matchups set
By Associated Press

Vince Carter is returning to Toronto, and the Golden State Warriors are headed back to the postseason.

The Warriors clinched their first playoff spot since 1994 by beating the Portland Trail Blazers 120-98 on Wednesday night. Golden State (42-40) beat out the Clippers to grab the No. 8 seed, ending the NBA's longest playoff drought.

''I'm glad it's over,'' guard Jason Richardson said. ''I don't think I will be able to sleep for about two days.'' The Warriors will open against league-best Dallas on Sunday night in a matchup of coach Don Nelson against his former team.

The Dallas fans probably won't be as rough on Nellie as the Toronto ones will on Carter.

The New Jersey Nets beat the Chicago Bulls 106-97, clinching the No. 6 seed in the East and preventing Chicago from finishing second.

New Jersey will play the first game of the postseason Saturday afternoon against the Atlantic Division champion Raptors in Toronto, where Carter is likely to hear boos every time he touches the ball. He starred for the Raptors for more than six seasons before his unhappiness forced Toronto to trade Carter to the Nets in December 2004.

''That matchup, I welcome it. I'm sure that he wants to play here. I don't mind seeing him, either,'' said Toronto's Chris Bosh, a former teammate. ''It's a turning part for this organization. Who better to play than the guy who helped build this place up?''

A Chicago victory would have set up a Bulls-Nets series in the first round. Instead, the Bulls fell to the No. 5 seed and will open the postseason Saturday against the defending champion Heat.

Miami took the first step toward its title last year by beating Chicago in six games in the first round. But the Bulls had the better overall record, so they get the extra home game this time.

''Chicago feels that they can beat us,'' Heat guard Dwyane Wade said as he watched the final minutes of the Bulls' loss at the Nets. ''Kirk Hinrich came out and said it. We'll find out.''

Cleveland capitalized on Chicago's loss to vault into the No. 2 spot after beating Milwaukee 109-96 earlier Wednesday. That means the Cavs will face No. 7 Washington, minus injured All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, in a first-round series beginning Sunday.

''They're a team that gave us trouble last time we played them,'' Cavs coach Mike Brown said. ''Eddie Jordan is an experienced coach with an experienced team. They've been to the playoffs the last three, four years, so we have to make sure we have the right mind-frame, the right mental focus, physical focus and try to get a win against that team.''

The bottom two spots out West were finalized late Wednesday. The Los Angeles Lakers beat Sacramento 117-106, earning a rematch with the Phoenix Suns in the first round. The Suns beat the Lakers in seven games last year, also in a No. 2 vs. No. 7 series.

Also, Washington's victory in Indiana sent Orlando to the No. 8 seed in the East and a first-round series Saturday against Detroit, which swept the season series.

''It's going to be a challenge for us,'' Magic guard Jameer Nelson said. ''But like I kept saying all season: We accept all challenges, and I think we can beat anybody in a seven-game series.''

The only series that had already been determined entering Wednesday were No. 3 San Antonio against No. 6 Denver, and fourth-seeded Utah against No. 5 Houston. The Rockets will have home-court advantage because of a better record in the only West series that starts Saturday.

The Spurs and Nuggets didn't learn anything from each other in their game at San Antonio on Wednesday night. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all sat out for San Antonio, while Denver rested Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby and Nene.

The Rockets and Jazz also met Wednesday night. Houston kept Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming on the bench.

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Re: NBA playoffs to begin Saturday

Here Come the Playoffs    
by: Brian Gabrielle

The 2007 NBA Playoffs may look like an open and shut case, but lawyer-by-training Big Al McMordie cautions that as good as Dallas (67-15) looks on paper, the jury's still out, especially in the Eastern Conference.

McMordie, a Professional Handicappers League member and winner of the 2007 World Series of Sports Handicapping's $100,000 grand prize, generally agrees with conventional wisdom that any of the West's "Big Three" could prevail, but views the East as a crapshoot, though he's very doubtful the Heat can repeat.

"Detroit SHOULD come out of the East since it has home court advantage, but the Eastern Conference teams are all flawed, so nothing would surprise me -- even a repeat of 1999 when the No. 8 seeded Knicks made the Finals!" McMordie said.

"Detroit is sixth in defensive efficiency (Chicago is first and San Antone second), so if one is looking for a team other than Detroit, Chicago would be a better option than Miami, which ranks just 8th in defensive efficiency.

"Chicago ranks first in defensive efficiency, which is a key statistic, but the problem for the Baby Bulls is that they are just 19th in offensive efficiency.

"So getting Ben Wallace in the middle will benefit Chicago in the Playoffs, but the Bulls still need better scoring options to get in a position to win the NBA Championship."

Looking at the standings and won-loss records, McMordie, an impressive 31-10 during March Madness this spring, concurs it's tough not to go with the Mavericks in the long run.

"Any of Phoenix, San Antonio or Dallas could win this year's title, but the Mavericks surely have the inside track," he said.

"They started 0-4 and then went on a season-long streak that we haven't seen since Michael Jordan played for Chicago.

"They're healthy and they have one of the top coaches in the game in Avery Johnson.

"Certainly, Dallas learned a lot after last season's collapse in the NBA Finals, and they will have a fairly easy road to the Finals this year (the real Finals will be the Western Conference Championship series), having only to get by Golden State and (probably) Houston.

"San Antonio could be upset by Denver and Phoenix will have a tough time getting by San Antonio, so Dallas should emerge with the Larry O'Brien trophy."

Nevertheless, McMordie, who splits his time between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, considers upsets a distinct possibility.

"It all comes down to matchups," he said

"Denver, for example, could shock the Spurs, which would be great for the Suns, who will have a tough time getting past San Antonio in Round 2.

"Houston could give Dallas some difficulty with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady.

"The Rockets are third in defensive efficiency, and have a great record with both McGrady and Yao in the lineup.

"But the NBA is notorious for being a league whose champion generally has one of the Top 3 records (unlike baseball and hockey, for example, where upsets are common), so the winner should come out of Dallas, Phoenix or San Antonio."

Pro basketball's postseason prom tips off this weekend following an 82-game regular season that concluded with a flurry of dramatics Wednesday night as the league did a whacky seedings dance that was designed to pay homage to divisional winners.

The one-time dynastic Los Angeles Lakers beat Sacramento to grab the seventh seed in the West and a date with No. 2 seed Phoenix.

Golden State, which will appear in the Playoffs for the first time in 13 years, now gets to meet the high-flying Mavs in Round 1.

Meanwhile, Cleveland snatched the East's second seed from losing Chicago, setting up Cavs-Wizards and Heat-Bulls series.

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Re: NBA playoffs to begin Saturday

NBA playoff preview (for the bettor)
By DAVE TULEY

LAS VEGAS – The final days of the NBA regular season held quite a bit of drama, with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls fighting for the coveted No. 2 seed and easier bracket draw in the Eastern Conference and the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers battling for the last berth in the Western Conference.

But when all was said and done on Wednesday night, none of that shuffling mattered when it came to updating the odds to win the NBA finals. Las Vegas Sports Consultants has the Dallas Mavericks as the 2-1 favorite, with the Phoenix Suns right behind at 3-1 and the San Antonio Spurs at 4-1. Despite any other storylines in the NBA this year, the Mavs and Suns have been the top two teams throughout with the Spurs in their rear-view mirror, and they remain there as the playoffs are set to start with four games on Saturday and another four on Sunday.

Showing the imbalance of power in the league, all three reside in the West, with the Detroit Pistons being the East's shortest-priced representative at 6-1 to win the title. The Cavs and Bulls are both 10-1 despite the Bulls falling all the way to a No. 5 seed and having to take on the defending champion Miami Heat in the first round. The Heat are 12-1, followed by the Houston Rockets at 15-1, Toronto Raptors at 25-1, Utah Jazz at 30-1, New Jersey Nets at 40-1, Denver Nuggets at 45-1, Orlando Magic at 50-1, the Warriors and Lakers both at 75-1, and the Wizards at 100-1.

Unlike other playoff previews you'll see, which show people predicting which team will win in how many games, this one is strictly from a betting perspective:

Eastern Conference

Pistons (1) vs. Magic (8): Orlando is an 8-point underdog in Saturday's opener and available at more than 10-1 to win the series, but as much as I love playing underdogs, I can't see any Magic upset here, even against the spread. The Pistons are the class of the series, and I'll just be watching this series to pick up tidbits for their next matchup vs. the Heat or Bulls.

Cavaliers (2) vs. Wizards (7): By virtue of picking up the No. 2 seed, the Cavs get to play the Wizards, who will not have Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler available, instead of the Heat. The Cavs are favored by 12 in Sunday's opener and -2500 (risk $25 for every $1 you want to profit) to win this series. I won't lay the big points with the Cavs, and the only time to look to play the Wizards would be in Games 3 or 4 at home.

Raptors (3) vs. Nets (6): These next two series hold a lot more intrigue than the first two. The Nets, who struggled with injuries all season, are getting healthy just in time, as evidenced by going 7-2 in their last nine games to finish the season at .500. They really showed something on Wednesday night with a dominating victory over a Bulls team that needed the win. I look for them to carry that momentum into the playoffs and keep up with the running Raptors. The series price of +140 (profit $1.40 for every $1 wagered) is a little short on the Nets, so I'll take them game by game, starting with +4o1/2 in Sunday's opener.

Heat (4) vs. Bulls (5): Most people are pointing to this as the best series of the first round, and with good reason. Both teams are better than their respective seeds; the Bulls were one win from a No. 2 seed, and the Heat are a No. 4 only because of the 23 games that Dwayne Wade missed. The defending champion Heat play the team that gave them the most problems in last year's playoffs, plus the Bulls have added Ben Wallace in the middle to harass Shaquille O'Neal. The Bulls have home-court advantage and are favored to win the series at -155, which is the lowest odds of any first-round matchup. With the teams so even, I'd look to take the underdog in each game, starting with the Heat +4 in Saturday's opener.

Western Conference

Mavericks (1) vs. Warriors (8):
It was a good story, Golden State making it to the postseason after a 13-year drought, but the Warriors might not have anything left in the tank. They might also suffer from a "just happy to be here" mentality and get rolled by the Mavericks, who are 10-point favorites in Sunday's opener and -1700 to win the series. And it probably doesn't help that the Warriors completed a season sweep and kind of ran up the score against Dallas on Tuesday night in a 111-82 victory in which the Mavs rested most of their starters. It's not often a No. 1 seed has more of a revenge motivation than its foe, so I'm not stepping in front of that train.

Suns (2) vs. Lakers (7): The Lakers nearly knocked the Suns out in the first round last year, so there are some storylines developing for this rematch, primarily if Kobe Bryant can win as a one-man team. I wouldn't recommend a series bet on the Lakers even at the current 10-1 odds because the Suns are better than they were last year and the Lakers are worse, but the presence of Bryant makes me think they could win more games against the spread, starting with getting +10o1/2 in Sunday's opener.

Spurs (3) vs. Nuggets (6): Just like the 3-6 matchup in the East, this 3-6 matchup looks ripe for an upset. The teaming of Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony in Denver hasn't been as explosive as expected, but this could be the coming-out party and the Nuggets might be worth a flyer at 6-1 to win the series. It would be huge if they can steal a game in San Antonio either Sunday or Wednesday. The Nuggets are +8 1/2 for Sunday's opener, though a better bet might be to take them at +300 or higher on the money line in Game 1. If they win, pocket the profits; it they lose, bet them again in Game 2.

Jazz (4) vs. Rockets (5): Despite the higher-numbered seed, Houston has home court and looks poised to end Tracy McGrady's first-round drought (0-for-5 in his career). As much as I think they'll advance, I'm not going to lay the -240 series price or the -6 in Saturday's first game. I'll probably look to back the Rockets as a small dog in the games in Utah.

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