NBA Playoff Previews

NBA Playoff Previews

NBA Playoff Preview - Dallas vs. Golden State
April 20th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The top-seeded Dallas Mavericks begin their quest to try and make it back to the NBA Finals, as they face the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs.

Dallas lost in six games last season to the Miami Heat in the championship round.

The Mavericks reached the 60-win mark for the third time in franchise history during the 2006-07 regular season, as they won a franchise-best 67 games.

Head coach Avery Johnson continues to get the most out of his squad, while All-Star Dirk Nowitzki played like an MVP and Josh Howard earned his first spot in an NBA All-Star Game. Nowitzki led Dallas in scoring (24.6 ppg) and rebounding (8.9 rpg), while Jason Terry dished out a team-best 5.2 assists per game.

After starting the season with four straight losses, the Mavericks won 12 straight and 27 of their next 30 games to take control of the Southwest Division and finish with best overall record in the league.

The emergence of Howard, steady play off Terry and the all-around game of Nowitzki have made the Mavericks the team to beat in the West. Devin Harris and veteran Jerry Stackhouse lead a supporting cast that has helped Dallas play like a team on a mission all season long.

The last time the Mavericks lost in the first round of the playoffs was in 2004, when they were ousted in five games, 4-1, by the Sacramento Kings.

Golden State, which had the longest playoff drought in the NBA, returns to the postseason for the first time since 1994, when it was led by Chris Mullin, Latrell Sprewell and Chris Webber. The Warriors were swept, 3-0, by the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs.

The Warriors last playoff victory was on April 25, 1992 at home against the Seattle SuperSonics. Golden State fell in four, 3-1, to the SuperSonics in the opening round of the playoffs that year.

Veteran head coach Don Nelson returned to the bench for Golden State this season. Nelson, who was general of the Warriors for six-plus seasons beginning in 1988, compiled a 277-260 record with the squad before resigning halfway through the 1994-95 season.

Nelson spent parts of eight seasons as the head coach of Dallas, and guided the Mavericks to four 50-plus win campaigns. He resigned as head coach on March 19, 2005 and served as a consultant with Dallas until being hired by the Warriors on August 30, 2006. Nelson is 70-85 all-time in the playoffs.

Nelson's unorthodox system started to work when the franchise pulled off a blockbuster trade. On January 17th, Golden State acquired swingman Stephen Jackson, forwards Al Harrington and Josh Powell and guard Sarunas Jasikevicius from the Indiana Pacers for Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Ike Diogu and Keith McLeod.

The athletic Harrington, who has played center and power forward for the Warriors, and Jackson gave Nelson the flexibility with his rotation that he lacked. Two-time All-Star guard Baron Davis led the team in scoring (20.1 ppg) and assists (8.1 apg), while high-flying Jason Richardson is healthy and Monta Ellis has been, arguably, the biggest surprise in the league this season.

The Warriors have played their best basketball in the month of April, as they registered and 8-1 record and ended the campaign on a five-game winning streak.

Dallas and Golden State are meeting in the playoffs for the first time.

During the regular season, the Warriors swept the Mavericks, 3-0. Golden State won a pair of games at ORACLE Arena and defeated Dallas, 107-104, on November 6th at American Airlines Center.

FRONTCOURT: All-Stars Howard, who averaged 18.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this season, and Nowitzki team with center Erick Dampier to give the Mavericks an excellent frontcourt. Howard is a slasher and has continued to improve his all-around game, while the 7-0 Nowitzki has to be guarded wherever he is on the court. Nowitzki can drain the outside jumper from anywhere, and can also burn his opponent by putting the ball on the floor and driving to the hoop.

Dampier, who spent the seven years with Golden State before being traded to Dallas on August 24, 2004, is not an offensive force, but he is a solid rebounder and can hold his own defensively. The veteran center knows his role.

Nelson has been using a frontcourt of Harrington, Jackson and Richardson, who missed 31 games during the season because of injuries. What this frontcourt lacks in size, it make up with athleticism.

Harrington is the strongest low-post player of the three, while Jackson is a dangerous shooter from the perimeter and Richardson excels in the open court and especially in transition.

Shaking up the lineup with a new frontcourt has been a big positive for the Warriors. However, Howard, Nowitzki, and Dampier get the edge in this matchup.

EDGE: MAVERICKS

BACKCOURT: Davis is healthy and is playing some of the best basketball of his career, while Ellis, who averaged 16.5 points and 4.1 assists in just his second season in the league, has given Nelson another dangerous outside shooter who is athletic and runs the floor very well. Even though Davis is the point guard, he looks to shoot first but also has a knack for finding the open man.

Harris and Terry give Dallas a backcourt with decent size, which has helped the Mavericks defensively. The 6-3 Harris is a pure point guard, while Terry, who averaged 16.7 points per game, provides the offense from the duo.

The Mavericks starting backcourt will have to keep the explosive Davis from single-handedly winning games, while they should be able keep Ellis from filling up the stat sheet. Terry and Harris fit perfectly into Johnson's schemes and will hold their own against Golden State's talented tandem.

EDGE: EVEN

BENCH: Both teams are well represented on the bench. The reserves won't be the difference in the series, but it will come into play sometime during the series.

Veteran Jerry Stackhouse, who can play shooting guard and small forward, adds scoring off the pine for Dallas, while DeSagana Diop shares the duties in the middle with Dampier and is on the court for his defensive ability. Like Stackhouse, Devean George, who signed as a free agent last offseason, can play multiple positions and forwards Greg Buckner and Austin Croshere are serviceable.

Mickael Pietrus, Matt Barnes, Andris Biedrins, Kelenna Azubuike and Jasikevicius give Nelson the versatility he needs with his rotation and lineups. Pietrus and Barnes can score if they are hot, while Biedrins, who averaged 9.5 points and 9.3 boards, has developed into a solid low-post player.

The Mavericks and Warriors have deep benches. Make no mistake about, both teams strengths are in their starters. Nelson is more creative, but Johnson has the players.

EDGE: MAVERICKS

PREDICTION: Forget about the regular season, this is the playoffs. Dallas is too strong in a best-of-seven series for Nelson's Warriors. Nowitzki and the Mavericks take the first step towards making it back to the NBA Finals.

MAVERICKS IN FIVE

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NBA Playoff Preview - Phoenix vs. LA Lakers
April 20th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The second-seeded Phoenix Suns and the No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers should once again put on an entertaining, high-scoring best-of-seven series, as they meet in the first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs.

There is a lot of playoff history between the Lakers and Suns, as these teams have met 10 times in the postseason. The Lakers have won seven of the 10 series, while the clubs have split four meetings in first round.

The Lakers knocked out the Suns in the opening round of the playoffs in 1970 and 1985, while Phoenix eliminated LA in 1993 and 2006. The Lakers won semifinal series over the Suns in 1980, 1982 and 2000 and conference final sets in 1984 and 1989.

Besides their first round wins over LA in 1993 and 2006, the Suns also picked up a playoff series win over the Lakers in the 1990 conference semifinals.

Last season, the Lakers blew a 3-1 lead in the first round against Phoenix. They fell in seven contests and were eliminated in the opening round for the first time since 1996, when they fell in four games, 3-1, to the Houston Rockets.

The Suns have been eliminated in the Western Conference finals two consecutive years. Phoenix lost in six games to the San Antonio Spurs in 2005, and fell in six last year to the Dallas Mavericks.

It was another exciting season for Phoenix' fans. The Suns won their third straight Pacific Division crown, and were one win shy of tying their season- best win total, which was accomplished in the 1992-93 and 2004-05 campaigns.

After opening the season by dropping five of its first six contests, Phoenix won 17 of 18 and 35 of its next 38 games. Head coach Mike D'Antoni, who made his All-Star coaching debut this year and was the 2004-05 NBA Coach of the Year, once again allowed his club to do what is does best, score. The Suns simply outscored their opponents with their free-wheeling offense.

Phoenix was led by its trio of All-Stars, as Amare Stoudemire, who proved he was once again 100 percent healthy, Shawn Marion and reigning MVP Steve Nash all had outstanding campaigns. Stoudemire led the Suns in scoring (20.4 ppg), while Marion was the team's top rebounder (9.8 rpg) and Nash dished out a league-best 11.6 assists per game.

Leandro Barbosa had his best season, as he was third on the team in scoring (18.1 ppg) and gave D'Antoni a spark off the bench if the Suns started out slow. Raja Bell contributed offensively and is also the team's top perimeter defender, while Boris Diaw was solid, but his production dropped off with the return of Stoudemire.

The last time the Suns were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs was in 2002-03, when they lost to San Antonio in six games, 4-2.

The Lakers won their last two regular season games, but did not play well down the stretch. They were 4-10 in their final 14 games, and surrendered the sixth seed to the Denver Nuggets.

Superstar Kobe Bryant and his one-man show will try again to get the Lakers out of the first round of the playoffs. Bryant makes his second trip to the postseason without All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal, who was traded to Miami in July 2004, by his side. A nine-time All-Star, Bryant is still trying to prove that he can carry a team solo in the postseason.

The 28-year-old Bryant, who won three championships with O'Neal and head coach Phil Jackson (1999, 2000, 2001), led the league in scoring (31.6 ppg) and the Lakers in assists (5.4 apg).

Lamar Odom, who averaged a team-best 9.8 rebounds per game, is the Lakers second option, while guard Smush Parker and forward Luke Walton, who collected 11.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game this season, have been solid contributors. Twenty-year-old center Andrew Bynum is improving as he gets more playing time, but is still a long way from being a force in the middle.

Jackson has won nine championship rings as a coach. He led the Lakers to three titles in his first four years in LA, and guided the Chicago Bulls to six championships.

During the regular season, Phoenix won three of its four contests with the Lakers. The teams split a pair of games at the Staples Center, while the Suns were 2-0 against the Lakers at US Airways Center.

FRONTCOURT:

Stoudemire, who was second on the team in rebounding (9.6 rpg), is back and looks like the dominant force he used to be. A two-time All-Star, Stoudemire, who averaged 26.0 points and 8.9 rebounds during the 2004-05 campaign, played just three games last season because of a serious knee injury. He underwent successful left knee microfracture surgery in October 2005 and had a tough road back to the court. The Stoudemire is a monster on the boards, and is an intimidating presence in the low post.

Marion, who averaged 17.5 points per game, and James Jones are very effective next to Stoudemire. The athletic Marion can do it all, as he can knock down the outside jumper and is effective going to the hoop. Jones makes his living from the outside and will only stay on the court if he is hitting his shots.

Kwame Brown will have his hands full with Stoudemire, while Odom and Walton are not going to be able to keep up with any of the other forwards the Suns throw at them. Odom, who was second on the team in scoring (15.9 ppg), and his fellow big men will have to raise their game to the next level if they hope to compete against the powerful Suns.

EDGE: SUNS

BACKCOURT:
Nash, who was second on the team in scoring (18.6 ppg), continues to make all of his teammates better, and is the catalyst of the Suns' offense. The Santa Clara product is the best at his job. He is a serious candidate to take home his third straight MVP.

The 6-5 Bell is a hard-nosed player who is not afraid to get his hands dirty. He is a solid outside shooter, and like the rest of his teammates has benefited from Nash's unbelievable playmaking ability and flashy passes.

Bell will be all over Bryant. The Lakers All-Star guard will have to earn all of his points. The Suns know he is going to score, but they are going to make him work very hard for every shot that he takes. Parker is athletic, but is not anywhere close to being in the same class as Nash.

EDGE: SUNS

BENCH:
Barbosa, who is one of the favorites to win Sixth Man of Year honors, could start for most teams in the league. He can play both guard spots and is effective scoring or dishing the ball to his teammates.

Veteran big man Kurt Thomas is a physical low-post player and does his best work around the basket. After Barbosa and Thomas, D'Antoni has thin pickings. Marcus Banks is the fourth guard and is capable of producing, while swingman Jalen Rose, forward Eric Piatkowski and center Pat Burke will play only if needed.

Bynum, Brian Cook, Maurice Evans and Vladimir Radmanovic makeup a respectable bench for the Lakers. Bynum will split time with Brown, while Cook, Evans and Radmanovic can put up some points. The Lakers can hang with the Suns in this matchup.

EDGE: EVEN

PREDICTION:
The Lakers did not look like a playoff team at the end of the season. Their final four wins were against the Kings and SuperSonics, as they beat both clubs twice. Phoenix is too strong and will run over Kobe and company.

SUNS IN FOUR

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NBA Playoff Preview - San Antonio vs. Denver
April 20th, 2007

(Sports Network) - Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets will be put to the test in the first round of the playoffs, as they face the third-seeded San Antonio Spurs in a best-of-seven series.

There is some playoff history between the Spurs and Nuggets. San Antonio beat the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs in 1990, 1995 and 2005 and in the conference semis in 1983, while Denver defeated the Spurs in the opening round in 1985.

The Spurs are appearing in the postseason for the 10th straight year and have won three of the last eight NBA championships. Last season, San Antonio was eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals by the Dallas Mavericks in seven games.

All-Stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were once again the Spurs top players during the 2006-07 campaign. Duncan led the club in scoring (20.0 ppg) and rebounding (10.6 rpg), while Parker was the team's top assist man at 5.5 per game.

Duncan and Parker enter the postseason with a veteran supporting cast that is built to win now. Thirty-six-year-old forward Robert Horry, who has six championship rings, usually saves his best play for the playoffs, while Manu Ginobili will give the team needed energy at critical times and Brent Barry and Michael Finley will provide steady play. Defensive stopper Bruce Bowen is always ready to do whatever it takes to make the opposition's top-scorer work hard for his points.

Gregg Popovich, who has led the Spurs to three NBA championships during his tenure in San Antonio and was named the 2003 NBA Coach of the Year, is a great leader and obviously knows that it takes to win in the postseason.

The last time the Spurs lost in the first round of the playoffs was in 2000, when they lost to the Phoenix Suns, 3-1.

Denver earned its fourth straight playoff berth. The Nuggets have been eliminated three straight years in the opening round of the postseason, and are 3-12 during that span. They fell in five games in the opening round to Minnesota in 2004, San Antonio in 2005 and the Clippers in 2006.

The last time the Nuggets advanced to the second round of the playoffs was during the 1994 postseason. Denver upset the SuperSonics in five games, 3-2, in the opening round that season, but was ousted in seven games by Utah in the Western semifinals.

The Nuggets are playing their best basketball at the right time of year. However, to say the Denver's season was boring would a be an understatement. On December 16th, another embarrassing moment for the NBA occurred during the Nuggets' 123-100 victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Denver had the game in hand and were headed towards victory late in the fourth quarter. However, Nuggets head coach George Karl still had some of his starters on the court, including Anthony, while New York had its reserves on the court to finish out the contest.

With Denver leading 119-100, New York rookie Mardy Collins committed a hard flagrant foul against J.R. Smith on a breakaway layup with about 1:15 left in the contest. Chaos then broke out, as Smith and Knicks guard Nate Robinson started to wrestle and both went onto the ground. Anthony lost his cool and blindsided Collins with a punch that seemed to knock the rookie to the ground. Knicks forward Jared Jeffries went after Anthony, who backpedaled towards his bench and away from Jeffries.

NBA Commissioner David Stern handed down significant suspensions. Anthony received a 15-game suspension, Robinson and Smith were both suspended for 10 games, Collins got six, Jeffries received four and Nene and Jerome James both were suspended for one game. The Knicks and Nuggets were both fined $500,000 for the incident.

Just days after the infamous brawl, the Nuggets made a blockbuster trade when they acquired Iverson on December 19th from the Philadelphia 76ers for a pair of 2007 first-round draft picks, point guard Andre Miller and forward Joe Smith.

The Nuggets struggled, but the team eventually jelled and they put together a season-best eight-game winning streak from April 1-13, which helped them move securely into the sixth spot in the West.

Anthony, who averaged a team-best 28.9 points per game, and Iverson are learning to play together, while center Marcus Camby, Nene, Steve Blake, who was acquired from Milwaukee during the season, and Smith are all doing their part for Karl, who has arguably done his best job as a head coach.

Karl has plenty of playoff experience. He guided Milwaukee to four playoff berths and compiled a 205-173 mark in five seasons with the Bucks. Before joining Milwaukee, Karl coached the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and Seattle, leading the SuperSonics to the 1996 NBA Finals, only to lose to the Chicago Bulls in six games.

During the regular season, the Spurs were 2-1 versus Denver. The teams split a pair of contests at the AT&T Center, while San Antonio beat the Nuggets, 92-83, on January 10th at the Pepsi Center.

STARTING FRONTCOURT: Duncan is still one of the top forwards in the game, while Francisco Elson, who finished his first season with the Spurs, has been serviceable in the middle and Bowen knows his role and takes a lot of pride in his defensive work.

Camby, who led the Nuggets in rebounding (11.7 rpg), Nene and Anthony will need to step up their games big time if the Nuggets hope to have a chance against the Spurs. Anthony will have to deal with the tenacious Bowen, while Camby's athleticism could work in Denver's favor. Nene must work hard down low and produce in the paint.

Duncan and Anthony are going to do their thing. The difference will be if Camby and Nene can outwork their opponents. This is the matchup that Denver has to find an edge.

On paper, this matchup looks good for the Nuggets. But on the court its just not the case. Duncan will rise to the occasion and put up big numbers.

EDGE: EVEN

STARTING BACKCOURT:
Popovich could switch his starting backcourt from game-to- game. Parker will always be at the point, while Barry, Finley or Ginobili are all capable backcourt mates for the All-Star Parker.

Parker has a solid all-around game and fits perfectly into Popovich's style of play. Barry is steady, Finley excels in transition and Ginobili is very dangerous when his game is on.

Iverson and Blake have become a formidable backcourt. Iverson, who led the Sixers to the 2001 NBA Finals and is a former NBA MVP, lives for this time of year. He will have something to prove and will bring his best play to this series.

Blake is dangerous from the perimeter and seems to be comfortable with his role in Denver. He needs to knock down his shots to help open up the court for Anthony and Iverson.

Any San Antonio combination will be tough defensively for the Nuggets backcourt duo to handle. As great as Iverson is, this is his first test in the Western Conference playoffs.

EDGE: SPURS

BENCH:
Experience and depth gives the Spurs the advantage. Horry and whichever two guards (Barry, Finley, Ginobili) give Popovich three solid options off the bench. The Spurs' general will have flexibility, as all are capable of playing multiple positions.

Matt Bonner is a decent reserve forward who can score, while guard Beno Udrih and center Fabricio Oberto will log minutes when needed for the Spurs.

Karl will look to Reggie Evans, Linas Kleiza, Eduardo Najera and Smith to give him valuable minutes off the pine. Smith will provide an offensive spark, while Evans, Kleiza and Najera are not afraid to get their hands dirty. If the Nuggets have to rely on their bench, they will be in big trouble.

EDGE: SPURS

PREDICTION:
The Spurs play a complete game and have all the pieces in place for another championship run. The Nuggets improved and made major strides at the end of the season, but it won't be enough help them overcome Duncan and the rest of the Spurs.

SPURS IN FIVE

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NBA Playoff Preview - Utah vs. Houston
April 20th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz have returned to the postseason, as the teams will battle in the first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs.

The Jazz captured the Northwest Division and are the fourth seed in the Western Conference, while Houston is No. 5 and finished in third place in the Southwest Division. The Rockets own home-court advantage in this best-of-seven series since they had a better regular-season record than Utah.

There is plenty of playoff history between the Jazz and Rockets. This is the sixth time in the postseason that the teams will square off.

Houston defeated Utah in the first round of the postseason in 1995 and in the 1994 West finals. The Jazz knocked out the Rockets in the opening round of 1985 and 1998 and in the 1997 conference finals.

Utah ended a three-year playoff drought by qualifying for this year's postseason. The Jazz last appeared in the playoffs in 2003, when they were eliminated in five games by the Sacramento Kings in the opening round.

The Jazz, who have not advanced past the first round since 2000, were in control of the division from day one. They opened the campaign by winning four straight and 12 of their first 13 games.

Center Mehmet Okur and power forward Carlos Boozer played like All-Stars, while point guard Deron Williams emerged as one of the best in the league at his position. Boozer led the Jazz in scoring (20.9 ppg) and rebounding (11.7 rpg), while Williams was the team's top assist man at 9.3 per contest.

Forward Andrei Kirilenko's production on offense declined for the Jazz, but he still was a force defensively. Matt Harpring provided an offensive spark off the bench, while veteran Derek Fisher added valuable experience to the club..

Head coach Jerry Sloan has guided the Jazz to the playoffs for the 16th time during his tenure with the club. Sloan, who has been general on the Utah bench since the 1988-89 campaign, is 78-80 all-time in the playoffs, 76-76 with the Jazz.

The last time Utah was victorious in a playoff series was in 2000, when its eliminated Seattle, 3-2, in the first round.

Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy completed his fourth year with club, and has his team back in the postseason after a one-year absence. Van Gundy, who has led Houston to the playoffs three times during his tenure, did a great job keeping his squad sharp without one of its top players for an extended period of time.

All-Star center Yao Ming missed 32 games earlier this season with a non- displaced fracture in a bone under his right knee. Without Yao, who led the team in scoring (25.0 ppg) and rebounding (9.4 rpg), the Rockets were a surprising 20-12.

Tracy McGrady finished his third and arguably his finest season with the Rockets. The All-Star guard, who averaged a team-best 6.4 assists per game, put the team on his back when Yao was out. He made his teammates better and hit clutch shots to help his squad stay in the thick of the playoff race.

Guards Rafer Alston and Luther Head gave Houston solid shooting from the perimeter, while forward Shane Battier, who finished his first season with the Rockets, provided excellent defense and also contributed on the offensive end.

Under Van Gundy, the Rockets are 4-8 in the postseason and have not advanced past the first round. They were knocked out in five games by the Lakers in 2004 and in seven by Dallas in 2005.

Houston has not won a playoff series since 1997. The Rockets last postseason series victory was when they defeated Seattle, 4-3, in the 1997 West semis.

During the regular season, the Jazz won three of their four meetings with Houston. Utah won a pair at home, and split two contests with the Rockets at the Toyota Center.

STARTING FRONTCOURT: Yao is healthy and is once again playing like a dominant big man for the Rockets. He can knock down a jumper consistently from 15-feet and in, which makes his game in the paint more devastating.

Battier is Van Gundy's best defender and does his best work on the defensive end of the court, while Chuck Hayes is a rebounder and is expected to earn his keep by taking care of the dirty work down low. However, while Battier is not a scorer, he can knock down the outside jumper.

Okur, Boozer and Kirilenko are one of the top all-around frontcourts in the league. The 6-11 Okur can hit the outside jumper and will try and take Yao away from the basket, while Boozer will do his best work off the boards and around the hoop. Kirilenko has not been himself this season, and the Jazz will hope that he can find his offensive game and give them an edge.

The Jazz have a better all-around frontcourt, but Yao evens things out. The Rockets center is capable of single-handedly dominating a game. If Okur can get hot from the outside, it will create matchup problems for the Rockets and Van Gundy will have to adjust with Battier, who could find himself guarding all three of Utah's frontcourt starters at different times during the series.

EDGE: EVEN

STARTING BACKCOURT:
In just his second season in the NBA, Williams has become one of the top point guards in the league. The Illinois product can score and has a knack for getting the ball to his teammates at the right time. The 6-3 Williams can do it all and is a big reason for the success that Utah enjoyed in 2006-07.

Fisher is a veteran who knows his role. He can handle the ball and is capable of knocking down the long jumper. The 6-1 Fisher, who completed his first season with Utah, won three championship rings with the Lakers and was acquired from Golden State last offseason for this time of year.

McGrady, who was second on the Rockets in scoring (24.6 ppg), has dealt with some back problems this season, but when healthy he can do it all. He is most effective in the open court, but has developed a potent outside game which makes him very difficult to defend. The 6-8 McGrady is a matchup problem for the Jazz, who will probably give Kirilenko the job of defending Houston's All- Star guard.

Alston did not shoot a high percentage from the field this season, but he is deadly from beyond the arc when he is on. If Alston is hot, Yao and McGrady become much more difficult to defend. The Rockets need their starting point guard to shoot a high percentage from the outside, as that will open up the court for their two All-Star.

McGrady is the difference. Williams and Fisher can't guard him effectively, which will cause Sloan to have to adjust and use Kirilenko to guard McGrady. Either way, McGrady gives the Rockets a huge advantage which will have a major effect on the outcome of the series.

EDGE: ROCKETS

BENCH:
Both teams have solid benches. Veterans Juwan Howard and Dikembe Mutombo will play big minutes on the front line for Houston, while Head is Van Gundy's go-to player off the pine in the backcourt.

Sloan will call on swingman Harpring, who can play small forward or shooting guard, Gordan Giricek, rookie Ronnie Brewer and big man Paul Millsap to give him valuable minutes off the bench.

Neither team is going to win the series because of its reserves. However, the Rockets seem to lose less when they go to their bench, while Utah's play drops off significantly when Sloan has to rest his starters.

EDGE: ROCKETS

PREDICTION:
McGrady and Yao lead Houston into the second round of the playoffs. While the Jazz are a very good team and have three players who had excellent seasons, the Rockets will be too much for Sloan and company to handle. McGrady will cause a lot of problems for Utah defensively, and he will finally feel the thrill of winning a playoff series.

ROCKETS IN FIVE

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NBA Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Orlando
April 20th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The Detroit Pistons are the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs for a second straight year, and hope this time the elite ranking in the conference pays huge dividends.

The Pistons won their fifth Central Division title in the past six seasons, and will take on the Orlando Magic in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The best-of-seven series will begin Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills where the Pistons compiled a 26-15 record this season.

Orlando went 15-26 as the visitor during the regular season.

Detroit, which has reached the postseason for a sixth straight year, bowed out in six games against the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat in last year's Eastern Conference Finals. The Pistons are the No. 1 seed for the third time in four years and will have home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs.

Flip Saunders' squad has registered a team-record six straight 50-win seasons and are the hands-down favorite to reach the NBA Finals out of the East. Much like Larry Brown's championship run during the 2003-04 season, Saunders has his club ready to pounce on the opposition.

Led by one of the most talented starting fives in the NBA, the Pistons improved their frontcourt with the addition of veteran forward Chris Webber, who joined the team in late January after Philadelphia bought out his contract. It was a tale of two stories for Webber, as he complained in his final days as a Sixer before turning to smiles after Detroit signed him.

Webber has certainly made the Pistons a better team with his arrival and now gets a chance for an NBA championship. Along with C-Webb, Detroit also has the killer backcourt duo of Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups. Forwards Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince also make life miserable for opposing defenses.

History is not on Orlando's side in this matchup as the Magic lost all four meetings with Detroit this season. The Magic are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season, and captured the eighth seed in the East.

Head coach Brian Hill has the Magic back in the playoffs where they were eliminated in seven games against the Pistons in 2003. Hill already took this franchise to the NBA Finals once (1995) and will try to do it again with a fairly young squad.

Led by All-Star center Dwight Howard and point guard Jameer Nelson, the Magic are entering the postseason having won four straight and six of seven games. The odds are certainly against the two players in this matchup against proven winners and playoff veterans.

But anything can happen.

Remember when eighth-seeded Denver upset top-ranked Seattle during the first round of the 1994 playoffs?

STARTING FRONTCOURT: Wallace is the leader of the Detroit frontcourt with his intimidating demeanor and natural basketball skills. The 6-11, 230- pound Wallace has the stroke of a point guard from all areas of the hardwood and can bang inside with the big men on any given night. But if opposing players get under his skin, Wallace's temper has a tendency to blow through the roof. In 75 games this season, the former North Carolina star averaged 12.4 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds a game. Wallace is one of three Pistons (Dale Davis and Lindsey Hunter) with 100-plus career playoff games under his belt. Prince is another forward who has the natural ability to knock down long-range jumpers as well as driving to the basket. The southpaw Prince came on the scene during the 2003-04 season with his tremendous defensive skills and has yet to regress. Prince averaged a playoff career-high 16.4 points last postseason. Since Webber joined the team Detroit is 30-13 overall and 30-12 with him in the starting lineup. Webber's career is winding down and now is his best chance ever to win an NBA title. Standing in the way of those dreams are Orlando's frontcourt of Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Tony Battie. Howard is a force in the middle and Detroit will have a hard time containing the big kid. Howard led the Magic in scoring (17.6 ppg) and rebounding (12.3) this season and earned a trip to Las Vegas for the All-Star Game. He will bang around with Wallace and Webber, mostly, while Turkoglu creates mismatches inside with his ability to score and pass. Turkoglu has a lot of playoff experience (44 games) and the postseason is always a new start regardless of what seed.

EDGE: PISTONS

STARTING BACKCOURT:
Detroit has arguably the best backcourt in the entire league. With guards Hamilton and Billups running the floor, it's no wonder Saunders has such an easy time racking up wins. Hamilton led the team in scoring with 19.8 ppg, while Billups is the drill sergeant on the court. Billups was second in scoring with 17.0 ppg and led the Pistons with 7.2 assists per contest. He owns a 17.8 ppg average in 80 playoff games with the Pistons. Both players, including Webber, sat out the season finale against Boston to rest. Hamilton and Billups will be no match for Orlando's backcourt tandem of Nelson and Grant Hill. Nelson is gradually turning into the premier point guard Orlando dreamed of when it dealt for him on draft day a few years ago. Nelson was fourth in scoring this season with 13.0 ppg and led the squad with 4.3 assists per game. Nelson is a natural point guard, but Billups is on another level when it comes to directing an NBA offense. Billups averaged 26 points per game in the four wins over Nelson and the Magic this season. It's also a surprise Hill is healthy enough to play around this time of year. Hill is usually rehabilitating some sort of injury, but has proved all doubters wrong and is back in the playoffs. Hill is a more polished player than Rip, but Hamilton is younger and more dangerous around the perimeter. Nelson will have to play at the fierce defensive level of his college days at Saint Joseph's in order to disrupt Detroit's plan of attack.

EDGE: PISTONS

BENCH:
It seems the Pistons have all the advantages in this matchup, and rightfully so for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Behind the glitz and glamour of the starting five, Saunders has his bench players to rely on. Veteran guards Lindsey Hunter and Flip Murray could possibly start anywhere else, but earn their paychecks off the pine. Either one can step in and lead the offense. Saunders also has center/forward Antonio McDyess, guard Carlos Delfino and forwards Amir Johnson and Jason Maxiell at his disposal. Orlando has a lighter, faster bench with guards Keyon Dooling, J.J. Redick and Carlos Arroyo and forwards Trevor Ariza and Darko Milicic. Once again the Pistons are the favorite in this category just because of the veteran leadership and experience alone.

EDGE: PISTONS

PREDICTION:
From 1995-2005 Saunders tried hard to get the Minnesota Timberwolves on a championship level and failed. Yes, he guided the T'wolves to eight straight playoff appearances but never had a chance to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy at season's end. But now Saunders has an excellent opportunity to achieve that goal with the East's top seed and a talent-laden roster desperate to get this series started. Hill will have to rely on Howard and Nelson to carry the load. That is a lot to ask for when the Detroit roster displays the likes of Webber, Hamilton, Billups and Wallace. This series has a David vs. Goliath feel to it, but the Magic can throw all the stones they want but it won't have any effect.

PISTONS IN FOUR

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NBA Playoff Preview - Cleveland vs. Washington
April 20th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The Cleveland Cavaliers needed the entire regular season to capture the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and will take on the Washington Wizards in the opening round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs.

Game 1 of the best-of-seven series is slated for Sunday from Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

This matchup should be deja-vu for almost every player in this series, as the Cavaliers eliminated Washington in six games in the first round of last year's conference playoffs. Cleveland was then ousted by Detroit in the next round.

LeBron James led the Cavs down the stretch and helped them claim the second seed in the East after battling Chicago for the spot for quite some time. After the Bulls lost to New Jersey and Cleveland ended the regular season with its fourth straight win over Milwaukee, Chicago moved to the No. 5 spot.

Now the Cavaliers get a shot at packing Washington's bags again. They won the season series by a 2-1 margin and will take on a short-handed Wizards squad. Washington will not have stars Gilbert Arenas (knee) and Caron Butler (hand) for the entire playoffs after both were lost for the season due to injury.

And that pretty much sums up the kind of luck Washington will have in this playoff series. With the Wizards without their top two guns, Cavs superstar LeBron James will have nobody to exchange baskets with.

James, who led the Cavs in scoring (27.3 ppg) and assists (6.0) this season, averaged 30.8 points in 13 playoff games last season. One of the most dominating figures in the NBA today, James averaged 27 points, six rebounds and six assists for the third consecutive year.

The Wizards are left with forward Antawn Jamison to be their Moses. Whether he can lead his team into the second round of the playoffs remains to be seen.

Washington is in the postseason for a third consecutive year and is meeting Cleveland in the playoffs for the fourth time. The only time Washington defeated the Cavaliers in the postseason was when it took two of three games in the first round of the 1977 NBA Playoffs.

The Cavs lead the all-time playoff series by a 9-7 count and have won six of the eight home games against Washington in the playoffs.

Head coach Eddie Jordan, an early pick for coach of the year, will have to devise a defensive plan to shut down James, Larry Hughes and the inside force of Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

STARTING FRONTCOURT: Cleveland's frontcourt will be no match for what the Wizards have to offer. James is a force at the small forward spot. The superstar James is what makes this team tick and head coach Mike Brown understands that. James averaged 23.6 points in three games against the Wizards this season, and averaged 35.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists in the six playoff games against the Wizards last spring. Joining James in the frontcourt will be forward Drew Gooden and center Ilgauskas. Gooden averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds during the regular season, while Ilgauskas posted 11.9 ppg and 7.7 apg. Ilgauskas is a dominating presence in the middle and his game has improved over the past few years. The veteran big man will go to battle mainly against Wizards center Etan Thomas. Along with Thomas, Washington forward Jarvis Hayes and power forward Jamison will do most of the scoring with guard/forward Butler done for the season. Jamison is the best Jordan has to offer and the lanky forward finished second in scoring (19.8 ppg) and first in rebounds (8.0 rpg). Cleveland certainly has the edge in this department solely because of James and his ability to change the outcome of a game.

EDGE: CAVALIERS

STARTING BACKCOURT:
Cavaliers point guard Hughes plays in the shadows of James, so his performances usually get swept under the rug. And Hughes probably enjoys it that way because it gives him the chance to show the NBA nation what he can do. Hughes finished second on the team in scoring with 14.9 points per game, and helped Cleveland finish with at least 50 wins for a second consecutive season. Hughes had five assists in the win and the team collected 30 assists on the night. The Cavs are 16-2 this season when they record 25 or more assists. While Hughes is finding the open man, fellow guard Sasha Pavlovic does the rest of the work. Pavlovic doesn't fill up a scoring sheet with impressive numbers, but plays his role perfectly for Mike Brown. Washington's backcourt of guards Antonio Daniels and DeShawn Stevenson is a far cry of what it would have looked like had Arenas not went down with a freaky knee injury. Arenas ended the season tops on the team in scoring (28.5 ppg) and assists (6.0). But those stats are moot since Arenas will not be joining his teammates for quite some time. That's why Daniels must improve on his 7.1 ppg and 3.6 apg. If he can get his teammates involved more instead of worrying about scoring the basketball, Washington will have a chance to win the backcourt battle. It would have been a no-brainer had Arenas been healthy. Washington shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson averaged 11.2 points per game this season. Both he and Daniels will be forced to play better defense before the opening tip-off

EDGE: EVEN

BENCH:
The Cavs' bench players could start for possibly any other team in the NBA, and definitely have the advantage on the bench. With three-point threat Donyell Marshall, savvy guard Eric Snow and center Anderson Varejao will be no match for what Jordan has on his bench. Marshall came up big in Cleveland's season finale against Milwaukee with 14 points and seven rebounds. Varejao added 12 boards and nine points in the win over the Bucks. Snow will back up Hughes, but it's apparent he is a gritty and special player for Brown. The most notable players on Washington's bench are center Brendan Haywood, forward Darius Songaila and guard Roger Mason. Haywood finished third on the Wizards in rebounding with 6.2 rpg. When the time comes for both head coaches to give their starters a breather or find a replacement because of injury, Cleveland's reserves are more capable of getting the job done and keeping their respective squads in the lead.

EDGE: CAVALIERS

PREDICTION:
Cleveland played hard towards the end of the regular season with four straight wins and a 17-7 mark over the last 24 contests. James led the team to the No. 2 seed after battling Chicago for quite some time for playoff positioning. And it's pretty clear the Cavaliers would rather square off with an injury-plagued Wizards squad than take on Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade and the defending NBA champion Miami Heat. This matchup heavily favors Cleveland simply because Arenas and Butler are nursing their injuries at home. James enjoys playing under the spotlight and now he has another chance to do so. Whether it will be good enough for an NBA title is a different story. The Cavs want another crack at the Detroit Pistons, who eliminated Cleveland in seven games in last year's Eastern Conference semifinals. The only way Brown and Co. will get a chance for redemption is if the Cavs and Detroit both reach the East finals. Cleveland has as good a shot as any of the eight seeds, but first work must be taken care of versus the Wizards. Washington will prove to the nation that it will not survive in the playoffs without either one of its star players.

CAVALIERS IN FIVE

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NBA Playoff Preview - Toronto vs. New Jersey
April 20th, 2007

(Sports Network) - After ending a four-year postseason drought, the Toronto Raptors are back in the playoffs and will take on the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs.

The Raptors captured their first division title in franchise history after winning the Atlantic, and are in the postseason for the fourth time. Head coach Sam Mitchell did a fantastic job during the regular season, guiding the squad to a 47-35 record to match the best finish in team history.

Toronto went 47-35 during the 2000-01 campaign to set the standard. It recorded just 27 wins last year.

Led by All-Star center/forward Chris Bosh, the Raptors were able to surprise many teams around the league. Bosh led the team in scoring (22.6) and rebounding (10.7), while helping Toronto clinch home-court advantage throughout the opening round.

The acquisition of guard T.J. Ford via trade in the offseason with Milwaukee panned out for the best. Ford finished second on the team in scoring with 14.0 points per game, while leading the roster in assists (7.9 apg).

The Raptors have played extremely well at home this season and registered a 30-11 record at the Air Canada Centre. The 30 home wins are a franchise record.

Meanwhile, the Nets ended the season with four straight wins and 10 over the last 13 games. They are in the playoffs for a team-best sixth consecutive season and needed a win over Chicago on Wednesday to secure the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Otherwise they would have been seventh and preparing for LeBron James and the Cavs.

New Jersey head coach Lawrence Frank completed his third full season with the club and is in the postseason again. Frank and the squad defeated Indiana in six games in the last year's opening round before bowing out in five games against the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat in the conference semifinals.

The Nets' roster is basically the same with stars Vince Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson leading the way. When the dynamic trio is clicking on all cylinders, it makes it almost impossible for the Nets to lose. They hope that theory carries into the postseason, especially for Carter, who spent six-plus years with the Raptors before being dealt to New Jersey in the 2004-05 season.

Carter has averaged 26.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists in five games versus Toronto. In 403 games as a Raptor, Carter averaged 23.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists from 1998 to 2004 before being traded to New Jersey for Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams and Eric Williams on December 17, 2004.

The 2006-07 season series between Toronto and New Jersey was split at two games apiece. The Raptors and Nets have never met in the playoffs.

STARTING FRONTCOURT: Bosh is the leader of the Toronto frontcourt and will give the opposition trouble down low. Bosh recorded 10 straight double-doubles towards the end of the season and is Toronto's all-time leader in that category with 119. Last season, Bosh posted nine straight double-doubles to set a then-franchise record. He will team up with center Rasho Nesterovic and forward Luke Jackson. It is uncertain if rookie forward Andrea Bargnani will be available for the playoff series. Bargnani missed a significant amount of time after undergoing an immediate appendectomy. The rookie of the month for January and February is sidelined indefinitely, and averaged 11.5 points and 3.9 rebounds this season. If he is healthy and ready to play in this series, the Raptors will be tough to beat. It's a shame forward Jorge Garbajosa went down with a season-ending leg injury. He averaged 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds this season. New Jersey has no pity on the wounded Raptors and will counter with forwards Jefferson and Mikki Moore and center Jason Collins. Jefferson, who finished third on the team in scoring with 16.3 ppg, underwent ankle surgery this season and missed 21 games. The team went 8-13 without him in the lineup. Jefferson is the only player who matches up talent-wise with Toronto's frontcourt. His determination to get back at full strength is apparent, but he can't do it alone. Moore finished tops in the NBA for field goal percentage for the 2006-2007 season. He shot .609 from the field, but it won't help. Bosh will eat anyone inside alive, thus giving Toronto the needed edge down low.

EDGE: RAPTORS

STARTING BACKCOURT:
Along with Bosh, guard Ford helped transform the Raptors from a laughing stock to an Eastern Conference power with his ability to spread the ball around and play defense. Ford averaged 14.0 points and a team-best 7.9 assists this season, and has the Toronto front office smiling for its work on making the deal go through before the season started. Anthony Parker, who averaged 12.3 points and 3.9 rebounds this season, is the other starting guard. Parker averaged 19.6 points over final seven games of the season and tied for fourth in the NBA with a .441 three-point shooting percentage (115-of-261). After Detroit, the Nets have the best backcourt in the East with Carter and Kidd. The two have the ability to post triple-doubles on a daily basis. Carter led the team in scoring with 25.2 ppg and Kidd finished tops in assists (9.2) and rebounds (8.2). Over the last 13 games of the regular season, Carter averaged 27.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists, while Kidd recorded 9.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.9 assists. Frank has the advantage here. So Ford and Co. better watch closely and take notes for it will be beneficial towards their career

EDGE: NETS

BENCH:
The Raptors won't strike fear into any opponent with their bench, but they do have the role players necessary to get the job done. Juan Dixon, Morris Peterson, Jose Calderon and Joey Graham are expected to be the main players behind the starting backcourt of Ford and Parker. Calderon averaged 8.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 77 games this season. The Raptors brass pulled some strings at the trade deadline this season when they acquired guard Juan Dixon from the Portland Trail Blazers. Dixon filled in nicely off the bench during the regular season, averaging 11.1 points in 26 games with the Raptors. Dixon knows what it takes to win a championship, having already captured a NCAA title while a student at Maryland. It's pretty much the same story for the pine players from New Jersey with many young faces and one veteran baller. Guard Marcus Williams, forward Bostjan Nachbar, swingman Antoine Wright, forward/center Josh Boone and seasoned forward Cliff Robinson will share minutes off the Nets' bench. Both coaches will not get much help from the bench unless a serious injury occurs to one of the starters. The top five will play most of the game unless its a blowout situation. The Raptors didn't blow too many teams out of the water this season, and neither did New Jersey. But the Nets are more experienced and have the reserves for the stretch run.

EDGE: NETS

PREDICTION:
The Nets are making their franchise-record sixth straight postseason appearance, and for Frank its his fourth consecutive trip. Even though the Raptors are the third-seeded team in the East because they captured a weak Atlantic Division title, Carter and Kidd have the firepower to extinguish any kind of heat Toronto tries to bring. New Jersey is a well- rounded squad which is ready to take the next step towards an NBA title. The Nets haven't been to the finals since back-to-back trips in 2002 and 2003. New Jersey has a solid shot at dethroning conference-champion Detroit if the two squads eventually meet up down the road. Mitchell did an excellent job with his bunch, but it almost seems as if the Raptors are just happy to be division champs and the No. 3 seed. Happiness will do nothing against a determined Nets team and Bosh is only one player. Even if rookie of the year candidate Bargnani returns at full strength, he and Bosh will not be able to match the production of Carter and Kidd in this series.

NETS IN SIX

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NBA Playoff Preview - Miami vs. Chicago
April 20th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The defending NBA Champion Miami Heat are in the postseason for a fourth straight year and will take on the Chicago Bulls in the opening round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs.

Game 1 of the best-of-seven series is set for Saturday at the United Center in Chicago. Despite being a lower seed, the Bulls have home-court advantage because of a better record during the regular season.

Both teams are also meeting for the second straight year in the first round of the playoffs, as Miami eliminated the Bulls in six games last spring. Chicago and Miami are meeting in the playoffs for the fifth time and the Bulls hold a 12-5 advantage in the 17 meetings, including a 9-1 record in Chicago.

Miami captured its third straight division title this season despite having a big dropoff in wins from the previous championship year, but it didn't matter because now it has a chance to reel in another title.

The Heat, who went 52-30 in 2005-06, posted a 44-38 record this year. They have reached the postseason 12 times in franchise history, and the four consecutive playoff appearances is the most since the Heat made six straight postseason showings from 1996-2001.

A big reason why Miami is in the playoffs again is due to the pure grit and determination of All-Star guard Dwyane Wade. Wade, who led the team in scoring (27.4 ppg) and assists (7.5 apg) this season, missed 23 games with a serious shoulder injury.

Wade opted to put off surgery so he could return to action, and the team went 16-7 in his absence. Since Wade's return the Heat took over the Southeast standings, and are on the verge of their second NBA championship. All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal has four title rings and will be in search of one for the thumb.

Head coach Pat Riley is in familiar territory, having coached 278 times in the playoffs with five NBA titles. Riley is a proven winner, while the jury is still out on Bulls head coach Scott Skiles.

Skiles completed his fourth season with the Bulls, who are in the playoffs for the third straight year and 28th time in team history. However, Skiles has generated back-to-back first round exits, including last season's opening- round loss to the Heat. Skiles' playoff record with the Bulls is just 4-8.

The six-time NBA champion Bulls are a very young and talented team led by Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich. The group battled to the end of the regular season for the No. 2 spot, but a loss to New Jersey coupled with a Cleveland victory pushed Chicago to the fifth spot. LeBron James and the Cavs are now the second seed in the East.

Chicago is riding some steam having won six of eight games during the month of April. It also posted a 3-1 advantage against the Heat during the regular season. However, Shaq did not play in two of those games while resting his surgically-repaired knee.

STARTING FRONTCOURT: Heat big man O'Neal is the most intimidating force in the NBA. O'Neal should have more wind this time around after missing 35 games earlier in the year after recovering from knee surgery, and averaged 17.3 points and 7.4 rebounds in 40 games this season. He will most definitely bump bodies with Wallace, perhaps the only player in the league with the strength to compete with Shaq. Wallace pulled down a team-high 10.7 rebounds per game this season to go along with 6.4 points. Big Ben had his hands full last year and it won't get any easier this time around. Miami forward Udonis Haslem is emerging as one of the top frontcourt players in the NBA. Had he been on another team, Haslem may not be able to post the kind of numbers he has been with Miami. The defensive-minded Haslem has been healthy all season and averaged 10.7 points and a team-best 8.3 rebounds in 2006-07. Fellow frontcourt mate Eddie Jones is another veteran of the game and he is probably glad to be a part of this team. After 29 games with the Memphis Grizzlies earlier this season, Jones was waived before being claimed by the Heat. So far the marriage has been splendid and the veteran guard/forward would agree. Deng and P.J. Brown of the Bulls are solid in the frontcourt, but the Heat have healthy future Hall of Famer O'Neal on the hunt for his fifth championship ring. Deng had a breakout year in 2006-07, finishing second on the Bulls in both scoring (18.8 ppg) and rebounds (7.1 rpg).

EDGE: HEAT

STARTING BACKCOURT:
Wade and Jason Williams will run the backcourt show for Riley this postseason. Unless Wade aggravates his shoulder, he will be the main focus for the Bulls. The tough, gritty Wade has tremendous ball handling skills as well as possessing the ability to score. Wade, the Heat's all-time postseason points leader with 1,272 total points, may be hesitant at first to drive the lane, but when his confidence level is rising opponents must be alert. Wade has scored in double figures over his last 48 playoff games. Williams, meanwhile, got some more playoff experience last year and is hungry for another championship banner. Williams is an excellent point guard who makes tremendous passes and finds his way through traffic. However, his only downfall is his ability to defend the ball. The Heat have a slight advantage in the backcourt mainly because of the experience factor. Yes, the Bulls have reached the playoffs three straight years and could have been the No. 2 seed this season. But it doesn't matter now with guards Gordon and Hinrich trying to save face for their storied franchise. Gordon led the team in scoring with 21.4 ppg and has emerged as a top guard in this league. He was the only player in the NBA this season who averaged 21-plus points per game in less than 33.0 minutes a contest. The same effort can be said for Hinrich, who finished third in scoring with a career-high 16.6 points per contest. The backcourt battle will surely be a youthful and challenging one for both squads, but never count out a champion.

EDGE: EVEN

BENCH:
The Heat have one of the best benches in the league, and are very lucky to have veterans Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton and Antoine Walker on the roster. The trio brings experience and an immeasurable amount of talent to the franchise, and all three earned their first-ever title rings with the squad last season. The rest of Riley's reserves consists of Chris Quinn, James Posey, Earl Barron and Dorell Wright. Skiles' bench is filled with young talent which is why he can only rely on his starting five to get the job done. Guard Chris Duhon is a three-point threat and rookie forward Tyrus Thomas is coming off a solid first year in the NBA. The high-flying Thomas will most likely have the jitters when he is called upon from the pine in his first-ever playoff game. Riley always had great bench players throughout his coaching career in Los Angeles and New York, and this year the Miami reserves may be his best ever.

EDGE: HEAT

PREDICTION:
In order to become a champion one must take out the champion. And the Bulls will have a hard time grasping that concept when this series tips off on Saturday in the Windy City. Home-court advantage will mean nothing to the Bulls when O'Neal and Wade step foot on the court. Chicago will probably pay close attention to Miami's two studs, and will be burned by Haslem or a bench player in Walker or Payton. Even though the Bulls won the season series with Miami, the playoffs are a whole different ballgame. Nerves and emotions run high while mistakes and poor execution are tolerated at a minimum. Chicago, which owns an all-time playoff record of 151-114, is loaded with players who are suspect to this dilemma which is why the Heat will move closer to capturing their second straight NBA championship. O'Neal missed two of the four regular-season encounters with Chicago so Wallace must do some extra push-ups before he goes banging with Miami's big man. Wade is starting to come around after his serious shoulder injury, and enjoys the spotlight. He will be considered the most valuable asset to Miami when this series concludes.

HEAT IN SIX

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NBA -Western Conference Playoff Series Preview
By: Matt Fargo

Golden St. Warriors (8) +1000 vs. Dallas Mavericks (1) -1600

It’s not often you see a team favored in a playoff series by so much after getting swept in the regular season series by the opponent. That is the case here as the Warriors were the only team that Dallas did not defeat this year. Can the Warriors continue this success? Probably not but they are going to give the Mavericks a challenge as they come in playing their best basketball of the year and playing with some serious confidence right now. Golden St. has actually won five straight in this series, six of the last seven and four in a row at Dallas.

The Warriors are in the playoffs for the first time in 12 years and for a while, it looked as though this drought was going to continue. Golden St. got hot at the perfect time as it came in down the stretch wining nine of its final 10 games and 16 of its final 21 to claim the final playoff spot on the final day of the regular season. The offense has been firing on all cylinders as the Warriors have averaged an amazing 117.4 ppg during this 10-game stretch and averaged 111.6 ppg in the three-game sweep over the Mavericks.

The Mavericks finished with the best record in the NBA and after resting some players for a few games, they came back Wednesday and blew away the Sonics to gear up for the playoffs. Not that this team needed any confidence heading into the postseason but every little bit does help. Dallas stresses defense as it allowed 92.6 ppg on the season which was 4th best in the league. The Mavericks will need to have that on display against the 2nd best scoring team in the league. The Warriors streak ends but not without a small fight.

Mavericks in Five

Los Angeles Lakers (7) +1100 vs. Phoenix Suns (2) -1800


The Lakers avoided facing Dallas in the first round by winning their last two games but as a consolation, they get to face Phoenix. Los Angeles comes into the playoffs as the coldest team in the Western Conference, barely ahead of Utah, and it was very close to falling out of the picture as the Clippers finished just two games back. The Lakers lost 21 of their final 33 games and once a top ten team, they no longer are a threat. Defeating Seattle and Sacramento in their final two games stopped the bleeding but those certainly are not quality wins.

The Suns were a surprisingly streaky team this season. They started slow with losses in five of their first six games but once Amare Stoudemire got going, the team did as well. Phoenix won 35 of its next 38 games with winning streaks of 15 and 17 games but then things went south again with losses in four of its next seven which virtually dropped the Suns out of contention for the top spot in the conference. Phoenix closed the year a very average 11-7 including losses in its final two games but it could be just saving up for the postseason run.

The rematch of last season’s exciting seven-game series will likely not live up to the billing as the Lakers simply do not have the weapons. The Lakers beat the Suns on opening night but lost their other three games in the season series and although those final three meetings were competitive, Phoenix found ways to pull away. The Suns finished 13-2 after the break at home while the Lakers were just 6-8 at home over that span. Winning on the road is huge but holding on your court is more important and the Lakers won’t be able to even do that.

Suns in Four

Denver Nuggets (6) +600 vs. San Antonio Spurs (3) -800


San Antonio took the regular season series 2-1 and didn’t sweep only because the Nuggets took the final regular season game as San Antonio rested all of its key players. Denver won the game by 23 points and even though both teams played with reserves, the Spurs are not going let Denver forget it. San Antonio finished 31-10 at home and had won nine straight prior to Wednesday but a three-game losing streak to end the season does not inspire a lot of confidence. It’s a good thing that the Spurs are experienced as it should not play a part.

Denver finished the season as one of the league’s hottest teams, winning nine of its final 10 games and it’s the perfect time to playing its best basketball. Getting the Spurs in the first round is not very favorable but any of the top four seeds are extremely difficult from the Western Conference so it is what it is. The Nuggets finished 22-19 on the road this season and any team with a winning record away from home needs to be given some consideration and a chance since winning on the road is a must come playoff time.

This is a rematch of the first round series two years ago. Don't think the Spurs won't remember what happened in Game One, getting beat 93-87 at home. It definitely fired them up as they went on to win the next four games to take the series in five. Even though the series was never in doubt, expect San Antonio to come out strong to avoid a repeat. Four starters from that team, the last to win an NBA title, still remain so the message will be loud and clear. The Nuggets have the offense to go far but San Antonio will be too tough and takes this series.

Spurs in Six

Houston Rockets (5) -240 vs. Utah Jazz (4) +200


Utah won its final two games to close out the regular season but those games were meaningless. The Jazz could not win when they needed to as they had homecourt advantage all but locked up but losses in 11 of 16 games handed that over to the Rockets who finished a game better in the standings. Utah finished 31-10 at home which was tied for the third best home record in the NBA so three wins in this series in Salt Lake City is a must. That is, if they can even make it to that sixth game.

The Rockets had a solid streak of 11 wins in 13 games to close March but three consecutive home losses followed that which led to some questions. However, five straight victories followed to secure homecourt in the first round. The Rockets were just 12-15 against teams that finished in the top ten in the league so beating the quality competition was a problem. Conversely, Utah went 20-7 against those same teams so despite finishing the year on a downer, the Jazz might be better prepared coming into this series.

This is another series where both teams played each other in the regular season finale but with key players not getting minutes, it has no bearing on this playoff series. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady didn’t even see any action. Utah won the regular season series 3-1 and it is healthy for the first time in quite a while so it is very possible there is life left. The Rockets, who are back in the postseason after a one-year absence, have not won a playoff series since 1997 and even with homecourt, they will find a way to blow it again.

Jazz in Seven

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Re: NBA Playoff Previews

NBA - Eastern Conference Playoff Series Preview
By: Matt Fargo

Orlando Magic (8) +850 vs. Detroit Pistons (1) -1300

Orlando got off to a red hot start but faded before coming back to life at the end of the season when it counted the most. The Magic started out winning 13 of its first 17 games and was looking like a team that finally had all of the pieces to make a legitimate run. That ended with losses in 10 of its next 14 and then later after a five-game winning streak, losses in 22 of 29 games. Orlando won four straight and six of seven to close out the season and avoid not even making the postseason which would have been devastating after that start.

The Pistons were no lock for the top seed in the Eastern Conference halfway through the season but then all of a sudden, they started winning and winning a lot. The acquisition of Chris Webber keyed the midseason stretch as Detroit won 17 of 21 games at one point to pull away from the competition. The Pistons went 11-7 down the stretch with six of those losses coming against playoff teams. Detroit tended to play up or down to the competition at times this year and cannot get caught looking ahead.

Orlando won only eight of 26 games against teams ranked in the top ten in the league so it wasn’t able to take care of the top completion. Asking a team to win four games after winning just eight all season is too much. Detroit swept the regular season series against the Magic and has won eight of the last nine. In order for the Magic to even sniff an upset, they need to win two games in Detroit since the Pistons will not go winless in Orlando. Seeing that Orlando went 15-26 away from home, it won’t happen.

Pistons in Five

Washington Wizards (7) +1450 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (2) -2500


This one is over before it even starts. Washington had a freefall at the end of the season but was able to avoid the 8th spot and missing the playoffs altogether. The loss of Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler showed down the stretch as the Wizards lost eight of their last 10 games and went just 10-20 in their final 30 games. The offense was at one point one of the best in the league but the options are limited now and the Wizards have averaged a putrid 87.8 ppg over their last six games and have topped 100 points only once in their last eight, which was an overtime game.

Cleveland was able to take advantage of an easy closing schedule to win its final four games and overtake the Bulls for the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference. With that, the Cavaliers avoid playing Detroit until the conference finals should both teams make it that far. Cleveland ended the season with a 30-11 record at home, which was second best in the Eastern Conference but more importantly, it learned how to win on the road. The Cavaliers went 8-4 down the stretch away from home and won’t have any problems winning on the road in this series.

This is a rematch of the memorable first round series from last season that saw the Cavaliers win it in six. The last two games went into overtime so it easily could have gone either way. This year, that is not going to be the case. The Cavaliers took two of three in the regular season including a five-point win at Washington with both Arenas and Butler out. Washington’s lone win came with Cleveland’s Larry Hughes on the sidelines. Washington has no confidence, no scoring, no defense and simply no answers.

Cavaliers in Four

New Jersey Nets (6) +140 vs. Toronto Raptors (3) -160


Toronto finished 37 games behind Detroit last season and this year, the Raptors ended up just six games behind the Pistons so stating that they narrowed the gap is an understatement. This team surprised many and the Raptors arguably have the best team in the conference right now. Many seem to forget how much Toronto struggled early in the year as it started out 6-14 and was left for dead. The Raptors finished 41-21 over their last 62 games, a game better than the Pistons 40-22 mark over that same span.

The Nets are playing very good right now, having won 10 of their last 13 games to finish the year at an even .500. Most importantly, they defeated the Bulls in their season finale to lock up the 6th seed and a date with Toronto as opposed to the 7th seed to play Cleveland. Vince Carter picked up his game over the stretch run and it became pretty apparent that he wanted the 6th seed to be able to face his former club. New Jersey has been ousted from the playoffs the last two seasons by Miami, getting swept both times.

Toronto had won six straight and nine of 10 games before dropping its final two games of the regular season. The first loss came at Detroit where Chris Bosh didn’t even play but the loss on Wednesday to Philadelphia is concerning since there is no momentum heading into the postseason. The Raptors have not seen the playoffs in five years so inexperience could play an early role. The home team won all four meetings this season by double-digits. Carter cannot do it himself and the Raptors advance.

Raptors in Six

Chicago Bulls (5) -145 vs. Miami Heat (4) +125


Chicago had a chance to lock down the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference with a win over New Jersey on Wednesday but failed to come through. Instead of playing the Wizards in the first round and having home court until the Conference Finals, the Bulls open with the defending champions. The good news is that they have the homecourt edge in this series and finishing tied with the 3rd best home record in the NBA does not hurt. Chicago closed the season with 17 wins in its final 23 games.

The defending champions weren’t expected to finish 4th in the conference but injuries and age played a part in the down season for the Heat. To even have a chance at winning a second straight title, Miami is going to have to get the job done on the road in every series unless it gets to face a team off an upset and is a lower seed. The Heat went just 17-24 on the road this season but did win six of their final 11. No one thought Dwyane Wade would be around for the postseason but here he is, bad knee and shoulder, ready to carry the team again.

Chicago won the regular season series 3-1 but Shaquille O’Neal was around for only one of those losses and played limited minutes. He played in the lone Heat win, which was a 33-point blowout in March. The Bulls won the first meeting on opening night by 42 points when Miami was more involved with getting its championship rings than playing a basketball game. This is only the second time both O’Neal and Wade will be on the floor in this series but it won’t matter. The Bulls are playing too well but will still be in for a fight.

Bulls in Seven

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Re: NBA Playoff Previews

NBA Playoffs Overview   
by: Lynda Collins

Dallas is best in the West this year and should feast on the East in the 2007 NBA Playoffs, which get underway this weekend with a pair on games in each conference on Saturday and Sunday.

The operative word is "should," as this is professional sports and there's no such thing as a lock.

A majority of folks gave the Mavs thumbs up in the Finals last season, but Miami netted the White House invite.

Professional Handicappers League member Bill Fishman says whichever team comes out of the Eastern Conference this year -- he prefers Cleveland -- stands a chance of taking the crown because (1) it only has to beat one team in one series and (2) the Western Conference champion well could get beaten up in its own conference finals, which figures to be an extended bloodbath.

Fishman is going with the flow, though, and designating Dallas as the league's heir apparent.

The Mavericks, who went a stratospheric 67-15, including four straight losses to greet the season, open their Round 1 series on Sunday versus Golden State, the West's No. 8 seed, which made the postseason for the first time in 13 years.

Dallas generally was a 10-point choice with the total at 214 1/2 on Thursday night, though the spread had widely dropped to 9 1/2 by Friday morning..

Cleveland grabbed the East's No. 2 seed behind Detroit on the last night of the regular season and opens against No. 7 Washington, also on Sunday.

The Cavaliers were 11 to 12-point favorites, with 11 1/2 the prevailing number; the over/under was 190, though 191s were available.

Like so many, Fishman thinks it's simply Dallas' year.

"You can't say enough about how important it is for Dallas to have the No. 1 seed," he said.

"This guarantees they only see the Suns or Spurs (instead of both).

"The Mavericks, in my opinion, came into the season on a mission to return to the Finals.

"Last year's loss to Miami truly left a bad taste in the Mavericks' mouths and gave them incentive for this year.

"It's easy for anyone to take chalk, but I just feel Dallas' overall roster and style can match up against any style in the West and be dominant.

"The defense the Mavs play at time goes under the radar and they don't get enough credit.

"Avery Johnson continues to do a solid job on the sidelines and he doesn't receive enough credit for his leadership."

Fishman believes the Eastern Conference is riddled with burning questions.

"Detroit has the best record, but I don't feel the Pistons will win the conference," he said.

"Miami, with a less-than-100 percent Dwyane Wade, won't get it done either.

"Shaq (O'Neal) isn't what he used to be, although he still has his moments.

"Chicago has a lot of exciting young talent and the Bulls are fun to watch, but dropping to the No. 5 seed hurt their chances.

"I think it will be Lebron's (James) year to shine and get to the Finals.

"I like the team, which continued to improve and develop some solid depth."

Fishman doesn't envision the East winning the whole enchilada, however.

"As I said earlier, I feel it's the Mavericks' year," he reiterated.

"I don't see the East winning the Finals ... but anything can happen, just like last year when a lot of calls went Miami's way when needed.

"Just look at Wade's numbers from the foul line.

"The bigger challenge this season for the West will be just surviving the Western Conference and getting to the Finals.

"I like Dallas to win in a short series."

"Sleepers" aren't as accustomed to winning the NBA as they are some other teams sports, but Fishman detects a few this year.

"You have to watch the Houston Rockets in the West," he said.

"They will have to be road warriors, though, coming from the No. 5 seed.

"The only other team that intrigues me is Denver.

"The Nuggets played well down the stretch and have been a solid road team recently.

"In the East, the bottom teams are playing badly and I just do not like anyone beyond Cleveland, Detroit and maybe Miami.

"The NBA is probably behind the NHL as far as a sleeper team getting to the Finals.

"It just really never happens.

"Nothing in the East looks good.

"The first-round series that interests me the most is Denver and San Antonio.

"It should be exvciting.

"The Spurs have been there and play solid defense, but can they stay with the quickness of Denver?

"I also will have my eyes on Dallas and Golden State because of how hot the Warriors have been down the stretch and how they have played well against Dallas."

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Re: NBA Playoff Previews

NBA Playoffs: Possible First Round Upsets
by T.O. Whenham - 04/20/2007

As much as I love basketball, I think that the first round of the NBA playoffs is a total waste of time. The difference between the top teams and those that barely scraped into the playoffs is often so large that a competitive, or even interesting, series is nothing more than an impossible dream. The only time that the first round is even remotely entertaining is when there is a very rare upset. It would be a better league if they just let the top eight teams in. The first round will last for two weeks, though, so we might as well look for those potential upsets in the slim hope that they will make the dullness bearable.

Suns vs. Lakers - Absolutely no chance. The Suns beat the Lakers in the playoffs last year without Amare Stoudemire. He's back and playing great, Leandro Barbosa has stepped up his game and Steve Nash is as least as good as he was as MVP last year. The Lakers, on the other hand, are certainly no better than they were last year, and likely a fair bit worse. Kobe is as good as there is in the league, but he is so much better than everyone he plays with that it's scary. Unless he scores 120 a night the Lakers just won't be able to compete. The bookmakers agree - the series price has the Suns as -1600 favorites.

Cavs vs. Wizards - This series had such potential to be brilliant - Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler against King LeBron and his supporting cast. But then Arenas and Butler went down with injuries and all of those hopes were lost. Butler is gone, and though Arenas has made noises about returning he won't be anywhere near his best if he does. Cleveland has only looked good rather than great this year, so maybe an easy win here will set them up for the much tougher series that will come next. According to oddsmakers, the Cavs are -2500 favorites for the series.

Pistons vs. Magic - As much as the Magic are improving, and as bright as the future of Dwight Howard is, this series could get ugly. Not only are the Pistons better at nearly every position -- and deeper and more experienced to boot -- but they are also the best team in the East on the road, too. They were 27-14 away from the Palace, and they did it in style, too - impressively, they covered 28 of those games. The Magic were two games under .500 even with a four game winning streak to end the season, and they owe their position in the playoffs to the pathetic lower half of the East. The Pistons are -1500 on the series, so it's certainly not likely that there will be an upset here, either.

Mavericks vs. Warriors - The Warriors got a raw deal. They would be a very intriguing choice if they were playing anyone besides the elite of the West. They are as hot as a team can be. After being counted out as dead in at the beginning of March, they ended the season by winning 16 of their last 21 games, and nine of their last 10. They believe in themselves, and that's just the kind of thing that can be dangerous in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they aren't going to catch the Mavs off guard. They're tough, they're deep and they have been possessed ever since they were embarrassed in the NBA Finals last year. It would be easy for a team in the position of the Mavs to get cocky and look past the first round, but I really don't think that you have to worry about that with Dirk and the boys. Some people will be tempted by the fat +1100 price on the Warriors for the series given the way that they are playing, but it's hard to make an argument that they represent a significant bargain even at that price. Maybe Golden State should petition to be moved to the East.

Spurs vs. Nuggets - If you were only barely paying attention, you might get excited about the prospects of the Nuggets after the way the season ended - the Spurs lost by 23 in San Antonio to end the season. The truth, though, is that the it was just a glorified NBA-DL game. The players who didn't play make up an impressive all-star team - Duncan, Ginobli, Parker, Melo, Iverson, Nene. Despite that, it's not hard to get excited about the Nuggets. After a rough stretch after the arrival of Iverson, they have found their groove. They have won 10 of their last 11, and their two superstars have discovered the power and the joy of cooperation. Their case is made stronger by the fact that they had winning records both in Denver and on the road - a claim that can't be made by 10 of the 16 teams in the playoffs. Sadly, at least for the cause of an upset, the Spurs are in fine form as well. They lost their last three, but they hardly tried in any of them. Before that they'd gone on a nifty 25-3 run. They're the best team at home in the second half, and they look ready to play. Given the killer instinct of Iverson this series has the best chance of any we've discussed to be an upset, but that's not saying much. The Spurs are still -800 to win.

So what's the verdict? I'm not going to hold my breath for an upset. I guess I'll just have to be content with watching the three series that aren't a foregone conclusion. Or at least the two series - I don't have high hopes for the Jazz, either.

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Re: NBA Playoff Previews

Western Conference Trends
By Sportsbook.com

While Eastern Conference bettors are following their usual M.O. of betting the FAVORITES and OVERS, Western Conference bettors seem to be deviating from their normal betting patterns so far. This most likely has to do with the large number of points the favorites are giving the underdogs. About 73% of the early bettors are backing Denver +8.5, 79% of the early cash is on LA +10.5 and 85% of the action is on the smoldering Golden State +10.

Definitely keep an eye on these percentages as they are sure to change as the money piles in. Remember, there is no better way to predict a possible line change than by monitoring Sportsbook.com’s “Betting Trends”. By determining who the “public” is backing, you can get the most ideal line for your bet. For example, if you are siding with the public you better place your bet before the line moves in the wrong direction. On the other side of the coin, if you prefer the team that the “public” is betting against; you might be able to get and extra ½ or even more by placing your bet a bit later.

Under the “Betting Trends” section, Sportsbook.com also provides plenty of statistical data and trends in order for the bettor to make the most informed pick. Below are some extremely important trends for the first round opponents of the Western Conference match-ups, more can be found at Sportsbook.com

Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets

# At home, Houston is just 15-24-2 ATS this season.
# ATS, Utah was 21-31-1 as a favorite and 16-11-1 as an underdog.
# In their last 21 games, Utah has covered only 4 games.
# In their last 11 road games, Utah is just 2-9 ATS.
# Houston has not covered in their last 5 games, nor have they covered their last 5 games at home.
# At home against Western Conference teams, Houston is only 6-18-2 ATS.
# In the Rockets’ last 8 home games; the TOTAL has gone UNDER 6 times.
# After playing 3 consecutive home games, Utah is 0-5 ATS this season and 5-19 over the past three seasons.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns

# At home, LA covered the OVER 62.5% of the time whereas Phoenix covered the OVER only 39% of the time at home this season.
# This season versus Western Conference teams, Phoenix is 29-22-1.
# Since 3/16, LA is just 5-16-1 ATS.
# As a home favorite of 9.5 to 12 points, Phoenix is just 1-9 ATS this season and 7-22 ATS over the last three seasons.
# Versus teams with a winning record, Phoenix was an impressive 23-13 ATS this season.
# In their last 17 games, LA covered the OVER 12 times.
# Combined, these teams average 213.5 PPG but give up 206.3 PPG.

Denver Nuggets vs. San Antonio Spurs

# At home, San Antonio covered the OVER only 40% of the time this season.
# The last 10 times these teams have played each other, San Antonio covered 7 times.
# The last 10 times these teams have played each other, the UNDER covered 7 times.
# Away from home Denver is 25-15-1 ATS.
# In home games where the TOTAL is between 196 and 199.5 point, San Antonio is 0-4 ATS this season; 2-9 ATS over the last three seasons; and 6-20 ATS since 1996.
# In their last 22 games, Denver is 16-6 ATS.
# In Sunday games, Denver was a perfect 7-0 ATS this season.

Golden State Warriors vs. Dallas Mavericks

# Golden State covered the spread the last 5 times these teams played.
# The last 10 times these teams squared off, the OVER covered 8 times.
# Since March 4th, Golden State is an impressive 17-5 ATS.
# In their last 13 games, Golden State covered the OVER 11 times.
# At home versus Western Conference opponents, Golden State is 17-9 ATS.
# Dallas is usually a safe “money line” bet. If you wagered the money line on Dallas in every game this season, you’d be up 35.55 units.

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Re: NBA Playoff Previews

Eastern Conference Trends
By Sportsbook.com

Eastern Conference Playoff Trends We all know by now that the “public” loves to put their money on the FAVORITES and the OVERS. Just by taking a quick glance at Sportsbook.com’s “Betting Trends” it appears as is this tendency will continue as far as the Eastern Conference games are concerned. For the inaugural games of the first round, 69% of the early money is on Toronto -4.5; 59% of bettors prefer Chicago -4.5; 84% are backing Detroit -9; and 56% think Cleveland -11.5 is the way to go. As far as TOTALS are concerned, the only UNDER the “public” is backing is the Cleveland/ Washington game in which 83% are pounding the UNDER (190).

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Remember, there is no better way to predict a possible line change than by monitoring Sportsbook.com’s “Betting Trends”. By determining who the “public” is backing, you can get the most ideal line for your bet. For example, if you are siding with the public you better place your bet before the line moves in the wrong direction. On the other side of the coin, if you prefer the team that the “public” is betting against; you might be able to get and extra ½ or even more by placing your bet a bit later.

Under the “Betting Trends” section, Sportsbook.com also provides plenty of statistical data and trends in order for the bettor to make the most informed pick. Below are some extremely important trends for the first round opponents of the Eastern Conference match-ups, more can be found at Sportsbook.com

New Jersey Nets vs. Toronto Raptors

# Toronto was the most reliable covering team this season with a 48-33-1 ATS record but covered the OVER only 41.5% of the time.
# The last 20 times these teams have played, the TOTAL has gone UNDER 16 times.
# Versus Eastern Conference teams, Toronto is 33-19 ATS including 17-9 at home.
# New Jersey has covered four games in a row while Toronto has failed to cover their last four games.
# When playing a team with a winning record during the second half of the season, New Jersey was just 5-13 ATS this season.
# After scoring 105 points or more, Toronto has covered the OVER only 28% of the time this season.

Miami Heat @ Chicago Bulls

# Miami has failed to cover their last 7 games whereas Chicago has covered 6 out of their last 8 games.
# Miami has covered the UNDER in four of their last five games whereas Chicago has covered the UNDER in five out of their last six.
# When playing on Saturdays, Miami covered 80% of their games this season.
# Away from home, Chicago is just 16-25 ATS this season.
# At home, Miami covered the UNDER about 66% of the time whereas Chicago covered the UNDER about 61% of the time.
# The last 13 times these teams have played each other, Chicago has covered 9 times.
# In Miami’s last 11 road games, the UNDER covered 9 times.

Orlando Magic @ Detroit Pistons

# Detroit has covered 5 out of their last 6 games.
# Away from home, Detroit is 28-13 ATS but just 14-26-1 ATS at home.
# At home, Orlando covered the UNDER 64% of the time while Detroit covered the UNDER in 63% of their away games.
# The last five times these teams have played in Detroit, the OVER covered each time.
# Versus Eastern Conference teams, Detroit is 8-17-1 ATS at home but 17-9 ATS away.
# Detroit covered the spread 5 out of the last 6 times they played Orlando.
# After a Division game, Orlando covered the UNDER 87% of the time this season.

Washington Wizards @ Cleveland Cavaliers

# In a home game where the TOTAL is between 190 and 194.5 points, Cleveland is 9-1 ATS this season.
# Washington has covered the UNDER in their last 6 games and in 8 of their last 9 games.
# The last 6 times these teams have played each other, the UNDER covered each time.
# When playing on 3 or more days of rest, Washington is just 18-37 ATS since 1996.
# Since 1996, Washington is 28-16 ATS versus Cleveland including 11-5 over the last 3 seasons.
# In their last 7 road games, Washington is 6-1 ATS.
# Versus Eastern Conference teams at home, Washington is just 6-18-2 ATS.

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Re: NBA Playoff Previews

SHARPS MOVE EARLY ON UNDERDOGS IN NBA SERIES PRICES
WITH NICK BOGDANOVICH

The early numbers went up Thursday morning here in Las Vegas for the opening games of each NBA playoff series. Those are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. Minutes later, the opening prices went up for the odds to win each series. And, THAT'S where the early action was!

There was very little Wise Guy movement out of the gate on the sides and totals for those series openers. A half point here or there for the most part. Most sharps like to watch the first game to get a sense of how the teams match up. Many are also known for playing the loser of the first game in the second game. A lot of systems and strategies exist for the latter stages of a playoff series. The first game is often a crapshoot.

Knowing that, the sharps hit the series prices first. They're known for liking underdogs anyway. This year, they seem to like A LOT of underdogs. AT the very worst, they may be setting themselves up for "hedge" players later in the series that will better their odds of winning, or "scalps" where they're risking nothing to win something....or where they scratch out a profit either way.

Let's run through each series in schedule order to see what the sharps were thinking as the NBA playoff numbers went up...

NEW JERSEY/TORONTO
Opened: Toronto -170
At press time: Toronto -160

Comments: The sharps like betting on playoff experience. In some matchups that cancels out, and you've got to use other factors. Here, New Jersey is a lot more experienced than Toronto in postseason play. So, the early money was on the Nets even though Toronto won New Jersey's division and has home court advantage. I even saw a line as low as -150, though Toronto was bet at that number. That may have been one of those "scalps" I was telling you about. Let's say the number opened -170 at a 10-cent line. That meant New Jersey was getting +160 on the comeback. A sharp who bet New Jersey big at +160 could then bet Toronto for the same amount when the line dropped to -150. If Toronto wins, it's a push. That wagerer is risking nothing to win something on the Nets winning the series. He can't lose, and can only win. This is how many sharps grind out a living in Vegas or offshore. They don't have to hit 60% of their games. They just have to recognize scalping opportunities like this.

MIAMI/CHICAGO
Opened: Chicago -175
At press time: Chicago -155

Comments: Pretty much the same story here. The sharps see that the underdog has more playoff experience, and they also saw an opportunity for a scalp. Miami, of course, won the NBA championship last year. And, they beat Chicago in the process. Though Chicago has home court advantage in this series, and though Dwyane Wade isn't at 100%, there are still a lot of people who like Miami to win the series amongst the guys I talk too. Miami showed last year that they have a different gear in the playoffs. Chicago is a young team, and hasn't learned how to find that gear yet. Maybe this is the series that will happen. Many sharps are already set up on their scalp and are rooting for Miami.

ORLANDO/DETROIT

Opened: Detroit -1300
At press time: Detroit -1800

Comments: When you get to the projected blowouts, the moneylines can differ to an extreme degree. And, the payoffs for underdogs aren't all that great. Orlando is +1100 at the places that are dealing Detroit at -1800 at press time. So, even though the line looks like it jumped a lot, that's part illusion. This is not the kind of series most sharps would touch unless they liked the dog. So, the move up is a bit of a surprise. This means that the handful of sharps who did get involved all liked the favorite. I don't expect anyone will bet the Pistons at this new price. Frankly, I may start thinking about Orlando for a longshot flyer. I like how this team plays. And, Detroit almost blew the Cleveland series last year as a big favorite before losing to Miami. I think the Pistons are overrated...but it might be better to pick spots at the game-by-game pointspreads to take advantage of that.

UTAH/HOUSTON
Opened: Houston -240
At press time: Houston -240

Comments: There's been some limited feeler action out there. I saw a -235 in one place, and a -245 in another. That means this numbers was right on in the minds of the sharps. Any future line moves will be driven by injury information, or the public. The way Utah's been playing lately, that's probably a good number. Should Utah show some fire early, I might take them against the spread in a few games in the series. I think there's some great potential with the totals in this matchup, but I'm keeping THAT information under my hat!

WASHINGTON/CLEVELAND
Opened: Cleveland -2500
At press time: Cleveland -2300

Comments: There's been some variety with this one too. Some places are still showing the opener, while others have moved toward the underdog. I know this line strikes a lot of people as too high. Everyone remembers how great Washington played against the Cavs last year. That had the feel of a pick-em series at the end. Is the absence of Gilbert Arenas worth THIS much? Oddsmakers put up a huge number that would discourage the public from betting against the shorthanded team. A few sharps want to take a shot on the Wizards just on principal. They think the "right" number is more like -1800 (the Detroit/Orlando number) or -2000. Hey, you're supposed to bet value wherever it exists. Most guys are leaving this one alone though. Even if Arenas isn't worth -2500 by himself, his absence will make it very difficult for the Wizards to win four games straight up. They'll be double digit underdogs in the road games!

LA LAKERS/PHOENIX
Opened: Phoenix -2500
At press time: Phoenix -1700

Comments: If the public is going to bet a series price early, it's going to be the Lakers. I've told you before that the public doesn't go much for series prices to begin with. Tourists don't get here until the weekend. They don't bet series prices anyway because they won't be in town when the series ends. So, a little part of this was locals who like betting on Kobe then rooting for him. But, A LOT of it was sharps who remember how competitive this series was last year. The Lakers put up quite a fight against the Suns if you'll recall. Taking this huge price early sets up some possible hedges or scalps later. The initial return on the Lakers was around +1500 depending on the store. It doesn't have to come down too much further to set up a freeroll for those early Lakers bettors. The city will be watching this series very closely, I can tell you that.

DENVER/SAN ANTONIO
Opened: San Antonio -1000
At press time: San Antonio -750

Comments: The dog money continued here, as the Nuggets were bet early by the sharps. Some of this goes back to when these guys always used to bet Allen Iverson in the playoffs. He did lead the 76ers to the championships one year. Give a sharp a star player at a dog price, and he'll take a shot. Denver has been playing well lately. And, San Antonio looked vulnerable in losing to Dallas last year. There's also a conspiracy theory making the rounds that the referees are going to call a bunch of fouls on San Antonio because of Joey Crawford's suspension. Nobody bet the farm on Denver. A lot of sharps took flyers on them just in case that referee theory holds up.

GOLDEN STATE/DALLAS

Opened: Dallas -2500
At press time: Dallas -1700

Comments: Fitting that we end with another one of these situations. The sharps hit the dog early, and drove the line down quite a bit. Golden State's been playing so well lately that some Wise Guys think they've got a legitimate chance to pull an upset in this series. I'm skeptical. You'll remember from the NCAA tournament that I have a lot of respect for the "power basketball" elements that work best in playoff basketball. Dallas is GREAT in those categories. They're a real championship threat after having the trophy taken away from them last year. Golden State is great at running up the score on teams who don't care. That part of their season has ended. I have to admit though, the early bettors did set up some decent hedge and scalp opportunities.

Across the board, we saw a ton of action on the underdogs. Only the Detroit line moved up right out of the gate. Almost everything else was a dog move, with a few big dog moves. Please monitor lines through the weekend so you can get a sense of what the weekend players are thinking about the matchups. What we've seen so far is probably 95% sharp. Fluctuations over the weekend will be a mix of public money, and sharps jockeying for position.

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