NBA News and Notes May 29

NBA News and Notes May 29

Spurs at Lakers, Game 5
By Brian Edwards

The Lakers will go for the kill shot Thursday when they play host to San Antonio in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. Los Angeles (68-28 straight up, 56-37against the spread) gained complete command of the series by taking a 3-1 lead thanks to Tuesday’s 93-91 win on the road.

Phil Jackson’s team took the cash as a four-point underdog, hooking up money-line players with a plus 160 return. However, the Lakers gave their backers some anxious moments in the final minute.

Kobe Bryant, never mistaken for the King of Shot Selection, took one of the most inexplicable attempts of his career. With 17 seconds left on the shot clock and 37 seconds remaining on the game clock, L.A. had the ball and a four-point lead. Nevertheless, Bryant missed a driving layup in traffic.

Not only did he inexplicably shoot when the only play was to bring the ball out and nurse the clock, but his miss allowed the Spurs to get an easy run-out, with Tony Parker converting to cut the deficit to two at the 33-second mark.

After another Bryant miss at the shot-clock horn, San Antonio had a chance to tie or even win with the ball at midcourt and 2.1 seconds left. But it wasn’t to be.

Brent Barry, who was instrumental in keeping the Spurs in the game with 23 points off the bench, caught the inbounds pass at the top of the key and momentarily had some breathing room. Derek Fisher was running at him to challenge a shot, but Barry probably would’ve had a decent look had he gone straight up for the 3-point attempt.

Instead, he gave Fisher a ball fake that got the veteran to leave his feet. If Barry had to do it all over again, he would’ve leaned into the hard-charging Fisher to draw the foul.

With that said, I understand Barry’s thought process. With Fisher coming fast, Barry probably thought a shot fake would force him to fly by since the last thing Fisher wanted to do was foul.

Had Fisher gone out of his way (literally) to avoid contact, Barry would’ve had a beautiful look for the victory (think Robert Horry at Staples Center to lift the Lakers over the Kings in a similar Game 4 earlier this decade). But that’s not what happened.

Fisher apparently felt that Barry was going to go up off the catch and flew at the hot shooter to contest the attempt. Barry wanted to take one dribble to his right to create space, but contact with Fisher (foul?) prevented that, causing Barry to throw up an off-balanced fadeaway that wasn’t close.

Game. Set. Match. Series.

Was it a foul? Probably. Should it have been called? I’m ok with the way it happened.

Remember, the Spurs got the benefit of “fortunate” officiating (Tim Donaghy) and suspensions (Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw) last season, so let’s don’t go crying in our whisky for them.

Whatever the case, we move back to Tinseltown for the close-out game. Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened the Lakers as seven-point favorites with a total of 190. As of Wednesday night, most books had moved the numbers to eight and 193 1/2. Gamblers can earn a monster return by backing San Antonio (65-33 SU, 44-50 ATS) on the money line for a plus 325 payout (risk $100 to win $325).

Tip-off is scheduled for 9:05 p.m. Eastern on TNT.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--The ‘under’ is 56-40 overall for San Antonio, 30-18 in its road games. The ‘under’ is 50-45 overall for the Lakers, but the ‘over’ is 24-23 in their home assignments.

--The 'under' has cashed in all four games of this series and eight of the last 10 head-to-head meetings.

--L.A. owns a 25-22 spread record at home. On the flip side, San Antonio is an atrocious 18-31 ATS on the road.

--When you cherry pick for a basket (the equivalent of not getting back on defense), it’s lame to add mustard to the dunk like Bryant did in Game 4. Seriously, didn’t that play out in high school? Memo to Kobe: It’s the fourth quarter of a playoff game. Get your ass back on ‘D.’

--Loyal readers know I think as much of Bryant as I think of last week’s gym socks, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention his 28 points and 10 rebounds that sparked the Lakers to the Game 4 win.

--Something tells me that Manu Ginobili brings his A-Game to Game 5. As gamblers know, the Argentine product has been awful in this series. To his credit, he hasn’t made any excuses despite an injured ankle and the removal of an entire fingernail on his shooting hand (ouch!). And he was the catalyst in San Antonio’s blowout win in Game 3. But in Game 4, Ginobili had only seven points in 36 minutes of action.

--ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy had a great point in his pre-game thoughts prior to Game 5 of the Detroit-Boston series. In explaining the depth of Ray Allen’s improbable shooting slump in these playoffs, he stated that Allen is not just one of the best shooters in the NBA, but “he’s one of the best shooters in NBA history.” I concur.

--If I’m Flip Saunders, I’m giving Jarvis Hayes more minutes. Seriously, it’s not like the dude is some scrub, and Tayshaun Prince is struggling mightily.

--The flagrant foul call on P.J. Brown in Game 5 was HORRIBLE. Or, as Sir Charles would say, turr-ible.

vegasinsider.com

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NBA PLAYOFFS

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(3) San Antonio (9-7, 8-7-1 ATS) at (1) L.A. Lakers (11-3, 9-4-1 ATS)


Two days after holding off San Antonio in a Game 4 upset victory, the Lakers now return home looking to close out the defending champs and punch a ticket to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2004.

Los Angeles survived a furious final-minute rally Tuesday night in San Antonio, holding off the Spurs 93-91 as a four-point road underdog to take a commanding 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series. Behind 30 points from Kobe Bryant and a dominating rebounding effort (46-37), the Lakers never trailed in Game 4. However, key missed free throws and turnovers in the final minute gave the Spurs a chance with less than three seconds left, but a desperation three-pointer by Brent Barry was off the mark, ending San Antonio’s 13-game home winning streak.

The Lakers won despite shooting just 44.7 percent from the field, including missing 14 of 17 shots from three-point range. They also made 10 fewer free throws than the Spurs, committed eight more turnovers and had five fewer assists. But San Antonio’s only significant contributions came from Tim Duncan (29 points, 17 rebounds), Tony Parker (23 points, nine assists) and Barry (23 points, five rebounds), as All-Star Manu Ginobili had just seven points after scoring 30 in the Spurs’ Game 3 win.

Los Angeles leads the season series 5-3, and its road victory Tuesday ended a string of seven straight wins by the home team in this rivalry. The Spurs still have the advantage at the betting window this year, going 5-3 ATS. The Lakers tonight will be looking to eliminate San Antonio for the eighth time in the last 11 postseason head-to-head matchups and move to 4-0 in conference finals battles during this run. Also, L.A. coach Phil Jackson is trying to extend an incredible streak in which he has never lost a seven-game postseason series when winning Game 1, going 40-0 to this point.

The Lakers are unbeaten at home in the playoffs, going 7-0, and they’ve won 13 in a row at Staples Center going back to the regular season, including 3-0 SU and ATS against the Spurs. L.A. is also on pointspread streaks of 11-4-1 overall, 7-2 at home, 7-2-1 when playing on one day of rest, 10-2-1 following a SU win and 7-2-1 after a pointspread cover. However, the Lakers are still just 4-10-1 ATS in their last 15 games against teams from the Southwest Division and 2-5 ATS in their last seven conference finals contests.

The Spurs, who lost Games 1 and 2 at Staples, are 0-4 SU (2-2 ATS) in L.A. this year, and they’re 2-6 on the highway in the postseason (3-5 ATS). Also, dating to the regular season, Gregg Popovich’s club is in the midst of a 3-9 ATS slide on the highway. On the bright side, San Antonio is 14-5 ATS in its last 19 conference finals games and 5-1 ATS in its last six after a non-cover.

All four games in this series have stayed under the posted total, with Tuesday’s 93-91 final falling short of the 192-point total. The under is now 6-1 in the last seven meetings and 8-2 in the last 10, including 4-1 in the last five clashes in Los Angeles.

Furthermore, the Spurs sport “under” streaks of 7-0 overall, 4-0 on the road, 6-0 against the Pacific Division, 6-0 when playing on one day of rest, 11-5 on Thursdays and 36-15 after a SU defeat. For the Lakers, the under is on runs of 7-0 on Thursdays, 7-1 after a spread-cover and 8-2 after a SU win.

ATS ADVANTAGE: L.A. LAKERS and UNDER

GAMETIMEPICKS.COM

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Thursday's best NBA bet
COVERS.com

San Antonio vs. Lakers -8, 193½

The Lakers have a simple plan when it comes to winning in these playoffs and it’s all about the fundamentals.

Box out. Play tough defense.

And pass it to Kobe. 

The reigning league MVP was sensational again in Game 4 when Bryant poured in 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 93-91 Lakers win. Los Angeles now leads the series 3-1 as it heads back to the Staples Center, where the Lakers are 50-10 at home since moving there in the 1999-2000 season.

Stopping Bryant, or at least slowing him a little, will be a huge key for the Spurs in Game 5. Twenty-two points is the lowest total he’s had through four games and that came when the Lakers didn’t really need him to light it up in a 30-point victory in Game 2.

Other than Bryant, the other major story in this series is defense. All four games have fallen under the posted total and there has been a measly average of 179.2 points per game.

The Spurs always play defensive ball, but it’s the other end of the floor where they’re having trouble. They’ve seen the under in their last eight games and they’ve managed to score at least 90 points only three times during that span.

San Antonio’s top starters Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have been doing the job, but it’s the other players who need to start chipping in. Starters Fabricio Oberto and Michael Finley were held pointless last game.

That will need to change in a hurry if the Spurs want to avoid elimination. San Antonio couldn’t score more than 85 points in its three most recent trips to the Staples Center and it's likely going to take more than that to beat Los Angeles on its home court.

Despite the low-scoring trends, oddsmakers still have this total posted at a relatively high 193½.

Pick: under

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NBA Today

San Antonio at L.A. Lakers (9 p.m. EDT). The Lakers look to close out the Spurs and advance to the NBA finals for the first time since 2004.

STARS

-Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, Celtics. Allen scored 29 points and Garnett finished with 33 points to lead Boston to a 106-102 victory over Detroit to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

ONE WIN AWAY

Boston beat the Detroit Pistons 106-102 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. Game 6 is Friday in Detroit, and with a victory there or on Sunday back in Boston, the Celtics would advance to the NBA finals for the first time since Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish took them there in 1987.

LORD BYRON

NBA coach of the year Byron Scott and the New Orleans Hornets agreed in principle to a two-year contract extension on Wednesday. Citing team policies, the Hornets did not release the terms of the new contract. Two people familiar with the contract confirmed the length of the deal on condition of anonymity and also told The Associated Press that it pays Scott a base of a little more than $5 million per year with incentives that could push it higher than $6 million per year.

HIRED

The Atlanta Hawks, looking for new experienced front-office leadership after ending their playoff drought this season, hired Rick Sund as general manager on Wednesday. Sund has worked in NBA front offices for more than 30 years, including stints with Milwaukee, Dallas, Detroit and most recently the Seattle SuperSonics.

SPEAKING


``My feeling right now is no different than if I scored 10 points and we won the game. It's a great feeling. Just winning gives me the greatest joy, regardless of what I've done.'' - Ray Allen after helping Boston to a 106-102 win over Detroit in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night. The Celtics lead the Pistons 3-2

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Behind the lines

Gamblers throwing support behind Spurs


San Antonio, which has struggled on the road in the postseason, is getting a majority of the action.

It's probably not much of a surprise for gamblers to see the Lakers listed as eight-point home favorites over San Antonio for tonight's Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

After all, things do not look good for the Spurs, who trail, 3-1, in the best-of-seven series.

San Antonio, which suffered a 30-point defeat to the Lakers in its last appearance at Staples Center in Game 2, has lost six of eight road postseason games and needs to win three in a row over the Lakers in order to advance to the NBA Finals again.

The Spurs also have to deal with the streaking Lakers, who have not lost a home game throughout the playoffs and are coming off a two-point victory at San Antonio in Game 4.

Yet, early betting action had the Spurs getting more support than the Lakers for tonight's game.

As of Wednesday, San Antonio had received 63.38% of the picks against the point spread according to Wagerline.com, and the Spurs were the choice for 58% at theSpread.com.

But gamblers should note that San Antonio is 2-5 against the spread in its last seven games as an underdog, and 3-9 against the spread in its last 12 road games overall.

The Spurs do have one trend working in their favor and that's their 14-5 record against the spread over their last 19 games in the Conference finals. The over/under for tonight's game is 193.5.

latimes.com

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NBA playoff notebook: Conference finals
By Larry Ness

This year's two Conference finals are only a missed Brent Barry three-pointer away from having both series tied a two-all. However, Barry's shot missed on Tuesday night and the Lakers take a 3-1 lead into their Game 5 meeting with the Spurs in L.A. As for the East, the Celtics and Pistons have alternated wins in their series. Game 5 of that series is set for Wednesday in Boston, where the Celtics are 9-1 SU this postseason but have failed to cover in four of their last six games. As for the Pistons, they had averaged only 87.2 PPG in their first six playoff road games, before 'exploding' for 103 points in their Game 2 win at Boston. Stay tuned.

After watching home teams dominate the play in the second round (22-3 SU and 16-8-1 ATS), things have evened out here in the conference finals. Home teams are 5-3 straight up (SU) and just 4-4 (against the spread) ATS through the first eight games. Defense has also been 'king,' as seven of the eight games have gone 'under.' Under players are doing quite well in the playoffs to-date, going 44-31-2 (plus-9.9 net games).

Those following the Zig-Zag theory (playing 'on' the SU loser of the previous game) have made a comeback in the conference finals, going 5-1 through May 27, after getting 'killed' in the second round with a 7-13-1 mark. Overall, Zig-Zaggers are just 33-28-2 in the postseason through May 27, up just 2.2 net games.

There have been two 'constants' in the first three rounds of this year's playoffs and it will be interesting to see if they continue when The Finals come around. Game 1 winners of the 14 series played so far have gone 12-2 SU and even more surprisingly, 11-3 ATS in their respective Game 2s. That meant that 12 series saw one team take a 2-0 lead. In those 12 Game 3s, the team down 0-2 went 10-2 SU and 9-2-1 ATS. The Pistons have been involved in both series in which the teams split the first two games.

The Pistons lost Game 1 at home to the 76ers in the first round but won Game 2 and then against the Celtics, lost Game 1 in Boston but bounced back to take Game 2. Detroit and Boston will play an all-important Game 5 on Wednesday and Game 5 winners of a seven-game series tied at two-all, have gone on to win that series 120 of the 144 previous times (83.3 percent).

The Detroit-Boston series has an interesting coaching angle to it. Flip Saunders (Detroit) has been best-known for his playoff failures in the past and Doc Rivers (Boston) entered this year's postseason without a playoff series win. Saunders took over in Minnesota during the 1995-96 season and the following year, began a run of eight straight playoff appearances. However, the T-wolves got eliminated in the first round the first seven years, before finishing with the West's best record in the 2003-04 season.

That year, the T-wolves lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals (4-2), despite owning the homecourt edge. Saunders was fired 51 games (25-26) into the next season. He landed in Detroit three years ago and has taken the Pistons to three straight Eastern Conference Finals but has lost each of the first two. The worst of which was last year, when Detroit took a 2-0 lead over Cleveland, only to lose four straight to LeBron and the Cavs. What happens if he loses again here?

As for Rivers, he took over in Orlando the 1999-2000 season and went 41-41. He took the team to the playoffs in each of the next three years but never made it past the first round. His worst failure came against this Detroit team in 2003, when the Magic took a 3-1 lead over the Pistons but then lost the final three games of that series by margins of 31, 15 and 15 points. Doc was fired 11 games (1-10) into the next season. Rivers landed in Boston in 2004-05.

He led the Celtics to a 45-37 mark that year but then lost in the first round of the playoffs again, this time to the Pacers. The series went seven games. Boston lost Game 5 at home (90-85), rallied to win Game 6 in Indiana (92-89 in OT) but then lost Game 7 in Boston, by the embarrassing score of 97-70. The Celtics then fell to 24-58 in the 2006-7 season. However, you all know what happened this year, as Boston managed the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history, going 66-16, with a very impressive scoring differential of plus-10.3 PPG. What happens to Doc if Boston can't at least make it to the last dance?

Over in the West, the storyline is about Kobe and Phil. Can Kobe win an NBA title without Shaq? Shaq was able to snare a fourth title (Lakers won three straight NBA titles with Shaq and Kobe leading the way from 2000-02) with the Heat in 2005, thanks to Dwayne Wade and the 'choking' Mavs. Kobe won his first-ever regular season MVP award this season and could likely be the MVP of The Finals if the Lakers were able to go all the way, which would be a sweet 'daily-double.'

As for Jackson, he enters L.A.'s Game 5 with San Antonio with a career postseason record of 190-80. That puts him 19 games ahead of Pat Riley, who ranks second in wins with 171. His winning percentage of .704 is also far ahead of his nearest challenger (minimum 40 games), who just happens to be San Antonio's Gregg Popovich (101-58, .635). Of course, the number Phil is chasing is 10. He's been tied with Red Auerbach for most titles (nine) since he last won with the Lakers in 2002.

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Lakers set as big faves to move on to finals
By ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The youthful Los Angeles Lakers maintain they're not close to being a finished product.

And yet, they're one win away from earning their first NBA finals berth in four years, with as many as three shots at it if necessary.

In the process, they just might put an end to the San Antonio Spurs' era of dominance.

The Lakers lead the Spurs 3-1 in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals, and can put them away Thursday night at Staples Center, where they own a 7-0 record in the postseason and haven't lost since March 28.

Oddsmakers have noticed the winning trend and have the Lakers set as 8-point favorites, the highest spread of the series. The total is set at 193.

And to think, just last May, after the Lakers failed to win a playoff series for the third straight year, Kobe Bryant was demanding a trade.

''We're just learning as we go,'' Bryant said Wednesday at the team's practice facility in suburban El Segundo. ''We've seen some dark days around here.''

Starting guard Derek Fisher and seldom-used reserve Ira Newble are the only players on the roster over 30, and Bryant and Fisher are the only ones with championship rings, earning them with the Lakers from 2000-02.

''We're a tough bunch,'' Bryant said. ''I think we've grown into a tough team mentally. I think we've grown up. Quick learners - we're all just intelligent idiots.''

Should the Spurs win Game 5, the teams would meet Saturday night in San Antonio. A seventh game, if needed, would be played Monday night at Staples Center.

''Down 3-1, we know it's really hard to come back,'' San Antonio's Manu Ginobili said. ''But we're going to try. Of course, we still believe in ourselves. We're going to have a shot. As always the next game is THE game.''

The Spurs, who have won three championships in the last five years and four in the last nine, have all the experience a team could ask for, with Tim Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker leading the way.

''They're the defending champions, and we're going to have to play another good 48-minute basketball game in order to beat them,'' Fisher said.

''We've been through tough games already in this series, and this game is going to be the toughest,'' Lakers center Pau Gasol said.

The Lakers put the Spurs in a must-win situation Tuesday night by winning 93-91 for San Antonio's first homecourt loss in the postseason after seven wins.

San Antonio appeared a step slow at times, with the Lakers' 26-4 advantage in second-chance points a key to the game.

''We did a pretty decent job of stopping them, and every time we did get a stop, they got another chance at it,'' Duncan said. ''Even if it wasn't a score right away, they got an opportunity to pull it back out and run it again. And that takes a lot out of you.''

Parker is the only member of the San Antonio rotation who's under 30, so perhaps fatigue was a factor. But coach Gregg Popovich bristled last week when the Spurs' age was brought up after they blew a 20-point lead in Game 1, saying: ''When we win, we're the experienced team. When we lose, we're older than dirt. That's just silly.''

Popovich said before Wednesday afternoon's flight to Los Angeles that the Spurs needed to let go of the Game 4 loss.

''If you don't let it go, you can't focus on the game (Thursday night), the task at hand,'' he said. ''So by the time we land in LA, it will be gone and we'll be concentrating on just talking about what we can do to win basketball games.

''I've always said that you have to have some good fortune. And good fortune means a bad shot might go in, maybe you get a good call, maybe you get a good whistle.''

The Spurs didn't get a good whistle in the late going Tuesday night, after Fisher made contact with San Antonio's Brent Barry before Barry unloaded a desperation 3-pointer that didn't come close.

To a man, the Spurs said they didn't expect a foul to be called in that situation. But the NBA disagreed with them Wednesday after reviewing the play.

''With the benefit of instant replay, it appears a foul should have been called,'' NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

Of course, the Lakers didn't get a good whistle seconds earlier, when a jumper by Fisher appeared to tick the rim, and Los Angeles ultimately lost possession with 2.1 seconds left because of a shot-clock violation.

The Spurs probably need a big effort from Ginobili to extend the series. The NBA's sixth man of the year shot 9-for-15 and scored 30 points in San Antonio's 103-84 victory in Game 3, but went a combined 7-for-29 for a total of 24 points in the other three games - all losses.

''Couple of shots didn't fall in,'' Ginobili said. ''Of course, I always give (the Lakers) credit - they played good defense.''

Bryant smiled when asked about not attempting a single free throw in Game 4.

''I don't know about that,'' he said. ''That's one of the mysteries of the world.''

Lakers coach Phil Jackson praised San Antonio's Bruce Bowen for his defensive effort on Bryant when asked about his star's lack of foul shots.

But the coach couldn't resist taking a jab.

''The basis is guys getting their hands on players, and thats what referees judge,'' Jackson said. ''Two hands particularly, it's a call, and Bowen is faster than the eye in that regard. He's really quick with his hands, so he gets in and bothers but he can back out before the shots are up usually, and so you have to give him credit. He's obviously an illusionist at some level.''

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