NBA News and Notes Wednesday 5/20

NBA News and Notes Wednesday 5/20

Cavs-Magic Preview
By Kevin Rogers

**No. 1 Cleveland vs. No. 3 Orlando**

Series Price:
Cleveland -600 Orlando +550

Series Format: 2-2-1-1-1

Skinny

The Cleveland Cavaliers finally have their opponent for the Eastern Conference Finals, as a new champion will emerge after the Magic eliminated the Celtics in seven games. This wasn't a technical knockout, either. Orlando slammed Boston in Beantown, 101-82, to advance to their first Eastern Conference Finals since the 1995-96 season, when Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway were swept by Michael Jordan's Bulls in four games.
   
The Cavs, led by MVP LeBron James, appear in the conference finals for the second time in three seasons, winning a franchise-best 66 regular season games. James' numbers in the postseason have eclipsed his fantastic regular season, as LeBron is averaging 32.9 ppg through eight playoff games, all wins, while scoring at least 25 points in each game. The Cavs have been on cruise control through the first two rounds, eliminating the eighth-seeded Pistons in four, then removing the fourth-seed Hawks in a quick four-game sweep. The league's best defense didn't allow more than 85 points in any of their first eight playoff games, while the Cavs went 'under' the total in six of the eight contests. Cleveland also took care of business against the spread, covering seven of their eight playoff victories (depending on where you shopped, some Cavalier backers got a push in the Game 4 victory over Atlanta).

The Magic haven't had the yellow brick road the Cavs have endured the first two rounds, sweating out a six-game series victory over the Sixers, and the seven-game series win over the Celtics. One of the big storylines coming out of the Boston series was center Dwight Howard calling out head coach Stan Van Gundy for not getting enough touches down the stretch in the 92-88 Game 5 loss to the Celtics. In the last two wins for Orlando, Howard stepped up to his All-NBA First Team status, tallying 23 points and 22 rebounds in Game 6, followed up by a 12 point, 16 rebound effort to finish off Boston. Hedo Turkoglu put up his best game of the postseason when it counted, scoring 25 in the Game 7 win over the Celtics, just his second game of the playoffs scoring more than 18 points.

The home team won all three meetings in the regular season, with Orlando taking both games at Amway Arena in convincing fashion. The Magic rallied to beat the Cavs 99-88 on January 29 as five-point home favorites. This game was on pace to go 'over' the total with Cleveland leading Orlando at the half, 56-55. But the Cavs shooting in the second-half fell off, as Cleveland posted just 32 points after halftime, while James was held to 23 points on 10-of-27 shooting from the floor. The Magic knocked down 11 three-pointers, as Howard was his usual dominating-self inside, with 22 points and 18 boards.

The two teams met up again on St. Patrick's Day at Quicken Loans Arena, as luck seemed to be on the Cavs side. Cleveland came back to beat Orlando 97-93, but the Magic covered as 6 1/2-point dogs. This was another frustrating blow to 'over' players, as the two teams combined for 180 points by the 3:30 mark of the fourth quarter, only to score ten points the rest of the way, finishing two points below the 'over.' James drained a three with 47 seconds remaining to give the Cavs the lead for good, but the St. Patty's Day "luck" came on the ensuing possession when Howard was called for a three-second violation. Cleveland got the ball back, James drilled two free throws, and the Cavs continued their dominance at the "Q."

The final regular season matchup was a blowout at the Magic Kingdom. Orlando handed Cleveland its worst loss of the season, 116-87, as the 116 points was the most given up by the Cavs in a non-overtime game this season (Cleveland allowed 123 points in an overtime win at Sacramento). The Cavs were held to 37% shooting from the floor, while LeBron hit just seven of his 20 field goal attempts for 26 points. The Magic had seven players in double-figures and hit 13 shots from beyond the arc.

Gambling Notes

The Magic have dominated this series from an ATS standpoint, covering ten of the last eleven meetings, dating back to the 2005-06 season. Orlando has taken care of their home-court against Cleveland, with point-spread covers in five of the last six matchups, including five straight-up wins. The Magic are only 6-7 ATS this postseason, but the 'under' has hit nine of 13 games. The Cavs are a solid 7-1 ATS, with six of eight games going 'under' the total. Orlando has been money as road underdogs this season, covering 14 of 19, while going 12-7 straight-up when getting points away from home. What makes that number even more impressive is the 13-3 ATS mark for the Magic as road 'dogs' if they are off a win. With the opening game total listed at 184.5 in most shops, the Cavs are a remarkable 9-1 ATS as home 'chalk' with the total listed between 180-185, while the 'under' has cashed eight of ten times.

Outlook

The Cavs have not been tested in their first two series, and while it's hard to ask Cleveland for an apology by playing Detroit and Atlanta, there is still plenty of motivation for LeBron to get back to the Finals and claim his first title. While Cleveland would have rather faced an injury-plagued Boston team than a healthy Orlando club, you can't help but think the Cavs remember that 29-point blowout at Orlando in early April.

VI handicapper Joe Nelson on the Magic keeping games close, "Only one of Orlando's five playoff losses came by more than four points so the Magic will be a difficult team to blow out." Nelson also feels Orlando has found some momentum, "The complete meltdown at the end of Game 5 against Boston may have been the best thing to happen to the Magic as they rebounded to win the series and they should be a tougher team mentally from here on out."

This looks to be a series controlled by the home teams, and while the Magic will give the Cavs problems with their streaky outside shooting, I'll take the Cavs to win this series in seven games.

Future Bets

According to Bodog.com, if you want to back the favored Cavaliers, you would have to lay -600 (Bet $600 to win $100). If you have enough confidence to side with the Magic, the return is +550 (Bet $100 to win $550).

According to Sportsbook.com oddsmaker Jeremy Ryan, the Cavs should be favored in every game of this series. Ryan said, “Right now, the Cavaliers should be listed as 3 ½-point road favorites in Game 3 but that could move either way depending on what happens in the first two battles. Plus, the public often plays the sense of urgency trend for the trailing team.”

As far as exact games go, two bets to look at if you think Orlando will win the series is the Magic in 6 (10/1) or Magic in 7 (15/1). Probably the way to go with the Cavs is either in 4 or 6 games (both 7/2, bet $100 to win $350).

VegasInsider.com

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Re: NBA News and Notes Wednesday 5/20

NBA Eastern Conference finals preview and pick
By LARRY JOSEPHSON

Orlando Magic (+550) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (-600)

For more than a week the Cleveland Cavaliers have lived the life of luxury. Shoot-arounds, a film session here or there. Plenty of time to casually file their nails as they wait with disdain for the survivor of the Celtics-Magic series.

NBA players would rather give up their entourage than honestly say what team they would like to meet in the next round of the playoffs, but it doesn’t take a Mensa member to figure out that the Cavs would have preferred to meet the Celtics, rather than the Magic, in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Celtics were battered beyond recognition and without Kevin Garnett, Leon Powe and (don’t forget) James Posey, would have been easy pickings for a Cleveland team hungry to make amends for last season’s ouster by Boston.

Instead they get a healthy, hungry and peaking Orlando club that has the best center in the Association and a bagful of 3-point shooters who can spread the court and make life in the paint less complicated for Dwight Howard.

Cleveland last took a meaningful shot on May 11, when it picked over the bones of the Atlanta Hawks and won its eighth consecutive playoff game. The 10-point push (84-74) snapped a streak of seven straight covers for the Cavs, who were not seriously tested by either the glad-to-be-done-for-the-year Pistons, or the Hawks.

Orlando’s passing and 3-point shooting were too much for the Celtics’ perimeter players, who by the late stages of Game 6 had tired of fighting through picks. When Game 7 arrived, Boston had nothing left defensively and it was just a matter of the Magic making wide-open shots, which they did on the way to a 101-80 victory that was never in doubt.

Can Orlando do the same against LeBron James and the Cavaliers? As Andre Kirilenko would say, nyet.

The Magic shot the trey at 38 percent in the regular season and 35 percent in the playoffs, but Cleveland has defended the 3 at 31 percent in the playoffs. Neither the Hawks nor the Pistons could score more than 85 points in a single game against the Cavs.

Cleveland is, to put it simply, the best defensive team in the league. And if you think offense trumps defense in the playoffs, ask the world champion Phoenix Suns about that.

Orlando did beat Cleveland two of three times during the regular season (home teams holding serve), and the Cavs did break serious wind in a late-April 19-point road loss that had everyone from coast to coast scratching their heads.

But if the Magic are going to make a series of this, they need to show some spunk in Cleveland, where the Cavs went are 43-2 this season (actually 43-1; they didn’t even try in the last home game of the regular season).

Double-teaming an exhausted Paul Pierce effectively is one thing; doing it to James could just invite trouble. Like Michael Jordan an NBA generation before him, James has honed his passing skills and has superb court vision.

Jordan had to wait while the Bulls assembled supporting pieces around him. Now James has more than D-League talent around him. He’s ready.

And he also may be ready to bolt. Cavalier fans know James’s contract status as well as they know his uniform number. James will be in the Midwest for a minimum of one more year, and it’s hardly a coincidence that the Nets, Knicks and a half-dozen other teams are shedding salary with the idea that they will have enough cap room to make a max-contract run at James in the summer of 2010.

So all that is guaranteed fans in northeastern Ohio is that James will be in the Rust Belt for this playoff run, and probably another next season. With the window possibly closing on James’s tenure in Ohio, the Cavs stocked the pond with decent talent around him – point guard Mo Williams, combo guard Delonte West and SF Wally Szczerbiak. Anderson Varejao is a Joakim Noah-type big who has enough quickness to close on Rashard Lewis when Lewis spots up for a corner 3. James casts such a large shadow that it’s easy to forget that these guys are decent NBA players.

The city of Cleveland needs and wants this title desperately. Beyond the uncertain of James’s willingness to bolt, there is the matter of history.

The Browns are one of the few NFL franchises to never appear in a Super Bowl, and appear light years away. Not many residents of the city remember when the Indians won their last World Series, in 1948, and the current Indians have a stranglehold on last place in the American League Central. The Cavs have never come close to a title.

But that ends this year. The window may be closing, but it’s still mostly open for the Cavs, who will take care of Orlando and play either Denver or the Lakers for the NBA Championship. It’s their turn.

Pick: Cavs in six.

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Re: NBA News and Notes Wednesday 5/20

Cleveland-Orlando Series Predictions
by Josh Nagel

No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers (-800) vs. No. 3 Orlando Magic (+600)

Records:
Cleveland (74-16, 57-32-1 ATS), Orlando (67-28, 55-39-1 ATS)

Season series: Orlando won 2-1.

Overview: It seems like the Cleveland Cavaliers have been on an early summer vacation. In years past, this would be because they stood no chance of making it this far in the playoffs and had long been watching them from the comfort of their off-season homes. This year, the hiatus has been because the LeBron James-led club has obliterated each of its first two postseason opponents in four-game sweeps and has had to wait for its chance to resume momentum while the Magic and the defending-champion Boston Celtics slugged it out in an intense seven-game series.

The Cavaliers have been the class of the Eastern Conference - and arguably the entire league - since the first tip-off of the season way back in the winter. With MVP James leading the way, Cleveland got a huge boost from off-season addition Mo Williams, and they finally surrounded James with the type of capable supporting cast that Kobe Bryant now has in Los Angeles but had to wait a few years for it to materialize.

The Cavs play an old-school style of team-oriented basketball that relies on unselfish play and its top-ranked defense to separate from its opponents. When all else fails, the Cavs can always put the ball in the hands of No. 23 and let him take over the game - on both sides of the ball.

The upstart Magic showed a level of maturity by posting an impressive road win in Game 7 against the Celtics. However, it's immaturity that still haunts this team on many levels.

Although Dwight Howard is unquestionably the league's most talented big man, he picked a horrible time to start questioning the judgment of coach Stan Van Gundy, who also was criticized during the season by Shaquille O'Neal of the Phoenix Suns. There were rumors that Van Gundy would be fired if the Magic lost to the Celtics, and it appears there is still some behind-the-scenes discord between this young team and its hard-nosed coach.

The Magic also seem to struggle in late-game situations when the score is close. Rashard Lewis should be their go-to guy in the clutch, but he seems to be a reluctant superstar and the team doesn't do enough to get him in favorable situations. When teams clamp down on Howard, the Magic are prone to freezing up and going through long scoring droughts. If not for this troubling trend, they likely would have finished off Boston in five games.

In conclusion, the Magic still appear to be maybe a year away from reaching elite status, while the Cavaliers have shown they are ready to take the next step.

Value: None. The Magic are dangerous enough that if they can somehow steal a win in Cleveland - an ambitious "if," considering the Cavs lost just twice at home all year - and switch the home-court advantage, this could become a compelling series. However, although the Magic might provide more resistance than the meager Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks combined, it's highly unlikely they will get between Cleveland and its seemingly long-held reservation in the NBA Finals. It would take a lot of cash and a bit of nerve to make a buck from the Cavaliers, but if laying huge chalk on a prohibitive favorite is your sort of thing, this series is for you.

Prediction: Cavaliers in six games.

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Re: NBA News and Notes Wednesday 5/20

Game of the day: Orlando Magic at Cleveland Cavaliers
By Ted Sevransky

Orlando Magic at Cleveland Cavaliers (-9, 184.5)

We got your number


The Cavaliers have been the pointspread story of the Eastern Conference playoffs thus far thanks to a 7-0-1 against the spread record. Cleveland is 8-0 straight up and has won all its playoff games by double digits.

But before we get too carried away with the Cavaliers postseason success, let’s not forget about one key factor in play in this series: Orlando has been absolutely dominant against Cleveland.

Dating back to the All-Star break last season, these two teams have met five times. Orlando is 4-1 SU, 5-0 ATS in those games, including a 15-point win on the Cavs’ home floor.

The Magic won both home games by a combined margin of 40 points in the three previous meetings this year. In their lone game at Cleveland, Orlando led with less than a minute to play, but LeBron James nailed a crucial 3-pointer and Dwight Howard was called for a three-second violation on the Magic’s subsequent possession, allowing the Cavs to steal a four-point victory.

Not in our house

The Cavaliers enjoyed the single strongest home-court advantage of any team in the league this year. Cleveland went 39-2 SU at home with one of those two losses coming in a meaningless season finale that featured numerous starters resting. The other loss came against the Lakers when L.A. was red hot, closing out a 6-0 road trip with consecutive wins over the Celtics and Cavs.

Here in the playoffs the Cavs have been every bit as dominant on this floor. Mike Brown’s squad has won each of its four playoff games at Quicken Loans Arena by a combined 79 points with each victory coming by at least a dozen points.

The Cavs pointspread success playing in Cleveland can’t be denied – their tremendous straight up record is backed by an equally impressive pointspread run. That tells us that the betting marketplace has not been overvaluing LeBron James and his teammates. A 32-13 ATS mark at home must be respected by bettors and bookmakers.

Magical Mystery Tour

But before we give Cleveland too much credit here, let’s not forget that the Magic ranked second in the NBA with 27 road victories during the regular season. Here in the playoffs, the Magic have continued their string of road success.

After losing Game 3 on the road at Philadelphia, Orlando closed out that series with a pair of SU road wins, including the Game 6 clincher. The Magic continued their winning ways on the highway at Boston, knocking off the defending champs twice on their home floor, including another clincher blowout; their 19-point SU win in Game 7.

The Magic will be underdogs in every road game in this series. Stan Van Gundy’s squad has been exceptionally profitable in the underdog role, with a 15-6 ATS mark when catching points since the start of the season.

Matchups

The Magic nailed 13 of 21 shots from beyond the arc to win Game 7 at Boston with contributions from all their perimeter players. Rafer Alston, J.J. Redick, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Michael Pietrus all nailed at least one trifecta on Sunday.

The Magic had great success utilizing the 3-pointer during the regular season, making more 3s than any other team in the league. Orlando hit 34 treys in their three regular season meetings with the Cavaliers, leading to that 3-0 ATS mark in those ballgames.

The two superstars in this series both enjoyed tremendous success against the opposing defense throughout the course of the regular season. Dwight Howard averaged 18 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks against Cleveland. LeBron James was even better, averaging 31 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in his three games against Orlando.

Under My Thumb

Two of the three regular season meetings stayed under the total. The only over came in a game where Orlando hung 116 on the Cavs while hitting 54 percent from the floor. That game marked the single worst defensive showing from Cleveland all year long and was one of only two games that the Cavs allowed more than 110 in regulation.

The under trend dates back to last year with four of the last five meetings finishing under the total. But three of those five games produced 190 or more points, with posted totals as high as 204 in some cases. For Game 1 on Wednesday, the posted total is nearly 20 points lower than that, currently sitting at 184.5.

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Re: NBA News and Notes Wednesday 5/20

NBA PLAYOFFS

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(3) Orlando (8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS) at (1) Cleveland (8-0 SU, 7-1 ATS)


The Cavaliers, who coasted through the first two rounds of the playoffs as the top overall seed, return to action for the first time in more than a week when they open the Eastern Conference finals at Quicken Loans Arena against the Magic.

Cleveland has had an eight-day break since sweeping Atlanta out of the playoffs with an 84-74 road win, earning its second straight 4-0 series victory. However, the Cavs barely came up short as a 10½-point road favorite, failing to cash for the first time in the postseason. Newly crowned MVP LeBron James had 27 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the series-clincher in Atlanta, Delonte West chipped in 21 points and six assists, while center Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds.

The Cavs have ridden their defense in the playoffs, allowing a league-best 78.1 ppg while scoring 94.9 ppg, with the 16.8 margin of victory also leading all playoff participants. Offensively, James is averaging a playoff-best 32.9 ppg, with Mo Williams ranking as Cleveland’s second-leading scorer at 14.8 ppg. James is also notching 6.8 assists (sixth) and 9.8 rebounds (10th) per contest.

Orlando survived a seven-game battle with Boston, staving off elimination with victories in Games 6 and 7, culminating with Sunday’s 101-82 rout as a 2½-point road underdog, giving the SU winner a 7-0 ATS mark in the second-round series. Dwight Howard had yet another double-double, with 12 points and 16 boards to go with five blocks, but Hedo Turkoglu was the difference maker with 25 points – hitting 4 of 5 from three-point range – along with a dozen assists.

Orlando hit 51.4 percent overall from the floor in Game 7 and an eye-popping 61.9 percent from long distance (13 of 21), while holding Boston to 39.2 percent shooting overall and 25 percent from three-point range (4 of 16).

Howard has been the catalyst for Orlando throughout the playoffs, averaging a team-leading 20.3 points and playoff-leading 16.6 rebounds, and Rashard Lewis is putting up 19.9 ppg.

The Magic are on a 10-1 ATS tear in this rivalry, including cashing in each of their last five games in Cleveland. This year, Orlando went 2-1 SU and 3-0 ATS against the Cavaliers, capped by a 116-87 home blitzing as a 3½-point chalk on April 3. Cleveland won its lone home game against Orlando 97-93 on March 17, but the Magic covered as a 6½-point ‘dog. The underdog is 8-3 ATS in the last 11 clashes.

Cleveland is 43-2 SU (32-13 ATS) at home this year, including 4-0 SU and ATS in the playoffs (all double-digit wins). Orlando is 31-17 SU (29-18-1 ATS) on the road (4-3 SU, 3-4 ATS in the postseason).

The Cavaliers are on virtually nothing but positive ATS runs, including 11-1 overall, 37-14 at home, 6-0 in the Eastern Conference finals, 8-1 going on three or more days’ rest and 18-5 as a playoff chalk.

The Magic are on ATS upticks of 5-1 against the Central Division and 15-6 as a road pup, and they won and covered in two of their four games at Boston in the conference semifinals. However, Stan Van Gundy’s squad is still just 7-12 ATS in its last 19 overall and 3-7 ATS in its last 10 on the highway.

The under for Cleveland is on rolls of 6-1 overall (all from the favorite’s role), 16-5-1 as a home chalk and 20-8 following a break of three days or more. Likewise, Orlando carries “under” streaks of 22-8 overall, 7-2 with the Magic catching points on the road and 7-3 when the Magic are a playoff ‘dog.

Finally, in this rivalry, the total has stayed low in four of the last five meetings overall and four of the last five clashes at Quicken Loans Arena.

ATS ADVANTAGE: CLEVELAND and UNDER

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