After two games of the Western Conference finals, the Lakers were averaging 126.0 PPG on just barely under 58 percent shooting from the floor, while taking a 2-0 lead in the series over the Suns. LA had an eight-game playoff winning streak (7-1 ATS) as the series shifted to Phoenix and while the Suns were 18-3 SU at home since the All Star break, the Lakers seemed all but assured of returning to the NBA Finals for a third straight season with a chance to add a second consecutive championship. However, as ESPN's resident college football 'bozo' (Lee Corso) loves to say, "not so fast!"
Amare Stoudemire (42 points / 11 rebounds), Robin Lopez (20 points) and the Suns' zone defense were the stars of Game 3, a 118-109 Phoenix win. In Game 4 last night, with Stoudemire scoring half as many points (21) as he did in Game 3, Lopez scoring just six points in 13 minutes (3-of-10 FGS) and Nash suffering with a broken nose (15 points / eight assists), it was the Phoenix bench which rose to the challenge. The Suns reserves scored 54 points on 20-of-32 shooting (9-20 on threes), outscoring their Laker counterparts by 34 points (LA bench had 20 points, 15 by Odom).
Kobe followed a 36-9-11 effort in Game 3 with a 38-7-10 effort in Game 4 but Gasol had just 15 (averaged in the first three games) and LA couldn't hold an 87-85 fourth-quarter lead when led mostly by their bench players, the Suns opened up a 103-94 advantage with just over three minutes to play. The Suns have been much more aggressive on the offensive end of the court, leading them to outscore LA 59-23 (74 attempts to just 33) from free throw line in back-to-back nine-point wins. The Suns have now won 20 of their 23 home games since the All Star break, going 18-4-1 ATS.
Home teams are 46-25 (.648) this postseason, going 42-29 (59.2 percent) ATS. The game snuck over the total, after it dropped from 224 to 219 by game-time, leaving us with 35 overs, 33 unders and three pushes since the start of postseason play. Those following the Zig Zag theory lost with the Lakers and are now 5-15 their last 20 opportunities, falling to 24-33 or minus-12.3 net games during the playoffs. Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals is set for 8:30 ET (ESPN) tonight in Orlando, with the Magic favored by 3 1/2 or 4 points (total is 186).
The Magic are back home in Orlando after avoiding a sweep with a 96-92 overtime win on Monday in Boston. Only four times in the history of North American major pro sports leagues has a team won a playoff series after losing the first three games of a seven-game series. It's happened three time in the NHL and once in MLB but has never happened in the NBA (teams are 0-93 in that situation). Will the Magic make it 0-94? I'll note that of those four instances, a Boston team has been involved twice. The Bruins opened a 3-0 lead over the Flyers in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs only to see Philly win the final four games of that series. As for the other Boston team involved, I doubt anyone will fail to remember the Red Sox overcoming an 0-3 deficit against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.