The second round of the this year’s NBA postseason closed Sunday afternoon with Oklahoma City beating Memphis 105-90 in the first two round’s lone Game 7. Home teams ended the first two rounds 46-19 SU (.707) with home dogs going 7-6-1 and after a very slow start in the first round, home favorites are now 24-25-2. That made all home teams 31-31-3 ATS after 65 games. Under bettors went 26-17 (60.5 percent) in the first round but over bettors bounced back in the second round to go 14-8. That’s 31 overs and 34 unders, overall. Those following the Zig-Zag Theory won are 24-26-3 AT (minus-4.6 net games), possibly on its way to its sixth consecutive losing postseason (last winning year was 2005, when the Zig-Zag Theory went 37-31-1 ATS).
One very interesting comment before moving on the the NBA’s version of a Final Four, the conference championships. I noted early on in the first round, that an unusually high number of teams were winning but not covering. Here’s what I wrote back on April 25. “Going back to the 1991 postseason, we’ve averaged right around 77 games each postseason. How often have teams won SU but failed to win ATS? On average, about 14 times per postseason, right about 18 percent of the time. Fast forward to the 2011 postseason which has seen 30 games played through last night. Home teams are 21-9 SU but just 10-19-1 ATS. Home favorites have been just awful, going 5-16 ATS while home dogs have held their own going 5-3-1. Doing the math, that leaves all favorites a ‘money-burning’ 8-21-1 ATS. In the 11 games played Friday-Sunday, the Blazers (in Game 4 vs the Mavs on Saturday) were the only team to win SU but fail to cover. Still, through just 30 games, we’ve now seen 11 teams win but not cover, compared to an average of 14 such instances over each of the last 20 entire postseasons!”
How things have changed. Here’s an update, after two full rounds (and 65 total games), of how things stand. After just 16 games, SU winners were only 7-9 ATS. However, over the last 49 playoff games, the SU winner has gone an impressive 42-4-3 ATS or 91 percent. Please note that it’s possible others could have a slightly different record, depending on what particular “closing line” they are using. However, the numbers will be very close. Now on to the NBA’s “Final Four.”
The Eastern Conference finals began Sunday night in Chicago with the top-seeded Bulls hosting the team everyone either loves or hates, the Miami Heat (No. 2 seed in the East). The Heat were leading 58-57 midway through the third quarter when the Bulls made their move, reeling off 10 straight points. Chicago never looked back in an impressive 103-82 win. The Bulls dominated the Heat on the boards 45-33, grabbing 19 on the offensive end which led to them outscoring the Heat 31-8 on second-chance points. Rose led with 28 points, Deng added 21, Boozer 14 & 9 and Noah 9 & 14. The Chicago bench scored 28 points.
Miami’s “Big 3” accounted for 83 of the team's 98 points (84.7 percent) in its Game 4 win at Boston and when the Heat closed out the Celtics back in Miami in Game 5, the “Big 3” accounted for 81 of Miami’s 97 points (83.5 percent). Bosh, LBJ and Wade accounted for a total of just 63 points in Game 1 vs Chicago, as the team’s other two starters (Anthony and Bibby) added four points in 54 minutes while the bench contributed 15 points (13 less than Chicago’s). Bosh had the best game (30 & 9) while LBJ made 5-of-15 shots (15-6-6) and Wade 7-of 17 (18-3-3). Once again we are left to wonder, can a three-man team "”win it all?” The Heat were favored by about 2-to-1 to win the series before it started, even though the Bulls owned home court advantage. The Bulls are now favored by minus-$1.25 in the series and like in Game 1, are favored by two points in Game 2 (total is 181 1/2), which is set for Wednesday.
Nine days after sweeping the two-time defending champs, the Mavs (No. 3 seed in the West) get set to host the Western Conference finals against the Thunder (No. 4 seed) tonight at 9:00 ET on ESPN. It’s a classic matchup of an older and experienced team vs one of the league’s younger and more inexperienced teams but led by the brightest young star in the game, Kevin Durant (Derrick Rose may argue that point). Note that Oklahoma City’s top-four scorers this postseason, Durant (28.9), Westbrook (23.9), Harden (12.4) and Ibaka (9.6) are all 23 or younger while the Mavs have only two such players on their roster (neither has participated this postseason) and has seven players in their 30s. Oklahoma City has only two guys in their 30s and both are backups.
The Mavs have never won a title and only Dirk and Terry were part of the team which lost the NBA Finals to the Heat in 2006. That being said, Kidd’s played in 131 postseason games (led Nets to the NBA Finals in ‘02 and ‘03), Peja’s played in 86 and Marion in 82. The only starter with a ring for the Thunder is Perkins (Celtics in ‘08) and backup center Mohammed won one with the Spurs in ‘05, also as a reserve. The Mavs enter this game 8-2 SU and 10-0 ATS (Mavs have covered an amazing 14 straight going back to the end of the regular season) while the Thunder are a more modest 8-4 SU this postseason, going 6-5-1 ATS. However, the acquisition of Perkins was turning point for the team. He was not physically ready to go when first acquired from Boston but he played the team's final 17 regular season games with the Thunder going 13-4. Add in the team's 8-4 postseason mark and the Thunder are 21-8 with Perk in the starting lineup. That’s a winning percentage of .724 and let’s note that this regular season, only the Bulls (.756) and Spurs (.744) won at a higher percentage. Perkins averaged 5.1 & 7.9 in the regular season and has averaged 4.7 & 6.5 in the postseason but he HAS made a difference.
However, it’s Durant and Westbrook who are the keys. They’ll have no easy time vs the Mavs’ D which has held opponents to 88.2 PPG this postseason. Oklahoma City hasn’t had a consistent “third scorer” all year plus both Westbrook (31.6) and Harden (30.4) have shot poorly on threes. Ibaka made a lot of ‘noise’ vs Denver and at the start of the Memphis series but over the last four games, has pretty much been a non-factor (6.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG and 1.5 BPG). Is this finally Dallas’ and Dirk’s time? He’s one of just four NBA players to average at least 25 points (25.6) and 10 rebounds (10.6) in his postseason career and he’s averaged 26.5-8.4 this postseason. Terry has averaged 18.3 PPG off the bench, shooting 52.4 percent (50.0 percent on threes). Peja has chipped in 10.7 PPG (46.2 percent on threes), Kidd is averaging 10.1-4.2-7.2 and Marion 9.7-6.4. Barea (7.7) has been outstanding at times at the point while Chandler (6.9-8.7) has had a solid postseason, joining Haywood and Dirk to give Dallas three, seven-footers. Chandler was actually traded to the Thunder back in February 2009 but he never passed the physical. He’s was terrific vs the Thunder this year for Dallas in the regular season (road team won all three meetings with Dallas twinning twice), averaging 12.7 & 15.3.
History tells us that in the shot-clock era, teams that have gone at least nine days between series are just 9-9 SU in Game 1s and have gone on to win 11 of the 18 series (a modest 61%). Does that stat mean anything here in Game 1? The Mavs are favored by six points in Game 1 and the total is 193 1/2. Dallas is about 2 1/2-to-1 to win the series.