by Chris Arena, www.sportsinsights.com
Cleveland vs. Detroit
The only thing keeping this series interesting is the intense disliking that so obviously exists between these two teams. Cleveland has dominated both games and covered the identical 11.5-point spread in both games, although just barely in Game 2. The only reason Detroit lost by less than 20 in Game 2 was because Coach Mike Brown was resting his entire starting lineup from the start of the fourth quarter, prompting an unlikely 27-5 run by the Pistons before Cleveland pulled away again and won by 12. One sure sign that Detroit is entirely outclassed by Cleveland is that their 27-5 fourth quarter run only resulted in cutting the lead to nine, an absolutely astonishing factoid. As of this writing, Cleveland is a 4.5-point favorite at Detroit for Game 3, and this is a line I feel is ripe for the picking. Home-court advantage only ensures that Coach Brown will be less likely to take chances in resting his starters, and simply put, home-court advantage is useless when the home team is at such an incredible disadvantage talent-wise.
LA Lakers vs. Utah
This series was shaping up to mirror the Cleveland/Detroit affair until the Jazz took Game 3 in Utah on Thursday, winning on a last second jumper from Deron Williams. The Jazz came into the game as 2.5-point underdogs, putting them at 2-1 ATS for the series. Despite the two dominating wins by the Lakers in L.A., this series has come has been a stressful one for spread bettors, as each game has finished within 5 points of the oddsmakers' lines. I think the sportsbooks have done an excellent job of taking advantage of the public's propensity to over bet on the Lakers and I expect them to continue as this series continues. Game 3 offers Lakers apologists plenty of excuses (or as they will tell it, justifications) for why they lost the game, including poor free throw shooting and unfair officiating. However, the Jazz were basically equally bad from the stripe (64% for Utah, 61% for L.A.) and equally officiated (22 fouls vs. 25 against the Lakers). I expect the Lakers to once again be favored by around 2-3 points heading into Game 4, and then again by 10+ at home in Game 5, and I like Utah to continue to win this series against the spread, despite losing in real life. Furthermore, I can easily see a scenario where the Lakers win the title and post a below-.500 record ATS for the entire playoffs.
Orlando vs. Philadelphia
With a 3-0 record ATS in the regular season against Philadelphia, it's safe to say Orlando has been a rather large disappoint through two games in their first round series against the 76ers. Sporting a 1-1 SU record but 0-2 ATS, Orlando has not been able to utilize whatever game plan they had during the regular season that led them to three wins and three covers in three regular season meetings, and now they face two road games as they try to take control of a series they were expected to dominate. Will Orlando turn things around or will they continue to struggle? Recent history suggests the latter, as Orlando is surprisingly just 5-11 ATS over their last 16 games. Perhaps Orlando simply isn't the same team that beat Philadelphia three times in the regular season - they finished the three game series on February 28th and featured Jameer Nelson as their point guard for 2 of the 3 match-ups. Additionally, Orlando finished the season 2nd overall ATS mostly due to their torrid start to the season as the oddsmakers were slow to adjust to their unexpectedly superb play. As bettors' confidence built and the lines adjusted, things changed dramatically, as the above-mention 5-11 ATS stretch can attest to. I still think Rafer Alston is a much bigger downgrade than the public believes and I don't think Orlando is as good a team as the lines suggest, so I will be fading the Magic often as the NBA Playoffs continue.