by Chris Arena, www.sportsinsights.com
As those of you who have read Wesley's MLB Teams of Interest article from a couple weeks ago already know, my time as a writer here at Sports Insights is coming to an end. This will be my last article for some time - I don't want to say ever, but I won't be writing any weekly features in the future. It has been a pleasure for me to write these articles and I hope that you have enjoyed my work. If you would like to keep up with me in some fashion, you can follow my twitter feed (www.twitter.com/champbeastly) and I will also continue to browse our forums and stay active in the community. Otherwise, look for Wes to take over with a weekly column and continue to enjoy Mike's excellent MLB Sports Marketwatch bi-weekly feature.
Last week's article was a mixed bag, but mostly successful - Cleveland kept right on pounding Detroit and covering every spread in the series as I predicted they would, Orlando beat Philadelphia 4-2 in their series and went 2-2 ATS in games 3-6, and the Lakers split the final two games of their series ATS in winning the series 4-1. I believe everything I wrote still applies going forward: the Lakers will struggle ATS, Orlando is mighty overrated and will also struggle ATS, and Cleveland is going to steamroll through the Eastern Conference bracket. Here's my take on the upcoming series - let's hope I go out with a bang!
LA Lakers vs. Houston Rockets
The Lakers dominated Houston throughout the regular season and will probably continue to do so here. As I have said, I think the spreads will be adjusted to account for massive amounts of public money on the Lakers and I would bet accordingly, even given their regular season 4-0 record ATS. I think the Artest/Bryant match-up may lead to some entertaining altercations, but Kobe has learned to rely on his teammates and the bigger match-up will be Yao versus Pau. The two x-factors in this series will be Andrew Bynum and his ability to contribute without racking up fouls, and Aaron Brooks and his blazing speed against an aging Derek Fisher. This should make for an interesting if short-lived series, and I don't have too much else to add other than that I think the smart bet throughout this series will be Houston and the Under.
Denver Nuggets vs. Dallas Mavericks
Of all the second round series, I think this is the most exciting of the bunch from a gambling perspective. I believe Denver is generally underrated as a team and Dallas highly overrated, which leads to a lot of value in the betting marketplace. Dallas beat an injured, aging San Antonio team that was never really in the series and should not be confused for a "hot" underdog team to be wary of. The "Mark Cuban" factor also makes them a sentimental favorite in the minds of the public and a much more visible team than the Nuggets. However under the radar they may be, Denver should not be underestimated as they embarrassed a New Orleans team in round one that many people picked for the upset. Denver is like the anti-Orlando Magic, as their mid-season struggles have seen them change into a force to be reckoned with as they continue to grow in strength as the season wears on. Additionally, Denver boasts a 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS record vs. Dallas in the regular season, and I like Denver to take this series in 5 or 6 games and to cover the spread consistently.
Orlando Magic vs. Boston Celtics/Chicago Bulls
First of all, the Chicago/Boston series has been absolutely stunning to watch and fascinating from a gambling perspective. Almost every game has finished Under the Total at the end of regulation, only to finish Over once overtime after overtime is being played. Also, other than Game 3, every game has finished with the two teams separated by no more than 3 points at the final buzzer and so I urge you to either take the Bulls and the points or Boston straight up in Game 7. Jalen Rose has stated numerous times he expected Boston to win by double digits, but I have my doubts and so should you.
As for the semi-final series-to-be, I am going to be wagering against Orlando regardless of who comes out of the Boston/Chicago series. Orlando struggled against an unimpressive 76ers squad and will continue to struggle going forward. Both Chicago (Thomas and Noah) and Boston (Perkins) offer very active big men and have shown a proclivity to play a physical brand of basketball, to which Howard does not respond well. Also, Orlando does not defend the perimeter very well and will have trouble with either Ben Gordon or Ray Allen, who have both been on fire for their respective teams. As for my prediction in this series, if Boston faces Orlando than I like Orlando to make the East Finals, but if the Bulls beat the Celtics than I like their momentum to carry them past the Magic. The Bulls have much more depth at Center and many more fouls to throw at Howard (career 60% at the line), which will be the key to victory. Whichever way the series shapes up, I think the Under is going to be the smart play, just as it was in Orlando's opening-round series and Boston/Chicago's as well (through regulation, that is).
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks/Miami Heat
I don't care who wins in the Atlanta/Miami series (though it will be Atlanta) and I don't care what the spreads look like, I will continue to pound Cleveland as heavy favorites until they give me any reason to do otherwise. They have shown an ability to hold their opponents to ridiculously low point totals due to their stout defense while consistently scoring around 95 points-per-game on the offensive end. Their Points For/Points Against per game for the regular season is an eye-opening 100/90.7, tops in the league by a wide margin. LeBron continues to assert himself as a player never before seen in the NBA, and his teammates have really learned how to play to his game and utilize his otherworldly help defense - maybe the only improvement left in LeBron's game is to learn how to catch the ball when blocking a shot instead of swatting it into the 12th row. It's going to take some guts, but I see another four game SU/ATS sweep for Cleveland and will be betting accordingly. The only part of the gambling equation dependant on the Atlanta/Miami winner is how I would bet totals; against Atlanta, I think the series stays Under consistently, but against Miami, I actually think they will go over the Total consistently as the James/Wade personal battle will become more of a focus than team defense on both sides.
Cleveland Cavaliers over the L.A. Lakers in 7 Games (with Cleveland going 5-2 ATS)