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March Madness Bracket
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NBA Western Conference Finals Betting Preview
Talking to a number of various wise guy bettors living in Las Vegas, one conclusion was evident before the playoffs started, yes the Los Angeles Lakers looked vulnerable but were still the safest bet to win another title and the Phoenix Suns were the best long shot among the top four seeds from either conference to become the upset champions of the NBA. Not coincidentally, that is the matchup for the West Finals, which begin Monday in Los Angeles. The Lakers are a -340 series favorite according to Sportsbook.com.
One aspect that is often forgotten in the NBA playoffs is how very good teams can pick up momentum. The Lakers closed the regular season 4-7 SU and ATS, and stumbled a bit in the first round vs. Oklahoma City. However, since then, L.A. has gotten serious about basketball again and has won six straight, covering five times and now another championship ring is in sight.
There is no getting around it (literally), the size of the Lakers’ changes how teams can attack them. With Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, it just doesn’t leave much room in the middle, which helps takes away the one inside player the Suns have in Amare Stoudemire.
L.A. guards and wing players can be super aggressive defensively, knowing what they have behind them. Ron Artest is not the defender he was a few years ago, but what he’s lost in quickness he makes up for in smarts and he will try to attach himself at the hip of Jason Richardson or Jared Dudley when he enters the game.
Phoenix has picked up a reputation as being a good defensive team, while they are not as lame as when Mike D’Antoni was coach; they are far from good, mostly just average. With the talk of Grant Hill being a defensive demon, that’s all Kobe Bryant needs for a personal challenge.
Remember last year when Denver had all those high effort guys coming off the bench and they actually gave Phil Jackson’s team trouble at first, yet after Game 3 had little impact, that’s what the Lakers do as the series wears on, systematically they take away your strengths and even Derek Fisher becomes more useful knocking down shots. There is a reason why the Lake Show is 5-1 and 4-2 ATS against the Suns at Staples the past three years, they are bigger and better and hard to beat four times.
Since Steve Nash has arrived in the desert with his injury-plagued career in the balance, all he has done is transform Phoenix into the most entertaining team in the NBA and a outfit that has been among the better groups out West. Be that as it may, the window of opportunity is closing and the sense is the entire club and organization knows it.
That creates the first chance for the Suns, desperation, hardly something the Lakers ever feel and when they do, usually nothing good comes from it. (Game 6 Lakers at Boston two years ago comes to mind) Phoenix has to be able to leave it all on the floor each night, no Game 1 or Game 4’s against Portland “we just weren’t focused” nights. You only get once chance to beat a champion and if you let it slip, look in the mirror.
Coach Alvin Gentry is credited for making Phoenix a more complete squad than past versions, with greater attention to detail on both ends of the floor. Steve Nash should be able to run circles around Derek Fisher, but his key is drawing the defense to him to make the assist and frustrate the Lakers big men.
Coach Jackson will try to prevent dibble penetration by Nash and make him more a shooter than facilitator, Nash has to defeat this defense by using the screen and role continually with Stoudemire. If successful, this forces other defenders to get involved and the NBA’s best outside shooting team will find itself with many more open looks.
Phoenix can’t let the Lakers play volleyball on the offensive glass; they have to at least be within five boards at all times once the second half starts.
Gentry’s bench has been a difference maker, which is why this desert squad is 22-4 and 19-6-1 ATS since Mar. 14.
It goes without saying Phoenix has to run, but as they proved against San Antonio, it’s not about running and dunking for layups, it is about beating the Lakers defense back and making the extra pass to find the three-point shooter who is open to bury the shot and wear down the big guys in gold and purple late in games.
As is said in boxing, “contrasting styles make fights”. That will be the case out West, with the Lakers trying to control tempo and have their size be a difference maker, while Phoenix wants to play fast, hit 3’s and make enough defensive stops to matter.
At the end of the day, the Lakers having a long break before the series, another lengthy break before heading to Arizona, gives them rest and ample time to make adjustments, which makes them awfully difficult to beat unless the opponent plays great defense.
Pick- L.A. Lakers (-340) in seven over Phoenix (+280)