by Robert Ferringo - 4/21/2006
Here's a quick breakdown of the NBA's Eastern Conference first-round matchups. They are listed in order of intrigue. (Odds to win the series are in parentheses):
No. 4 Cleveland (-220) vs. No. 5 Washington (+180)
Season Series: Wizards lead 3-1
Skinny: Think of this when you wager on the Cavaliers in the postseason: what is their motivation? I'm serious. LeBron James was crowned King of Hoops in his sophomore year of high school. He has more money than I'll ever see. A wild orgy with the Pussycat Dolls is just a phone call away.
So what's he playing for?
Look in the eyes of the Pistons. They're hungry, desperate animals that are hell-bent on respect and reparations. When I watch the Cavaliers and their man-child, I don't sense anything near that type of focus or determination.
And it won't be there anytime soon. Cleveland - if it somehow retains its Prodigious Son - will not be a true Contender for many moons. Not until the Boy is beaten and broken a few times. Not until the pain and shame of postseason embarrassment starts to cling to him. Not until the stench of playoff disappointment hovers over him at every photo shoot or celebrity get-together.
No, it will be a long while before the Cavs are ready to make The Leap.
Going back to last year, the Wizards have beaten the Cavaliers in five of the last six meetings. However, Cleveland has been a scorching 18-6 since March 2. Washington is 13-13 in that span.
The two teams played last Sunday, with Washington winning 104-92. Gilbert Arenas scored 35 in that one and the Wiz took a 26-point lead into the fourth quarter.
One key subplot here is Cleveland's Larry Hughes, who has recently returned from injury, squaring off against his old team.
Another theme is the LeBron James vs. Gilbert Arenas showdown for who is the better late game finisher. LeBron has shown a willingness to defer to teammates in the final minute of games. But now he needs to be The Guy. Arenas is one of the best one-on-one scorers in the league, and could find himself going one-on-one with either LeBron or his former mate, Hughes.
Betting tip: The favorite has covered the spread the last ten times these clubs have met.
No. 3 New Jersey (-400) vs. No. 6 Indiana (+300)
Season Series: Pacers lead 2-1
Skinny: This series is going to be a mess. A sloppy, disgusting mess. Think botched coup in Haiti. There will be flashes of brilliance, but these teams are goofy and you never know what you'll get. Expect a lot of blowouts, and one outstanding, last-second, edge-of-your-seat thriller.
The Pacers, a dark horse pick for the NBA Finals at the beginning of the year, are the walking dead. Their window for a title has closed, but it's as if no one told them that and they still think they have a chance. A team in this dense a fog of denial could be dangerous.
Jermaine O'Neal will tool on the Nets frontcourt. That is, until it hits crunch time and he starts whining about fouls and throwing up panicked fadeaways. Their hope is that Peja decides to play, gets hot for a weekend, and they can steal one of the first two games.
New Jersey is 3-5 in the two weeks following their 14-game winning streak, and were just 6-7 in the month before it. At best, they're a streaky band of beasts. Also, the Pacers have the edge in points per game, field goal percentage, overall defense, rebounding and a much better bench.
We're always one rolled ankle or broken nail away from the Nets being short-handed. But despite all of the reasons why this is a bad matchup for Jersey, they still have the tremendous home court advantage. The Nets were 29-12 at home this season, while Indiana was a putrid 14-27 on the road.
Betting tip: The Under is 16-5 in Indiana's last 21 playoff games.
No. 1 Detroit (-6000) vs. No. 8 Milwaukee (+3000)
Season Series: Pistons lead 3-1
Skinny: Andrew Bogut will be baptized into the NBA Playoffs by the elbows of Ben and Rasheed Wallace. And in a related story, the Bucks don't stand a chance against the Pistons in this series.
Well, that's not necessarily fair. The Bucks could steal a game at home, where they were 26-15. Also, with Bogut and Jamaal Magloire the Bucks are one of the few teams that have the size to match Detroit up front.
But the trouble is the Pistons were the league's best road team at 27-14. Oh, and then there's the fact that Detroit is just that much better than the Bucks. The Pistons didn't make a run at 70 wins this season just to turn around and lose in the first round.
I'm not going to waste your time on this one. If the Bucks are lucky, it won't be too bloody of a fisting. Lay the points and collect your 25 cents on the back end of a likely sweep.
Betting tip: In its 64 victories, Detroit won and covered 63 percent of the time. In its 42 losses, Milwaukee only covered 20 percent of the time.
No. 2 Miami (-700) vs. No. 7 Chicago (+650)
Season Series: Heat lead 2-1
Skinny: When this Miami team was constructed last summer it was with this in mind. The Playoffs are upon us and its time for The Glove, Zo, Shaq and Twan to dust off their A-Game and gear up for one last shot at a title.
Since 2004 the Heat have beaten the Bulls in eight of the last nine meaningful meetings (excluding last Sunday). Miami is loaded with experience and talent, and are intent on a rematch with Detroit.
The Bulls have won 12 of 14 games down the stretch. They were fighting for their playoff lives during that run, so we're left with two possible outcomes:
1) The Bulls' intensity carries over and they stun the Heat in Game 1, leading to a bulldog series.
2) They're out of steam, and get rolled by the Heat in four or five games.
Regardless, the Bulls are like a mid-major team in the NCAA Tournament. They have less talent, and a slim chance to advance. But as we all know: it's not whether you win or lose, it's whether or not you cover.
Betting tip: These two are 11-1 on the Over in their last 12 games in South Beach.
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The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the opinions of Doc's Sports NBA picks.