by Robert Ferringo - 4/21/2006
Here's a quick breakdown of the NBA's Western Conference first-round matchups. They are listed in order of intrigue. (Odds to win the series are in parentheses):
No. 1 San Antonio (-1150) vs. No. 8 Sacramento (+750)
Season series: Spurs lead 2-1
Skinny: With Ron Artest, there's always the possibility that he during pre-game warm-ups he could repel from the roof of Arco Arena, dressed like The Clown from "It" with a boa constrictor around his neck, and start spitting some Allure beats. For that alone this series is worth a viewing.
And even if that doesn't happen there's still a chance we could see some good ball.
The Kings are dangerous. And not just because of their psychotic front man. They are 19-8 since the end of February, and have been energized by the addition of Artest. Bibby, Bonzi and Brad Miller are all postseason vets, and Sac Town handled San Antonio 97-87 in Texas just two short weeks ago.
Though I just made the argument against, let me make my position on this matter clear: San Antonio is going to the NBA Finals.
The tendency is still to doubt the Spurs and they are currently a modest -140 to win the West. This is nonsense!
The design characteristics of the Spurs are nearly flawless. At both ends of the floor they are calculating, aggressive and efficient. They're the defending champs and they won 63 games this season. Get action on them - quickly.
But that's for the future. In the present you just need to know that the top seed doesn't lose in the first round. Not this one anyway.
Betting tip: The Spurs are 38-13-1 against the spread when they have two or more days of rest.
No. 2 Phoenix (-400) vs. No. 7 L.A. Lakers (+300)
Season series: Suns lead 3-1
Skinny: We have the league's Most Valuable Player (Steve Nash) leading his squad against the Association's Most Outstanding Player (Kobe Bryant).
The distinction may seem semantic, but it's quite critical in this series.
The Suns are sturdy favorites because they play outstanding team basketball. And while Kobe has a legitimate chance to average 50 points in this series, there's no way that his teammates - all low-life enablers - can keep up with Phoenix.
Since Nash has been in Phoenix, the Suns have hammered the Lakers - winning seven of eight meetings by an average of 11 points.
Phil Jackson is not the type of coach who loses in the first round of the playoffs. But then again, he never had a team that was just average defensively, was the 19th-best shooting team in the league, and had only two players that could start on another team in the league.
Betting tip: The Lakers haven't covered in eight consecutive playoff games.
No. 3 Denver (+150) at No. 6 L.A. Clippers (-170)
Season series: Clippers lead 3-1
Skinny: You read that right. The Nuggets are the higher seed but do not have home-court advantage. It's not exactly genocide in Darfor, but columnists and bobbleheads throughout the country have been up in arms. Apparently it's a "joke" that the team with the better record (which also won the regular season series) gets the home-court edge.
Though I openly mock my colleagues, home-court advantage is no laughing matter. Since the NBA went to seven-game series in all playoff rounds in 2003, there has been an "upset" less than 20 percent of the time.
Also, keep in mind that the books generally shade the line roughly four points toward the home team during the regular season. Don't think they won't add two more to that during the postseason.
Tempo will be the key to wins and losses, as well as overs and unders, in this series. The Nuggets want to get out and run while the Clippers want to slow down and let Elton Brand dominate the block.
Both of these clubs are a bit battered and bruised. Denver recently welcomed back Kenyon Martin, but he's not 100 percent. Greg Buckner has missed some time, and Earl Boykins has also been slowed as of late.
For the Clippers, Corey Maggette, Sam Cassell and Vladimir Radmanovic have each been ailing lately.
No. 4 Dallas (-600) vs. No. 5 Memphis (+400)
Season series: Mavericks won 3-1
Skinny: I'm not as high on the Mavericks as many of my comrades, and I smell some value here. I believe that they're soft and prone to spontaneous combustion. Also, the Mavs have been a measly 9-9 since backup point guard Devin Harris went on the injured list with a strained left quad.
Memphis' one win over Dallas was by 20 points in the Lone Star State. The Mavs' three wins over the Grizz were by a total of 18 points. Dallas managed to sweep a pair in the backwoods of Tennessee.
The Grizzlies, behind their top-notch defense (88.5 ppg), are 15-4 straight up over the last five weeks (and 13-6 ATS). Also, they have only lost by double-digits in four games during the last 35 games. They aren't built for short-series success, but Memphis could overpower anyone in the West.
The Mavs are a public team in part because their explosive offense (99.1 ppg) is so entertaining. Though they are a much smaller team than the Grizzlies, the Mavericks actually have a rebounding edge (42.3 vs. 39.2 per game). The play of up-and-down center Erick Dampier, who was the focus of Dirk's ire last spring, will be critical to maintaining that advantage.
The difference between this Dallas team and its predecessors is that these Mavs put up the portent of defense. With athletic stoppers like Marquis Daniels and Josh Howard getting serious minutes, Dallas boasted the league's No. 7 defense (93.1 ppg).
Betting tip: The Mavs have lost only one first-round series since 2000, and they haven't lost a first-round series that they started at home since 1987.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at email@example.com or check out his Insider Page here.
The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the opinions of Doc's Sports NBA picks.