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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 9:15 AM

Maybe long-time NBA fans will consider this second Saturday in May to be a hoops nirvana of sorts:

Just consider that the league's two most iconic franchises - that's the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers (of course) - are in action with a couple of great storylines here as the Lakers try to fend off the surging Denver Nuggets in a Game 7 this evening at Staples Center (get there early, Jack!) while the Celtics renew a great neighborhood rivalry with the start of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Fun stuff, indeed!

It's worth noting that the Sixers and the Celtics have not squared off against one another in a playoff series in nine years - yes, everyone was used to the seemingly annual Eastern Conference Final Series back in the early 1980s when Moses Malone and Larry Bird and Julius Erving and Robert Parish and Maurice Cheeks (among others) were making all the headlines - but this one should be fun too and you wonder -- for starters -- if the "quick turnaround" here will hurt the older/aging Celtics. Hmmm.

Both clubs closed out their first-round playoff series this past Thursday night and so that leaves less than 48 hours to recoup but those thirty-something year-old chaps on Boston might take a few extra moments to get their engines revved up ... so, can opportunistic Philly "steal" Game 1 in Beantown tonight?

Now let's get right to our Saturday night game previews here beginning in the East ...


#8 PHILADELPHIA at #4 BOSTON - Game 1 at 8:05 p.m. ET
Now that the Sixers have "made history" by becoming only the fifth NBA team to win a playoff series as a #8 seed against a #1 seed, Philly head coach Dou Collins - a so-called "Sixer for life" - will try to whip up some more magic in this best-of-seven series that likely will sport the following storylines:

Boston head coach Doc Rivers - who had some rough moments late in Thursday's crazy 83-80 non-cover home win against 6 ½-point underdog Atlanta - needs to manage the minutes of his so-called "Big Three" as Paul Pierce (a team-leading 21.2 ppg in that opening-round series against the Hawks) still has some nagging injuries to deal with while F/C Kevin Garnett (18.7 ppg) can't be put through a 42-to-45 minute per-night grind and ace shooter Ray Allen is still far from 100 percent after some late-season ankle woes and what exactly has happened to Allen at the free-throw line (see just 8-of-14 from the charity stripe)?;

Next up, Philadelphia needs ways to score the ball easier here - note that the 76ers shot 40.7 percent in that six-game series win against Chicago and that's not gonna get "mission accomplished" in this round of play. One major key is Sixth Man Lou Williams who shot just 24-of-65 (that's 37 percent) in Round One and that included a stunningly bad 4-of-26 FG performance from beyond the three-point arc. If Williams is swishin' early in this series, the 76ers are "live" for the second-round upset;

Finally, it goes without saying that the underdog Sixers need one and probably two road wins in this series and so the best way to get after this Boston beast is to "cut off its head" and so look for the immediate Game 1 strategy to go after Celtics PG Rajon Rodno and really make him work on "D" all the while looking to pick up cheap fouls against him.

If the Sixers can get three fouls on Rondo sometime in the first half than it could signal a major opportunity to steal this one right out of the starting gate. Got it, guys?

Here are the three regular-season matchups between the 76ers and the Celtics this year (note all home teams are in CAPS):

4-8 BOSTON - 3.5 Philadelphia BOSTON 103-79

Spread Note: Home favorites easily covered all three of the 2011-12 regular-season games
Series Price (based on a $100 play): Philadelphia is + 190; Boston is - 240


#6 DENVER at #3 LOS ANGELES LAKERS - Series tied 3-3
Game #7 at 10:35 p.m. ET

Now who exactly thought we'd be standing here after the Lakers rolled to a commanding three games-to-one series lead last Sunday in the Mile High City?

Since that night's 92-88 win, the Lakers' world has been put on its head with back-to-back losses to the Nuggets and now we've got LAL mega-star Kobe Bryant - who has scored a combined 74 points in these last two Lakers' losses - calling out big men Pau Gasol and Kevin Bynum for their AWOL showings in Game #6.

Bynum, in fact, chose to sit by himself at the end of the LA bench during one second-half team pow-wow and that really rankled the LA folks who have grown tired of his pouting ... if Bynum doesn't show his "A" game here than the Lakers could be toast 'cause Denver has all the momentum and a point guard in Ty Lawson who's feeling like the king of the hill.

Lawson's 32-point showing in Game #6 included a fantastic start - remember the Nuggets led 13-0 before the Lakers ever got off the mat - and so expect the game plan here to be LA shadowing the Denver lead-guard wherever he goes and that's where either the aforementioned Bryant or the off-the-suspended-list Ron Artest (okay, Metta World Peace) comes in as either/both top-flight defender must steer Lawson off course here. Denver needs veteran PG Andre Miller (the Game #5 hero who also contributed 12 points in 24 minutes in that resounding 17-point win in Game #6) to give George Karl's club a real stable presence when/if Lawson is null-and-voided and Miller might just be counted on to make some big fourth-quarter shots too - maybe the biggest shots of this season for the Nuggets.

Wanna check out a real X-factor here for Game #7?

The Nuggets missed eight of their 17 FTs in that Thursday win but that received zero play in the lopsided win - hey, a rotten 53 percent showing at the charity stripe here could merely sink the Denver season. Gulp!

Here's how the Lakers-Nuggets series has gone so far (note home teams are in CAPS):

4-29 LA LAKERS - 5 Denver LA LAKERS 103-88
5-1 LA LAKERS - 5.5 Denver LA LAKERS 104-100
5-4 DENVER - 3.5 LA Lakers DENVER 99-84
5-6 DENVER - 2 LA Lakers LA Lakers 92-88
5-8 LA LAKERS - 5.5 Denver Denver 102-99
5-10 DENVER - 2.5 LA Lakers DENVER 113-96

Spread Note: Home teams have split the first six games in this set but the Nuggets have covered four of these games.

NOTE: There's lots more NBA Playoff coverage in the next edition of Jim Sez plus gear up soon for some NFL talk too!

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