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Monta Ellis hits absurd buzzer-beater to lift Mavs over Bucks

A player previously known as a volume shooter with few contributions in other areas has benefited greatly from being surrounded by other quality scorers and now looks like a dangerous, acceptably efficient guard for the best offense in the NBA. Ellis is a lot more valuable now that no one considers him a first option.

For the most part, though, Monta is the same player who frustrated many observers, particularly when it comes to taking and making bizarre shots made possible only by elite body control. One of his best and most successful examples of such a play came in the final seconds of Wednesday night's game between the Mavs and host Milwaukee Bucks.

With 8.9 seconds on the clock and the score tied at 105-105, Ellis took the inbounds pass and prepared to take the defending O.J. Mayo one-on-one. Mayo did very well and forced Ellis into two help defenders, which presumably would have caused the ballhandler to force a shot or pass to another player who would have very little time to beat the clock. Instead, Ellis spun to his left, took two steps in the same direction, and faded away for a 10.0-degree-of-difficulty shot over Mayo: The stunning finish was upheld after video review and the Mavs left town with a 107-105 win. It initially looked like Ellis might have traveled, but his movement was legal it was just a very odd interpretation of the rules. A running fadeaway out of a spin move just isn't a shot many players will consider, let alone choose to take. It's an incredible play regardless of its impact on the game.

It also marked the second night in a row in which Monta had helped Dallas to a win with some late-game ingenuity. Ellis forced a very foolish foul from Kirk Hinrich in the final seconds of regulation on Tuesday night vs. the Bulls and then hit three free throws to send the game to overtime, where the Mavericks eventually won.

On the other hand, Ellis wasn't especially efficient in either game outside of those two huge moments. With 21 points on 11-of-26 shooting vs. the Bucks, Monta has now scored 61 points on 61 field goal attempts in his last two games. I imagine Dallas will take it.

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NBA: Orlando’s opening number suggests readiness

The Boston Celtics exposed the Orlando Magic in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Whether Orlando was not emotionally ready to play from the long layoff or listless after cruising past two dramatically weaker opponents, the facts are that for three quarters the Magic looked liked they belonged in the Eastern Finals as much as the New Jersey Nets. They’ll try to turn things around and even up the series in Game 2 tonight. Orlando is a hefty 7 point favorite at

The crisp passing normally associated with Stan Van Gundy’s team amounted to a grand total of 10 assists in the series opener. The Magic players dumped the ball down to Dwight Howard and basically stood like statues in creating no movement on the perimeter, which forced Howard to rely on his limited offense game with nowhere to pass the ball.

While the Celtics deserve credit for keeping the Magic under 40 percent shooting for the first 36 minutes, their task was made much simpler with Rashard Lewis, Matt Barnes and Jameer Nelson for the most part taking off-balance shots and being sloppy ball-handlers.

“I don't think we were prepared for the level they were ready to play," said Vince Carter, one of the few players in white with pulse throughout the contest. "They were ready to go from the jump, and we weren't on their level from the beginning." Orlando is 41-22 ATS revenging a same season loss.

The Magic too readily let Boston set up its half court defense. When Nelson had the ball a good portion the game, he did too much yo-yo dribbling and the offense was stagnant.

The Magic are 23-11 ATS after a game where they failed to cover the spread this year.

"That was a wake-up call we really needed, in my opinion," said Carter. "They're relentless, they're aggressive, they do a great job of contesting, especially in the paint, and it took us a while to figure it out, but when we did we played a lot better."

Boston’s Ray Allen shot only 34 percent against the Magic in last year’s playoffs and they tried to employ the same defensive strategy on him again, pressuring him on the perimeter to take contested shots. Allen foiled those tactics, by beating Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus and later Redick off the dribble for layups or short jumps shots in totaling his game high 25 points.

The Celts are up to 38-23 ATS as road underdogs the past three years and Paul Pierce is starting to show he might still have something left in his legs with superior all-around game line that looked this way: 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

“It was a defensive game, and we like those. That was fine with us," said Boston coach Doc Rivers.

Orlando is 7 point favorites to even the series, with ‘total’ of 189 at The Magic are 31-12 ATS after playing a game as a home favorite and 17-6 UNDER after one or more losses. Boston has won and covered four in a row and is 29-16 ATS in road games after successfully covering the spread in two or more consecutive contests. The Celtics are 11-2 UNDER after allowing 35 points or less in the first half of their last outing.

NBA: Three NBA Playoff teams look to make magic

Over the next two days, the NBA playoff series’ switch to new. A couple of the teams playing on Thursday night are in desperate straits and need to make something happen or they can start thinking of summer vacation plans. One other squad doesn’t have its best player, however can take the series lead with a victory before its loud and proud fans. Let’s take a look at all three of Thursday’s games from a betting perspective. Head over to the LIVE ODDS and GAME MATCHUPS pages on for more key info.

Cleveland at Chicago 7:00E TNT

The Bulls played the Cavaliers even for three quarters, unfortunately professional basketball is a four quarters contest.

Chicago was tied after three quarters but was outscored 35-25 in the final 12 minutes, thanks to LeBron James doing his best Mariano Rivera impression as the closer. James scored 15 of his 40 points in the final stanza, ruining the Bulls upset bid.

“They call me the closer every time I come in the fourth quarter,” James said. “It’s my time to put the game away or do what I do best and that’s try to close the game the right way.” Cleveland is 14-4 ATS off a home win by 10 points or more this season.

Chicago will receive the energy from its home fans and the Bulls better start a rampage from the opening tip, since nobody expects the Bulls to win four of the next five games. One Chi-Town player enduring himself to the locals is Joakim Noah, who has been a force on both ends of the floor while talking a little trash about Cleveland. He’s more than ready for next assignment.

We can't get discouraged," Noah said. "They did what they were supposed to do. We'll have our fans ready to go for the next game and we'll be ready to go on Thursday."

The Bulls are a four-point underdog, with total of 193 and are 13-4 ATS off two or more consecutive road losses. Chicago is 13-4 UNDER playing with two days rest this season.

L.A. Lakers at Oklahoma City 9:30E  TNT

This is all fun and new for the Thunder, being in the postseason for the first time as members from the Sooner State. Oklahoma City lost both games to the defending champion L. A. Lakers, but they are far from discouraged.

"I think that our offense was phenomenal," Kevin Durant said. "Our energy on the defensive end was phenomenal. Of course you cannot play perfect defense an entire game. We got a lot of offensive, rebounds and we played hard.

Of course the next step in the progression is actually winning a game and the Thunder gives the impression they are well-equipped to do so. OKC is 14-5 ATS off a road loss and has installed them as 3.5-point favorites.

Thunder fans have enjoyed this young team’s rise all year and view this as the beginning of something much bigger and can hardly be disappointed no matter the outcome.

The Lakers were pushed to the end in Game 2, winning 95-92 as 5.5-point favorites, held to 37.5 percent shooting. Kobe Bryant returned to his usual self scoring 39 points, making 13 of 15 from the charity stripe. It’s a rare sight to see Los Angeles as an underdog, especially in a 1 vs 8 matchup and they are 33-18 ATS as a pooch and 10-2 UNDER in this role.

"We're going home to our crowd, which is gonna give us a lot of energy and we're gonna be ready to play," Jeff Green said Tuesday night. His team is 14-2 ATS after a contest with 15 or less assists this season.

Keep an eye on the total of 191.5 with Oklahoma City 12-2 UNDER at the Ford Center off a cover where they lost the game SU as an underdog.

Phoenix at Portland 10:00E  NBA TV

Portland looked every bit like the underdog they were supposed to be, being man-handled by Phoenix 119-90 in Game 2 as 8.5-point underdogs. The news however is good on two fronts, a loss is still a loss whether it’s by one point or 29 and the Trailblazers are returning home.

We got a win," Portland guard Andre Miller said. "You don't want to lose like that any time, but we still are motivated. This is a seven-game series. (The Suns) did their job tonight, but we got a game, and it's a series. Now we have to go and try to protect our home court." Portland is 13-5 ATS after allowing 105 points or more this season.

Phoenix can take pride in understanding and doing what it takes to win as they showed in the last outing. They ran the floor for easy transition buckets, forced Portland into missing shots with greater defensive intensity (38.2 percent) and spread the ball around with Jason Richardson and Grant Hill being key figures in the victory.

“We were just more aggressive getting the ball up the floor and moving bodies around so they weren’t set,” Steve Nash said, “and they weren’t able to zone it up as well.” That raised the Suns record to 14-4 ATS playing against a team with a 60-70 winning percentage this campaign.

Game 3 opened as a Pick em’ and Portland has moved to a one-point underdog with its 7-19 ATS record at the Rose Garden after a loss by 10 points or more.