While much of the sporting world’s attention is on the NFL Playoffs the NBA regular season rolls along with the midpoint of the 82 game schedule having arrived. Whereas baseball has its dog days of summer, the NBA has its woes of winter – the time of the season when rookies start to hit "the wall" as they’ll have played more games than during their college seasons. Injuries continue to take their toll with more and more players missing a game or two.
The next major milestone of the season occurs next month with the annual All Star game, to be played this season in Dallas on Valentines Day. A few days later, Feb. 18, comes the trade deadline. The next month will be ripe with rumors of potential trades.
Contenders will look to add what they feel will be the missing piece to enhance their chances for making the Playoffs or strengthen their position as legitimate threats to win the Championship. Other teams will look to shed payroll as they look to rebuilding for next season.
A glance at the current standings shows the potential for some exciting races to make the Playoffs.
In the Eastern Conference four teams – Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta and Orlando – have started to separate from the rest of the pack. Fourth place Orlando is up by five and a half games on the two teams tied for fifth in the East, Miami and Toronto. Just seven games separates those two teams from the teams tied for next to last in the conference.
In the West, the Los Angeles Lakers have opened up a 5 game lead over both Denver and Dallas for the top seed. But the gap between those two teams and the pair of teams tied for tenth/eleventh (Memphis and New Orleans) is just four and a half games.
One of the more interesting teams thus far has been Charlotte. No team has as dramatic a split between home and road performances as do the Bobcats. Charlotte has one of the best home records in the league, 16-4. But they also have one of the worst records on the road, 3-15.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
Portland at Boston (Friday): Both teams have been hampered by injuries for much of the season. Still each has been playing well. Boston is contending for the top spot in the East while Portland is in the mix for a Playoff berth in the West, contending with Denver for the Northwest Division title. Boston has much better depth and that should be a significant edge here against a Trailblazer team that has struggled recently on defense. Portland is stepping up in class after games earlier in the week at Washington and Philadelphia and Boston’s tough defense should pave the way for a comfortable win by the hosts. BOSTON.
Oklahoma City at Cleveland (Saturday): Oklahoma City continues to improve and impress and are very much in contention for a Playoff berth. Led by Kevin Durant – perhaps the next great player to enter the class of the elite alongside Kobe and LeBron -- the Thunder have started to compete on even footing with the best teams in the league. They did lose at home in mid December to the Cavs by 13. They do catch the Cavs off of a game two nights earlier hosting the Lakers which might make for a good play on the Thunder in the first half. Oklahoma City did play in Memphis on Friday night so they may show fatigue late in the contest. But this could well be an up and down contest played at an up tempo pace. OVER the Total.
L. A. Lakers at Toronto (Sunday): The Lakers continue their east coast swing following games in Cleveland and at the Knicks. Toronto has started to elevate their level of play over the past month and begin the week as winners in 10 of their last 13 games. Two of the losses were to Boston and the third came at Indiana after the Raptors blew a 23 point second quarter lead. This run has put the Raptors over .500 and very much alive for a Playoff berth. Led by Chris Bosh Toronto could dictate the pace against the Lakers who are playing their third game in four nights. While an upset is not out of the question, getting a few buckets makes Toronto an attractive home underdog play. TORONTO.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe