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As the halfway point of the NBA season approaches, Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers continue to show why they appear on course to meet in the NBA Finals in June. Despite missing key players due to injuries the Celtics and Lakers are the only teams yet to experience the agony of defeat 10 times.

Boston’s perch atop the Eastern Conference is not as certain although their 26-9 mark is best in the East. Cleveland is right on their tails at 29-10 and the Cavs have been playing inspired basketball over the past couple of weeks. Boston has endured key injuries over the past few weeks with Kevin Garnett having missed much of the past couple of weeks. Paul Pierce has also missed some time but when healthy the Celtics have the best balanced and deepest roster in the East. Six players are averaging between 10 and 18 points per game. It was Garnett’s absence in last season’s Playoffs that led to Boston’s earlier than expected ouster.

In the East both Charlotte and the New York Knicks have started to play better in recent weeks but the woes of one of the East’s most prominent and successful franchises of the past two decades continues.

The once mighty Detroit Pistons were struggling when they were flirting with a .500 record a few weeks ago when they were 11-12. Their last win came two weeks before Christmas and they’ve lost 12 straight since. It’s a team in transition that has battled more than a fair share of injuries. There will be value on betting the Pistons later in the season once they get their full roster back on the court. But they probably should be avoided in the near term.

Here’s a look at three games for this weekend.

San Antonio at Charlotte (Friday): There’s something troubling about this season’s Spurs team. They too often look lethargic and appear to be just going through the motions. Perhaps it’s age finally catching up. Perhaps it’s the wear and tear of playing so many post season games over the past decade. The Spurs won the earlier meeting this season by 19 points in mid December. But the Bobcats have played much better since, winning 4 of their last 5 games including a road win at powerful Cleveland. The trade for Stephen Jackson has worked thus far and coach Larry Brown has a long history of getting young teams to show improvement within a season or two. Charlotte will be primed for a big effort here in which they likely will be underdogs by a couple of buckets. CHARLOTTE.

Cleveland at L.A. Clippers (Saturday): Cleveland wraps up a west coast trip and catch the Clippers a night after the Clippers and Lakers battled on this very same court. Cleveland has swept the two meetings in each of the past three seasons and meet for the first this season. This appears to be the best Clippers team of this period and have won six straight at home, including twice as underdogs over the Celtics and Lakers. Regardless of the result of Friday’s game against the Lakers, expect another good showing from the Clippers here against yet another of the league’s elite teams. There should be an extra point or two of value in the line because of the Friday night game against the Lakers where the Lakers were playing with revenge. L.A. CLIPPERS.

Utah at Denver (Sunday): Both teams are suffering through mini slumps as each had lost 6 of 10 entering the week. Denver has been hit by some key injuries to explain their woes which seem to be temporary. Utah just seems to have chemistry issues as they appear out of synch in many games for long stretches of time. This is an unfavorable scheduling spot for the Jazz as Utah is playing their third game in four nights while Denver is fresh, having last played on Wednesday. The Nuggets should take advantage of this edge and force the Jazz into an up tempo running game, enabling Denver to extend a lead in the second half. DENVER.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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