Cavs, Utah hottest at the break

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Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |

With the New Orleans Saints capturing Super Bowl XLIV, the football season has come to an end and focus shifts en masse to the sport of basketball.

But there will be one final connection to football that involves the NBA.

The NBA’s annual All Star Game and surrounding festivities will be held this weekend in Dallas with the game’s top players gathering at Cowboys Stadium in Texas.

Trades these days are often based more on economics and salary cap/contract considerations than in improving a team’s competitive chances. To wit, the Suns are 7-3 over their last 10 games are currently seeded fifth in the West.

The Los Angeles Lakers remain the top Western Conference seed, up by four and a half games over Denver. But the Lakers again are battling injuries with both Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum the latest to be banged up. That may actually not be a bad thing coming at this point in the season as it will allow the Lakers to assess their depth by allocating more playing time to the reserves with an eye towards perhaps a move or two by the deadline.

The two hottest teams heading towards the break are Cleveland and Utah.

Cleveland has the NBA’s best record at 41-11 and have won 11 in a row as they prepare to face the league’s worst team, New Jersey, Tuesday night. The Nets are a woeful 4-46 and star Devin Harris continues to be hampered by injuries.

The Cavs have opened up a six and a half game lead over second seeded Orlando with Atlanta and Boston tied a game further back. Boston has been struggling for more than a month, going 12-13 straight up over their last 25 games. Age may be taking its toll and it would not be a surprise if the Celtics are involved in a key trade at the deadline.

Utah starts the week winning 9 of their last 10 games and seeded third in the West. The Jazz are 22-6 at home but just 9-12 on the road which is the weakest road mark of the leading Playoff contenders. And with 7 more road games than home games remaining on their schedule there could be some good value in playing against Utah on the road in coming weeks.

As we saw in the NFL’s Pro Bowl and as we see every year in the NBA’s mid season classic there will be little if any defense played but for perhaps the final part of the fourth quarter if the game’s outcome is in doubt.

Thus we are likely to see 60 point quarters and a game total in the neighborhood of 250. Yet even at those high numbers it’s hard to make a case for playing them UNDER even though there would be intrinsic value in doing so. After all, this is the league’s showcase event and the NBA loves to showcase its star players. The refs will let the players play and will make only the most obvious of calls to stop play.

Here’s a look at a game on Wednesday and both games that will be played on Thursday.

Miami at Atlanta (Wednesday): Atlanta continues to be one of the top teams in the East and is within one game of Orlando for both the top spot in the Southeast Division and the second seed in the East. Division rival Miami has slumped the past two weeks, dropping 7 of their last 10 games and beginning this week as losers of 5 straight. The home team has won both prior meetings this season and the final margins have been 15 and 17 points. Hawks’ star Joe Johnson has been battling the flu but should have been back in the lineup a night earlier at Memphis. Miami also played on Tuesday, hosting Houston, which gives neither team a scheduling edge. Atlanta should be favored by a couple of buckets or so but they are the better team in better form and matchup edges. ATLANTA.

Orlando at Cleveland (Thursday): This is a very attractive matchup to end the figurative first half of the season as the top two teams in the East meet. In the only prior meeting this season Cleveland won in Orlando in mid November 102-93 as 1½ point underdogs. As discussed above, the Cavs are the hottest team in the league and they’ve been playing at a high intensity level, especially for this time of the season. And they continue to play well despite Mo Williams and Delonte West being sidelined with injuries. It would be tempting to play the Magic under ordinary circumstances but this is part of a TNT doubleheader and that means the Cavs’ LeBron James will be in the spotlight. Use the line as your guide in this game with Cleveland a play at -3 or less and Orlando the play at +5 or more. And use a Total of 191 as a guide to play the Total, looking for at least a 3 point margin either way.

San Antonio at Denver (Thursday): Both teams are contenders in the West and each has been battling injuries all season. Right now San Antonio is the healthier of the two teams with both Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups having missed time for the Nuggets over the weekend. Denver has won both prior meetings and both were on the road, winning by 7 and 14 points. That should make this a more important game for the Spurs and they should be slight dogs in the game. The situation calls for a play on the Spurs. Neither team played a night earlier but San Antonio has an extra day of rest with Denver having hosted Dallas on Tuesday after the Spurs last played at the Lakers Monday night. SAN ANTONIO.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe

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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