Challenges ahead for NBA elite

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The NBA has officially passed the midpoint of the season and we are starting to see some separation at the top of the standings.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have opened up a 4 game lead over Boston for the top seed in the Eastern Conference with both Atlanta and Orlando just a half game further back. These will be your top four seeds come Playoff time as no other Eastern team is less than 10 games from the Cavs.

But the Cavs will be challenged over the next month or so with G Mo Williams and his 17 points and 5 assists per game out with an injured shoulder.

The race to Playoffs figures to be much more entertaining in the West.

But the gap between Denver and the team currently eleventh, New Orleans, is just 6 games. With teams having between 35 and 40 games still to play much can and will happen to shake up those standings.

Of course there are teams that have no vision of making the Playoffs even with so many games still remaining. There are two teams with very ugly records and little to suggest even a modest turnaround is on the horizon.

In most season’s Minnesota’s 9-36 record would have them well positioned to have the most balls in the draft lottery. But the Timberwolves and their lowly .200 winning percentage are not even close to earning that “honor.”

We may be witnessing the worst NBA team in history as the New Jersey Nets start this week still seeking their first win of the new year. In fact the Nets are looking for just their fourth win of the entire season.

But considering how woeful this team has been even that has to be called into question. The Nets have been double digit underdogs 15 times in 43 games. They are just 7-8 ATS in those games.

In their most recent such situation this past Saturday at Utah, the Nets were 16½ point underdogs and trailed by 18 at halftime in a game they ultimately lost by 33.

Conventional wisdom holds that double digit underdogs present great value and should be looked at as potential teams to play. And that has generally again been the case this season as double digit favorites have produced an overall net loss of nearly 30 units.

For the season there have been 97 games in which the home team has been favored by 10 points or more. The home team has won 85 of those games (87.6 percent) but are just 38-58-1 ATS (39.6 percent).

Double digit road favorites have won 8 of 9 games this season but also have been net losers ATS at 3-6.

The Nets are presenting a challenge to the notion of profiting with double digit dogs and it remains to be seen just how low the Nets can fall and how high the lines can climb before things begin to reverse direction for this potentially history making team.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Boston at Atlanta (Friday): The Atlanta Hawks refuse to back down and continue to be a major player in the East. They start the week just a half game behind Boston for the number 2 seed. They take the court with great confidence as they’ve defeated Boston in all 3 prior meetings this season including a pair of wins just 3 days apart earlier this month. Clearly Boston would like to avoid a season sweep by the Hawks but they enter this contest off of what figures to have been a tough road game at Orlando Thursday night. Boston is starting to regain their health and when at full strength the Celtics are one of the league’s top defensive teams. Considering the fatigue factor from having played the night before the Celtics might do well to further slow the tempo and reduce the number of possessions in this contest and making this a game that gets decided in the fourth quarter. UNDER the Total.

New Orleans at Memphis (Saturday): Both teams are in the battle for one of the lower Playoff seeds in the West and start the week separated by just a half game in the standings. New Orleans has overcome a poor start to their season to play their best basketball in recent weeks. Memphis has been one of the surprise teams this season. After going 24-58 last season the Grizzlies start the week needing just one win to equal those 24 wins of a season ago and are 4 games above .500 more than halfway through this season. New Orleans won the only prior meeting this season by 2 points in a home game played just last week. The lines maker has recognized the improvement shown by Memphis as they’ve been favored in 8 straight home games, covering in 5. Overall they’ve won 10 straight home games. Both teams played Friday night and have to travel to this site giving neither an edge other than the home crowd for Memphis. Both have also very similar contrasts by winning over 75% of their home games while winning just a third of their road contests. MEMPHIS.

Denver at San Antonio (Sunday): Denver has been playing very well of late, winning 8 of their last 10 games. They’ve done so even though star Carmello Anthony has been battling injuries that caused him to miss some games earlier this month and again at the start of this week. The absence of the league’s second leading scorer clearly will affect both the line for this game and its outcome. San Antonio has been somewhat going through the motions all season, ostensibly in an effort to pace themselves and their fairly aging roster to be fresh for the grueling post season. The Spurs do have the overall more talented roster although Denver did win the only prior meeting this season against the Spurs, in early December on this court. Both teams last played Friday but the Nuggets do have a very winnable home game Monday night against Sacramento. The Spurs should put some importance on a strong effort here with potential Playoff seeding implications down the road. 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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