Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder best through 20 games

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The NBA season is nearly one month old and several teams will play Game 20 of the shortened 66 game regular season later this week.

Chicago’s 15-3 record is the best in the NBA. The second best mark belongs to Oklahoma City whose 12-3 mark leads the West.

One of the early season surprises has been Philadelphia, whose 11-5 record is good enough to have opened up the largest lead in any of the six divisions. Philly leads second place Boston by 4½ games in the Atlantic.

Contrast that to the situation in the Southwest Division that has three teams tied for the lead with Memphis, San Antonio and Dallas sporting modest records three games above .500. Houston is just a game out at 9-7.

Of course it is still early but worth paying attention to the standings even at this early stage. Games played will accumulate in a hurry – at a faster pace than in seasons past.

The Los Angeles Clippers, even with recently acquired star Chris Paul sidelined, continue to play well and sit atop the Pacific Division. At 9-5 the Clippers are a game up of their crosstown rivals, the 10-8 Los Angeles Lakers. They are the only two teams with winning records in the division.

The prospects for Phoenix, Golden State or Sacramento mounting a serious challenge appear bleak so there could be widespread basketball excitement in LA come springtime.

With a schedule 20 percent shorter than normal, conference games take on added importance this season as teams seek to make the playoffs. This is yet another handicapping factor to be considered. In tough scheduling spots teams should place added emphasis in games against conference rivals.

Our weekly look at the numbers that are shaping this NBA season shows the gap between home and road teams’ point spread performances has narrowed.

Despite winning 149 of 241 games straight up (62 percent) home teams have just a 128-112 ATS edge versus road teams (53 percent), with one game ending in a push.

Home favorites are a solid 91-69 ATS (57 percent) while home underdogs have been a money losing proposition thus far, hitting just 46 percent ATS with a 37-43-1 record.

UNDERS still have a solid 137-101-3 edge versus OVERS through four weeks, resulting in slightly less than 58 percent.

Is the early season pattern of lower than expected scoring games starting to reverse? It’s hard to say but is worth noting that over this past Saturday and Sunday 11 of 14 games did go OVER.

The NBA hierarchy certainly hopes that those results continue as higher scoring games, much to the disapproval of basketball purists, tend to result in increased general interest and higher merchandise sales.

After taking a hit in both areas due to the nearly five month lockout, the drawing of fans casual and ardent alike is a priority.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

FRIDAY

Indiana at Boston: Perhaps it is a changing of the guard or just that the Celtics have been slow out of the gate, but Indiana has already defeated Boston twice. Both wins were by double digits, by 13 in Boston on Jan. 6 and by 14 in the rematch at home on Jan. 14.

Boston has some injury issues at the start of the week although both Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo are expected to be fully healthy by mid week. Indiana is clearly playing the better basketball and the Celtics are off back to back games against Orlando, including on the road on Thursday night. That should provide value. BOSTON.

SATURDAY

New York at Houston: It’s been a disappointing 6-10 start for the Knicks and coach Mike D’ntoni is on the hot seat with Phil Jackson rumors starting to circulate in the Big Apple. Houston’s 9-7 start has been very much a surprise and the Rockets are 7-1 at home. They start the week riding a 6-game winning streak while the Knicks are on a 6 game losing streak, the last 4 of which have come at home.

This is New York’s fourth game in five nights, all on the road, and follows a Friday night game at rival Miami. Houston should be fresher even after playing Friday night, but they were at home against lowly Washington. The spot sets up nicely for the hosts, catching the Knicks off a draining game against the Heat. HOUSTON.

SUNDAY

Chicago at Miami: These teams meet for the first time since last season’s Eastern Conference Finals when Miami spotted the Bulls a 1-0 series lead before winning four straight and advancing to the NBA Finals. Both teams last played on Friday and each plays again Monday. Chicago has gotten off to the better start at 15-3 and has won 7 of 8 entering the week. Miami is 11-5 but has lost 4 of 7 after starting 8-1.

Both teams have had to deal with key injuries as Miami’s Dwyane Wade had missed time with an injured ankle and Chicago’s Derrick Rose has an injured toe. Both stars are currently expected back for this early season showdown although the Bulls have fared much better The game probably has more meaning to Chicago given how last season ended. And with their outstanding defense that should translate to a more intense effort. CHICAGO.

 

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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