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Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe

Chasm really noticeable in Eastern Conf.

The NBA season is nearly a third complete with nearly 450 games having been played through Sunday. The league continues to separate itself into tiers of teams with the Eastern Conference providing a stark contrast between the very good and very bad.

Boston has the best record in the East and is the only team in the Atlantic Division with a winning record. Cleveland is second best in the East and the Cavs are the only team in the Central Division with a winning record.

In fact, the top four teams in the East – Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta and Orlando – are a combined 90-30 straight up. That’s 60 games above .500 with a 75 percent win percentage.

The rest of the Eastern conference – 11 teams – are a combined 90 games below .500. Even taking out New Jersey’s pathetic 2-28 record those other 10 teams are still 64 games below break even. The only one of those teams with a winning record is Miami, at 16-12.

It would not be a surprise if both Boston and Cleveland – and perhaps even Orlando and possibly Atlanta – end up with the four top records in the entire league – ahead of the Western Conference leader (likely the Lakers) and thus provide the Eastern Conference champion with the home court edge in the NBA Finals.

In contrast there are 9 teams with winning records in the West, headed, of course, by the Los Angeles Lakers. Their 24-5 mark is currently the best in the league but the imbalance between the conferences suggests the Lakers will be hard pressed to maintain that status over the next 50 or so games. Not only will they face quality teams within the Western Conference but through their first 29 games the Lakers have played only 10 road games.

The Lakers still appear to be the team to beat for the Title but whether they can maintain their current pace is subject to conjecture.

Sacramento has the second best pointspread record (17-10-2). At the other extreme are New Jersey (9-21 ATS) and Chicago (9-17-2 ATS).

New Jersey has already made a coaching change this season and Chicago is on the verge of replacing coach Vinny del Negro, a move that could be days, if not hours, away from occurring.

Overall, home teams are 221-218-5 ATS this season with Home Favorites 156-151-5 and Home Underdogs 63-65. Home Pick ‘em team are 2-2.

Totals are a bit more skewed but not by much as there have been 229 UNDERS and 211 OVERs in addition to 4 games that have pushed the Total.

Handicapping the NBA remains more an art of picking your spots than a science in which you rely too much on pure statistics and power ratings. The stats and ratings remain critical tools in evaluating strengths, weaknesses and matchups. But it’s interpretation and application of those tools that often points to a team that “doesn’t figure” or away from a team that is “clearly the better team.”

In wishing you and yours a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year here’s a look at a trio of games that will help usher in 2010.

Sacramento at L. A. Lakers (Friday): A week ago the Lakers were embarrassed at home by Cleveland on Christmas Day and followed that effort up the next night by needing two overtimes to win at Sacramento, even managing to cover the -6 line. The Kings have been a scrappy team to date, far exceeding expectations given their talent. At 13-16 they are not on pace to make the playoffs in the competitive West but a .500 record is no longer too lofty a goal. The Lakers have an extra day of rest and may still be without Ron Artest who missed some action over the weekend. Still, they’ll be prepared for an inspired effort from Sacramento and even as a likely double digit favorite should have the focus to win comfortably. L. A. LAKERS.

Denver at Utah (Saturday): Denver continues to lead the Northwest Division, two and a half games ahead of third place Utah. As is typical in the NBA, the Nuggets are a far different team at home than on the road. As is Utah. Heading into this week’s action Denver had lost 5 straight roadies, including three to sub .500 foes. Utah starts the week as winners of 8 of 9 at home, with the lone loss coming in the game in which they were the largest favorite, falling to lowly Minnesota. Denver won the earlier meeting this season at home to open the season. UTAH.

Charlotte at Cleveland (Sunday): There is a huge gap between these teams as Charlotte’s record is nearly a dozen games worse than Cleveland’s. But the Bobcats continue to show improvement in coach Larry Brown’s second season and, in fact, have already defeated the Cavs once this season in two meetings. They also covered in a road loss in the season’s opening week. Considered one of the best coaches of this era, the vagabond Brown continues to teach and get the most out of his players. Both teams are off of Saturday afternoon road games. CHARLOTTE.

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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