Now that the NBA All Star break has come and gone, the next date of consequence this season will be March 15, the trading deadline.
As the date approaches there will be many rumors and much speculation as to whether Orlando will trade free agent to be Dwight Howard. The Lakers have been in need of upgrading their point guard position with Pau Gasol most often mentioned as trade bait.
Often the trades that have the greatest impact are of the minor variety in which a contending team strengthens not its starting lineup but its bench.
Usually nothing more than fun and games, this past Sunday’s All Star Game featured a rare injury to a key player when Kobe Bryant suffered a partially broken nose and possible concussion when fouled hard by Dwyane Wade.
It was not a cheap shot although it can be questioned as to whether such intensity was really called for in what’s historically a wide open game when All Stars are basically allowed to just do their thing.
It is expected that Bryant will be cleared to play when the Lakers resume play Wednesday when they host Minnesota. Ironically the Lakers will entertain Wade and his Miami Heat teammates on Sunday. You can expect a resounding negative reaction when Wade takes the court but don’t expect retaliation in any form other than Kobe hitting a game winning shot.
And that would be an impressive conclusion to what figures to be one of the highest rated regular season games as Miami entered the All Star break as the hottest team in the league. The Heat had won eight in a row prior to the break with each victory by at least a dozen points.
Miami leads Chicago by a half game for the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Heat and Bulls have started to break away from the rest of the pack. Indiana sits third in the East, a solid five games behind Chicago.
Oklahoma City continues to set the pace in the West behind All Star Game MVP Kevin Durant. The Thunder’s 27-7 record is tops in the entire NBA and three games better than second seeded San Antonio.
The LA Clippers lead the Pacific Division and are seeded third in the West, 5½ behind Oklahoma City, and continue to lead their city rivals, the Lakers by 1½ games.
In reviewing the first half of the season from a point spread performance perspective the best ATS teams have been San Antonio (20-13-1) and Chicago (21-14), both right in the 60 percent range.
But the worst performing teams have been bigger money losers than have the best performers been winners. The worst team this season, Washington, is covering just 30 percent of its games (a dreadful 10-23 ATS). Not much better has been the 34 percent mark attained by Charlotte (11-21-0).
UNDERS have been outpacing OVERS all season. As such, no team has seen more than 58 percent of its games go OVER the total. Yet five teams have seen more than 60 percent of their games stay UNDER, led by the New York Knicks.
Through the All Star break 71 percent of Knicks games (25 of 35) have stayed UNDER. Both Houston and Phoenix have played 64 percent UNDER while both Atlanta and Philadelphia have stayed UNDER in 62 percent of their games.
Teams will have welcomed the All Star break as the interruption in play for as much as a week will have allowed for nagging injuries to benefit from rest. Coaching staffs also finally had a chance to have time to make adjustments for the balance of the compacted regular season.
Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the All Star break will have been New York. The Knicks needed practice time to more fully integrate newly found point guard Jeremy Lin into the flow with both Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
Now that both are healthy we may find out that the hubbub created by Lin during the couple of weeks prior to the All Star break was not simply a case of “temporary lin-sanity.” Rather it could be a prelude to a strong finishing kick that has New York a legitimate playoff contender.
Note the stat cited above regarding the Knicks’ high propensity for playing UNDERS. Often that’s the sign of a team on the verge of significant improvement, especially when the low totals are the result of an above average defense rather than subpar offense.
Allowing just 94.1 points per game has the Knicks in the upper half of the league in that statistic.
One caveat. The Knicks have played the easiest schedule in the NBA through the All Star break.
All of these factors will make the Knicks one of the most interesting teams to follow over the second half of the season.
On Monday we learned that the city of Sacramento, the NBA and the Kings announced a tentative deal to finance a new arena that would keep the franchise in that city. The City Council is expected to vote on that plan March 6.
Good news for the Maloof family, which owns the Kings and runs the Palms in Las Vegas.
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.
NBA BASKETBALL FRIDAY
Miami at Utah: The Heat are in the second of back to back games after starting their post All Star schedule on Thursday night in Portland. Their next game in on Sunday at the Lakers, making this a negative situation for the Heat.
Utah has struggled mightily in February following an outstanding January in which the Jazz won 11 of 15 games. But Utah is just 3-10 since. Miami is likely to be a solid favorite in this spot and could be overpriced for one of two reasons. Either they continued their torrid ways with a solid win at Portland or, if they were not sharp in Portland, will be expected to bounce back here.
Either way, the Jazz have shown the league’s third greatest home/road scoring difference to date, a difference of more than 14 points per game. UTAH.
NBA BASKETBALL SATURDAY
OKC at Atlanta: Oklahoma City has been consistent all season and begins post-All Star play having won five in a row, all at home. Atlanta entered the break playing its poorest basketball of the season, losing three of four and eight of its last twelve.
After starting the season by winning eight of nine home games the Hawks have dropped four of six although they ended pre-break play with a win over Orlando. At 12-6 Oklahoma City has the third best road record in the league and yet to lose back to back road games.
The Thunder last played on Thursday in Orlando while Atlanta is playing back to back although Friday’s game was also a home game against Milwaukee.
Atlanta has struggled against elite teams this season, going just 2-5 SU, 3-4 ATS but are 0-3 both SU and ATS in their last 3 such contests (losing at home to Miami and at both Chicago and San Antonio).
Oklahoma City has fared well against winning teams all season, both elite and second tier teams. They should be favored by a couple of buckets or so here and catch a Hawks team that expects to have Joe Johnson back in the lineup but will still be without Al Horford. OKC.
NBA BASKETBALL SUNDAY
New York at Boston: As noted above the Knicks should have greatly benefited from the All Star break and this will be only their second game since play resumed.
These teams have played twice this season with the home team winning each time by the same two point margin but with the underdog covering the spread in both. Boston remains an aging team likely to pace itself over the second half of the season with the goal of just making the playoffs.
The Celts, however, currently sit eighth in the East, a half game behind New York and 1½ in front of Cleveland. This is their fourth game since the All Star break and the middle of a six game in nine days stretch.
Right now it appears that the Knicks have the greater short term upside potential and New York figures to be catching a couple of buckets in this key divisional contest. NEW YORK.