Spurs have Knicks visit circled

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The NBA season is in full swing with many teams having already played half of their regular season schedule.

San Antonio continues to have the league’s best record, 35-6, and has opened up a 5½ game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers for the top seed in the Western Conference. Boston is the only other team with single digit losses and the Celtics’ 30-9 record has them atop the East, but just 1½ ahead of Miami.

The Heat are dealing with a couple of key injuries to superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh. James has missed several games including three straight losses heading into Tuesday’s home game against Atlanta.

Bosh was injured in Saturday’s loss at Chicago and his status is doubtful for that contest. James is expected to return. Injuries are perhaps the single greatest impediment to a team achieving its potential in any sport. But this is especially so in the NBA where just five players participate in game action and the loss of a single player represents a hefty 20% of on-the-court personnel and potential.

It’s a long and grinding season and virtually every team will have stretches in which they must compensate for injuries. Boston has experienced several key injuries as well over the past month. Unlike Miami, the Celtics have outstanding depth on their roster.

Key to staying healthy often involves not asking too much of aging veterans. Thus teams such as Boston and the Lakers will rest players strategically over the second half of the season. Both are virtual certainties to make the payoffs and their recent playoff experience suggests that entering post season play with a healthy and fresh/rested roster is more important than holding the No. 1 seed.

A concept that can prove beneficial in handicapping the NBA is related to the ranking and seeding of tournament teams in college basketball. Though flawed, college hoops’ RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) is a tool that attempts to rank teams based on how those teams have played, the caliber of teams they have faced and the strength of schedule those opponents have played.

Applying a similar concept to the NBA shows that the best teams in the league thus far are San Antonio, Dallas, Boston, Oklahoma City and Utah. The weakest teams are, as expected, those with the five worst records.

But the interesting part of RPI is in looking at the strength of schedule component. It shows that Milwaukee, Dallas, Minnesota, the Clippers and New Orleans have played the toughest schedules to date while Miami, Washington, Sacramento, Atlanta and the Lakers have played the easiest.

You might therefore look to play ON some of the weaker teams in the toughest five and AGAINST some of the stronger teams during the next few weeks.

Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.

Knicks at Spurs (Fri): The Knicks remain a pleasant surprise at the halfway point and have started to defeat some of the better teams in the NBA after feasting on weaker foes early. They currently hold the sixth seed in the East and are five games ahead of seventh seeded Indiana.

The Spurs have had the league’s best record almost from day one but are playing to avenge a rare loss to the Knicks. San Antonio lost 128-115 at New York on Jan. 4. Spurs coach Greg Popovich was extremely upset at his team’s defensive effort in that contest, expressing his displeasure in no uncertain terms.

Losing by a deuce the very next night in Boston made the Knicks’ loss that much more unsettling. Since the Boston loss, San Antonio has regained its winning ways and entered this week having won six straight. They will be focused for this rematch, even though the Spurs figure to come close to double digit favorites in this, a game in which they will have a point to prove. SPURS.

Magic at Rockets (Sat): Orlando has played outstanding basketball since retooling its roster last month. The Magic had won nine in a row prior to a pair of tight road losses at New Orleans and Oklahoma City last week but got back on track with a win at lowly Minnesota over the weekend.

Houston has played better than its talent level suggests but a lack of depth has started to take a toll. The Rockets have lost seven of 10 games starting the week, including a 15-point loss at Orlando on Jan. 7. Both teams are off Friday night games, with Orlando likely having had an easier time hosting Toronto than Houston will have had at Memphis.

The Rockets should be more adversely affected by the back-to-back situation and although it will be factored in the line the adjustment might be lessened somewhat by Houston playing at home. Orlando’s depth is a decided edge and the determining factor. MAGIC.

Pacers at Nuggets (Sun): In recognition of the fact that most of the sporting public will be focused on the NFL, the NBA has scheduled just a single contest for this day. Though far from a marquee matchup, this game is interesting nonetheless in light of the soap opera that continues to play in Denver concerning Carmelo Anthony and a trade that has supposedly been ‘impending’ for months.

Things intensified as the New Year came in. At first the trade talk was a distraction as the Nuggets lost three in a row, including double digit losses at Sacramento and the L.A. Clippers. As trade talk subsided for a bit, Denver regrouped and followed that losing streak with three straight blowout wins by 34, 28 and 28 points, one of which was against Miami (with LeBron James sidelined).

If Anthony is still with Denver for this game, the NUGGETS are the play. If Melo has been traded and not in this contest, the play will be PACERS.

last week                     season                         PCT

2-1                             16-15-1                         51.6

 

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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