The second half of the truncated NBA regular season is well under way with just one major milestone standing between now and the start of the Playoffs.
The trade deadline is this coming Thursday and although there have been some rumors circulating over the past week or so no deals of consequence have yet been consummated.
As the deadline approaches be aware that games may be briefly taken off of the betting boards as trade talks intensify and word of such discussions inevitably leak out. Fortunately there are only five games scheduled for Thursday so the potential for significant line moves are reduced. But it is something to keep in mind as you handicap games and contemplate making plays as the deadline approaches.
One team that’s been highly thought of in this column for much of the season has seen its chances of making the Playoffs drop considerably over the past few days. Ricky Rubio had been so instrumental in elevating the overall play of the Minnesota Timberwolves to the point that this up and coming team had moved to within a whisker of holding the eighth seed in the West.
But Rubio will miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL and it’s doubtful that Minnesota can overcome his loss. Kevin Love is an outstanding player but Rubio’s influence on the rest of the supporting cast was huge.
Keep Minnesota in mind when futures for the 2013-14 NBA Title come out around the time of this season’s NBA Finals in June.
It’s looking more and more as though the resurgence of the New York Knicks a month ago was truly a case of “temporary lin-sanity.” When Jeremy Lin was inserted into the lineup the Knicks reeled off 7 straight wins and a phenomenon was born.
But since that win streak was snapped just prior to the All Star break the Knicks have gone just 3-8 and begin this week having lost five straight. The first four games of the current losing streak were on the road but their failure to defeat Philadelphia this past Sunday, upon returning home, should be taken as a negative sign.
The Knicks were in Chicago on Monday as we went to press and the schedule for New York is extremely difficult over the balance of the regular season.
The Knicks’ hold on the eighth seed in the East is extremely tenuous with both Milwaukee and Cleveland just a game behind.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni is once again on the hot seat and the failure of New York to make the Playoffs will almost certainly cost him his job.
Although he will shoulder most of the blame it should not be overlooked that the end of New York’s short term success coincided with the return from injury of star Carmelo Anthony and his re-assimilation into the lineup with Lin, Amar’e Stoudemire and others.
The much ballyhooed trade with Denver at about this time a year ago that brought Anthony to New York was supposed to be the missing piece that turned New York into a contender.
Scoring has picked up a bit in recent weeks, a fact that is reflected in the narrowing gap between OVERs and UNDERs.
Up until the All Star break there had been 43 more OVERs than UNDERs in just over 500 games played. In the 108 games played since the break nearly one third of that margin had been erased as there have been 60 OVERs, 46 UNDERs and a pair of PUSHes.
In fact, scoring is up more than four and half total points per game since the break with total points per game increasing from 190.0 per game before the break to 195.5 since.
Whether the increase is due to better shooting, defensive fatigue from the effects of the compacted schedule, other factors or perhaps just a short term anomaly is hard to say. The average total line has shown an increase as well but only by about half of that 4.5 point increase.
Although much of the basketball world’s attention will be focused on the college game for the next couple of weeks there will be some interesting and impact NBA contests being played.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
San Antonio at OKC: This will be San Antonio’s first road game since February 23, having played seven straight home games following the break. Although they catch the Thunder off of a game at Denver on Thursday the Spurs will be at key rival Dallas on Saturday while Oklahoma City will be off. These teams have split their two prior meetings this season with each winning, and covering, on their home court. This handicaps as more of the same. OKC.
Philadelphia at Chicago: These teams have met twice this season, both in Philadelphia, with each team winning once. Fatigue could be a factor for both teams and we could see this game played at a more deliberate, defensive-oriented pace. Chicago allows the third fewest points per game at home while the 76ers allow the fourth fewest points per game on the road. UNDER.
Houston at Phoenix: The Suns are playing their best basketball of the season and begin the week having won seven of nine, including wins over some of the top teams in the conference. Considering the potential for Playoff impacts and having lost twice to the Rockets already, this spot clearly favors the hosts, playing the much better basketball. The Suns also have a day of rest while Houston played at the Clippers on Saturday. PHOENIX.