Miami applying heat to East

Jan 4, 2005 6:22 AM

Nearing the midway point in the NBA season, Miami continues to dominate the Eastern Conference and begins the week with a lofty 25-7 record.

The Heat are 6½ games better than any other Eastern team and have won 14 straight as they embark on a West Coast swing following a midweek encounter hosting New York.

Phoenix still has the best record in the NBA at 26-4. Despite losing by 19 at San Antonio a week ago, the Suns continue to run the court and play great team basketball with a roster loaded in starting talent but questionable depth. The big concern is whether the Suns will tire down the stretch with all the minutes their starters are currently playing.

A top three seed come the playoffs, however, seems assured as in a Division title. Phoenix leads second place Sacramento by six games in the Pacific. The Kings are 19-9, but seem to lack the intensity shown the past few seasons. Time and injuries appear to have slowed them down but the Kings will still be in the playoffs.

Seattle leads Minnesota in the Northwest by a surprising six games. The Sonics continue to play exceptionally well (11-3) away from home. Winning on the road has always been tough in the NBA and the Sonics have to be considered serious title contenders. Phoenix, at 12-2 away from home, leads the league. Dallas, at 10-4, has a better road record than San Antonio (11-6). Minnesota begins this week playing just 8-8 away from the Target Center. Only one other Western team, Sacramento (7-5), has a winning road record.

If road success is the key to reaching the NBA Finals, then we can mark Miami in pen to play for the NBA Title. With their 12-4 mark on the road, the Heat are the only Eastern team with a winning record away from home. Next best is Indiana at 7-7.

Through this past Sunday, home and away teams have has covered exactly 216 games. There have been seven pushes. Home teams are still winning 60 percent of all games straight up. The pointspread split between home/road, and favorites/underdogs also remains very close to 50-50. Interestingly, five games have closed at ”˜pick em’ and in each case the road team has emerged victorious.

Scoring has been up this season and that is reflected in the widening gap between "overs" and "unders." Thus far 230 games have exceeded the lines maker’s expectations, while just 206 have stayed "under." Three games have pushed the Total.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Heat at Blazers (Fri): Miami begins a five-game, two week West Coast trip that will test their legitimacy as the clear favorite to win the East. In recent weeks, Portland has essentially lost to the better teams, while defeating equal or weaker competition. Miami is the better team and should come a slight road favorite. The tandem of Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal is now the best in the league and Portland will find it tough to match up. The Heat playing with revenge for a 99-87 home loss to Portland in late November. MIAMI.

Nuggets at S.A. Spurs (Sat): Within the past week, Denver has made a coaching change with ex-Laker Michael Cooper now in charge. San Antonio won the first meeting six weeks ago in Denver as 4½-point favorites, 89-75. The Spurs will come double digits here and clearly are the much better defensive team. The first meeting went "under" the total by 20 and, with the Nuggets still adjusting to their new coach, the Spurs will take advantage. SPURS.

Pacers at Suns (Sun): Indiana now has Jermaine O’Neal back on the court after his 25-game suspension was reduced by 10 games. Phoenix is the biggest surprise of the season and continues to win at a near record pace. The Suns have plenty of offensive options and catch Indiana off a Saturday night game in Dallas. That game might have the Pacers in rhythm to run the court with Phoenix. Consequently this presents a good spot for a high scoring contest even though conventional wisdom holds that Indiana might be tired following the Dallas contest. OVER.

Last week: 0-0

Season: 0-0