Road defeats could burn Suns

Jan 18, 2005 6:56 AM

Nearly halfway through the regular season, Phoenix still has the best record in the NBA despite three straight road losses.

The Suns entered Monday’s game at Detroit with a 21-7 record. That recent mini-slump has enabled both San Antonio and Seattle to narrow the gap behind Phoenix for the top seed in the West. San Antonio begins the week 1½ games behind with Seattle just three back.

Joining the top three West teams are Sacramento, Dallas, the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston as playoff seeds. Minnesota and Memphis are tied for the eighth and final spot. Of these nine teams only Minnesota is not in good form, losing seven of its last 10 games. Seven of the other eight are at least 7-3 in their last 10.

The Lakers are 6-4 and will be without Kobe Bryant for at least another week due to an ankle injury suffered late last week. Keep an eye on both Memphis and Dallas over the next few weeks. Both have been playing their best ball of the season.

In the East, Miami has the best record in the conference even after losing three of five games on its West Coast swing. The Heat are 28-11 with a four game lead over Washington and are 4½ ahead of both Detroit and Cleveland. Double-digit losses in both Seattle and Phoenix do raise some concerns as to whether Miami is good enough to seriously contend for the NBA Title.

Orlando, Indiana and Chicago currently hold seeds six through eight in the East.

The Atlantic Division remains a joke with New York in first with a 17-19 record. There are six Eastern teams with better records. The Knicks begin the week just percentage points ahead of Chicago.

Detroit and Cleveland are tied atop the Central Division, each winning better than 60 percent of their games. The defending champion Pistons appear to have gotten back into form after winning eight of their last 10.

The continuing disparity in balance between the Eastern and Western conferences continues to be illustrated by the number of teams playing at least .500 basketball in the West (ten) as compared to the six in the East. Three teams in the West have better records than Eastern leading Miami. The Heat is the only team in the East playing better than .650 basketball while five Western teams exceed that percentage.

The linesmaker continues to do an excellent job overall of setting the line. Home and road teams are separated by a mere four games in ATS results after more than 500 games. And, favorites have covered one less game than have the dogs this deep into the season.

There have been 16 more "overs" than "unders" this season, but blindly playing either would have resulted in significant losses.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Hawks at Bulls (Fri): If the playoffs were to start today Chicago would be the No. 8 seed in the East. That’s how far the Bulls have come since starting the season winning just two of their first 14 games. Since then they have gone 14-6 as all the young talent they have acquired in the post-Michael Jordan era has been stabilized and given a chance to mature together.

Atlanta is still a rebuilding team with virtually an entirely new roster this season. Chicago has a chance to continue its momentum and play the role of bully for a change in the first meeting of the season. CHICAGO.

T’wolves at Blazers (Sat): Minnesota has won both meetings this season, each played within the past five weeks. The Timberwolves were hosts each times and the teams split the pointspread decisions. Portland has been hampered by injuries of late and began the week losers in seven of the last eight. But their last five games were all on the road and they should benefit from the home environs.

Minnesota has been a disappointment since early in the season. The Wolves are only 10-7 at home and have a losing record on the road. They do have one of the top players in the league, Kevin Garnett, but the supporting cast has played below the level of last season. Minnesota should come the short favorite in this game but the situation greatly favors the host. Minnesota played a night earlier in Seattle, while Portland has been rested for three nights after playing its first home game following a long road trip. PORTLAND.

Spurs at Kings: (Sunday) San Antonio remains the favorite to win the NBA Title while Sacramento is looking to secure the fourth seed in the West and home court in the opening round of the playoffs. These teams have met twice already this season with the home team winning each time. Sacramento is not as strong as in recent seasons and suffers from a lack of depth.

There are reports of internal problems and the once strong home court of the Kings exists no more. They are still a very solid 15-4 at home, but San Antonio has been able to win on the road. The Spurs are playing with revenge after dropping the last meeting in early January. SAN ANTONIO.

Last week: 3-0
Season: 20-12