At the halfway point, San Antonio appears to be the clear favorite to capture a third NBA title with currently the best record in the league at 34-9. The Spurs are the only team yet to lose 10 games and lead Dallas by five in the Southwest Division.
Phoenix had the NBA’s best record for much of the first half of the season. The recent slump showed just how valuable Steve Nash is to the Suns. Without Nash, the Suns weaknesses were exposed. Once he returned to the lineup, the play improved and the winning resumed.
Clearly Nash is a player deserving of MVP consideration since his value has clearly been shown over the past couple of weeks. But he is likely to be overshadowed by some of the bigger names in the game such as Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
LeBron James is also worthy of MVP consideration even though his Cleveland Cavaliers are probably a player or two away from being a title contender. In only his second season, he has displayed consistently the talent that made him perhaps the most sought after high schooler ever. His recent feat of triple doubles is indicative of many fine exploits ahead for the talented James.
Despite the slump, Phoenix trails San Antonio by just a 1Â½ for the top seed in the West. The Suns lead Sacramento in the Pacific Division by 3Â½. The other division leader, Seattle in the Northwest, is currently seeded third with a commanding 7Â½ game lead over Minnesota. The Timberwolves are perhaps the NBA’s most disappointing team this season.
Dallas and Sacramento are currently tied for the fourth and fifth seeds with the Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis and Houston rounding out the top eight. The disappointing Timberwolves are a half game behind Houston.
Philadelphia tops the Atlantic with a record three games below .500. It is quite possible and likely that the division winner will have a
-losing record yet be seeded ahead of four or five teams with better marks.
This sets up the strong likelihood that it will be far better to be seeded sixth in the East and face a weak division winner than fifth and play a much more competitive first round series.
Miami currently holds a 4Â½ game lead over Washington for the Southeast division lead, The scenario is similar in the Central with Cleveland competing for the top seed in the East. The battle for seeds five and six is currently being waged between Detroit and Orlando, with the Pistons currently a half game ahead.
Indiana is currently seeded seventh with surprising Chicago currently holding the final Eastern seed. However, the gap between fourth seeded Washington and the Bulls is 4Â½ games with half a season remaining.
Over the weekend the New York Knicks made a coaching change with Lenny Wilkens stepping aside and assistant Herb Williams taking over. The change is likely to have little impact as the Knicks have struggled all season to find an identity. Currently six games below break even, however, New York trails division-leading Philly by just 1Â½ game in the Atlantic.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
Jazz at T’wolves (Fri): The value of a single player is evident in Utah. The Jazz struggled mightily following a surprisingly strong start once Andrei Kirilenko was injured. Without him the Jazz are last in their division and may have given up on this season with last week’s trade of Carlos Arroyo to Detroit. Minnesota begins the week seeded ninth, but just two games behind the sixth seeded Lakers. Minnesota clearly has the edge in talent and should be primed for a strong effort as a solid favorite. Latrell Sprewell has shown signs of breaking out of his season long slump. That can only help increase the effectiveness of leader Kevin Garnett. MINNESOTA.
Nuggets at Pacers (Sat): Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin have been in and out of the lineup and consequently the Nuggets have not been able to develop a comfortable rhythm. Indiana has endured the absence to suspension of three key players. Only Jermaine O’Neal has returned to the lineup. The Pacers are still fundamentally sound and emphasize defense. Six of the last seven games went below the posted total, including five by more than 14 points. The Pacers have not been dominant at home but Denver has struggled on the road. Denver played in Milwaukee on Friday night and could be leg weary. UNDER.
Rockets at Heat (Sun): Houston is playing its best basketball of the season. Tracy McGrady is finally fitting in nicely and meshing with his new teammates. Yao Ming is still improving and the supporting cast is capable of playing at both an up tempo and deliberate pace. Miami is a contender in the east with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwayne Wade forming the conference’s best duo. Both teams have defensive philosophies under the van Gundys. Each side has a solid presence in the middle. This game should be played at a slower pace. -UNDER.
Last week: 2-1
Season: 22-13 (62.9%)