All-Star break sends us to college

Feb 15, 2005 10:31 AM

The figurative halfway point of the NBA season is marked this weekend with All Star game in Denver on Sunday, featuring many of the NBA’s top players. The final two games before the break will be played Thursday with action resuming next Tuesday.

Of the major professional sports, the NBA’s All Star game is the one most closely resembling a scrimmage, with defense virtually non-existent. The players run the court and have numerous uncontested shots. That pace is reflected both in the "over / under" line and final scores of the All Star game over the past decade.

There will be numerous wagering opportunities. Gaining in popularity in recent seasons has been the posting of propositions. Initially these wagers appeared for the NFL’s Super Bowl and, being so well received, bookmakers started to post them on other isolated events. These props usually appear late in the week and can provide added enjoyment to your watching of the game.

The NBA trading deadline is also approaching and many team executives will use the three-day hiatus to evaluate the prospects for the final couple of months to the regular season. Although in season trades are relatively rare, several teams might attempt to make a move to bolster their roster for the stretch run. Other teams may be willing to part with veteran players in exchange for draft choices and/or inexperienced players.

The wisdom of such moves is best illustrated by what happened a season ago when Detroit acquired Rasheed Wallace for the final few months and wound up providing the key piece in Detroit’s run to the NBA title.

This season, San Antonio remains the solid 8-5 favorite to win the league championship. Detroit, Miami and Phoenix are each at 3-1. There’s not much value backing any of these teams, but there may be some available supporting a team overshadowed much of the season, despite winning better than two of every three games played.

Overlooked for the past three months have been the Dallas Mavericks. At 33-16 the Mavs have the fourth best record in the West. They have a solid core of veterans and, unlike the three top teams in the West, Dallas is currently priced at 10-1.

The Mavericks are a viable title contender. They have significant playoff experience, having made the postseason each of the past four seasons. Dallas has multiple scoring threats in Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley. And, they have shown an ability to win on the road. No team has lost fewer road games than Dallas. At 16-7 the Mavericks have the same road mark as Seattle. Only Phoenix (22-7) is better.

Dallas has struggled against San Antonio this season, having lost all three meetings. Two of those games came in November when the Spurs won by 14 at home and 18 on the road. In January, Dallas was much more competitive, dropping a three point decision at San Antonio.

With no NBA games being played from Friday through Monday aside from the All Star game, the sports bettor will have to look to the college ranks for action. Friday is basically the province of the Ivy League, so Saturday is when most of the opportunities occur.

Get ready for "Bracket Buster Saturday" in which a host of teams venture out of conference in what is designed to either enhance or set back the chances of mid major teams to state their case for inclusion in the upcoming NCAA Tournament as at-large invitees.

Still, most of the attractive matchups will be in conference play. Here are a couple of games to consider.

Utah (+6) at Air Force: The host Falcons should be a small underdog worthy of play. Utah is the class of the Mountain West and has been brilliant in conference play Shooting for a No. 3 or 4 seed, the Utes are unbeaten in the MWC, winning all but one game by double digits. Still, Air Force’s methodical slowdown style should give the Utes some problems. Utah did win the earlier meeting at home as a 10-point favorite, 63-51. AIR FORCE.

Sunday feature some very attractive matchups.

Wake Forest (+3) at Duke: The visiting Blue Devils want to avenge a three point loss at Wake Forest earlier this month. Both of these ACC powers along with North Carolina have shots at No. 1 seeds and could win the ACC Tournament. Wake’s earlier 92-89 win came as 3½-point favorites. Duke needed a barrage of three pointers in the closing minute to get the cover. Duke has already been swept by Maryland, and Wake is better than the Terps. WAKE FOREST.

Next week it’s back to the NBA as the professionals begin the final 25 to 30 games of the regular season.