NBA elite beginning to extend

Dec 20, 2005 4:55 AM

The NBA season is a quarter complete with the surprises and disappointments continuing to unfold.

Detroit, San Antonio and Dallas have begun to separate themselves from the rest of the NBA as the three elite teams. The Memphis Grizzlies, at 14-8, would be in first place in three of the other five divisions and a half game out of the lead in a fourth. Yet by playing in the Southwest, they are four games behind the Spurs in third.

Phoenix has nearly caught up with the Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific. Both teams are winning over 60 percent of their games. Sacramento is the only division member under .500.

All five teams in the Southeast Division are playing winning basketball with last place Chicago percentage points ahead of Atlantic Division leading Philadelphia. The 76ers are the only team in their division above .500.

We may be witnessing a season much similar to the NFL where there are the Haves and Have Nots. A key difference may be in the pointspread performance of favorites. Whereas NFL favorites are covering at nearly a 58 percent rate, underdogs are outperforming favorites in the NBA.

But not by much.

Through last Sunday, favorites are 164-177-3 ATS (48 percent). Road teams have been a healthy 192-152-3 ATS or 56 percent.

We have also seen more "overs" than "unders." However, blindly betting either would not show a profit. The "over" is 176-164-7 or 51.8 percent.

Here is a look at three games to be played this holiday weekend.

Mavs at Sonics (Fri): Seattle has yet to find its rhythm in struggling to reach .500. Entering the week, the "over" is 10-0-1 in Seattle’s last 11 games. Dallas has a 4-0-1 "over" streak in its last five outings. OVER.

Spurs at Pistons (Sun): The two best teams in the league meet for the first time since San Antonio defeated the Pistons in seven games last June to win a third NBA Title in seven seasons. Both teams are stronger and deeper this season. Detroit has made a seamless transition to new coach Flip Saunders and has been a higher scoring team this season. DETROIT.

Lakers at Heat (Sun): Ex Lakers coach Pat Riley has returned to the Miami bench and ex-Laker Shaquille O’Neal has returned to the lineup after being sidelined by injury. Current Lakers coach Phil Jackson has already had an impact in his second tenure behind their bench following a rocky start to the season. A 5-1 road trip got the Lakers above .500. The matchup of Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade is compelling. Look for both teams to run the court. OVER.

Last week: 1-2

Season: 9-11-1