NBA’s 3 for the bling:Pistons, Spurs, Mavs

Jan 10, 2006 6:24 AM

With the NBA All Star game only a month away, Detroit, San Antonio and Dallas have separated themselves as the league’s elite and the only teams with less than 10 losses.

While this has Detroit in excellent position to defend their Eastern Conference title, leading current second seed New Jersey by seven games, San Antonio’s perch atop the West is much more precarious. San Antonio begins the week at 26-8 in the Southwest Division, just one game ahead of the Mavericks. The division winner likely gets the top one seed in the West.

The Mavs would be seeded fourth, behind division winners in the Pacific and Northwest. Phoenix is a worthy leader in the Pacific, 3½ games behind San Antonio with nearly 50 games to play and the return of star Amare Stoudemire perhaps 4-to-6 weeks away. Utah has risen to the top of the Northwest, despite a 17-17 record. The Jazz would be seeded third with Memphis fifth, despite a 21-11 record.

The hottest team at the moment is New Jersey. With Vince Carter’s buzzer beater lifting the Nets to a Sunday win at Toronto, New Jersey begins the week having won 10 straight games and in control of the Atlantic. The Nets lead second place Philadelphia by four games. With Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, the Nets must be considered a factor in the East. Detroit remains the clear cut favorite.

Road teams continue to outperform home teams in terms of the pointspread, holding a 259-222 edge (54 percent winners). Those results are almost evenly split between road favorites and underdogs. Home favorites occur nearly three times as often as road favorites. The "over" continues to enjoy a healthy edge over 255-224 edge versus the "under," hitting more than 53 percent of the time.

Despite a 15-16 start, Minnesota is tied with Cleveland for the league’s best pointspread record at 18-12-1. The T’wolves and Cavs are the only teams winning at least 60 percent ATS. Three teams are losing at least 60 percent —Washington, Boston and Chicago.

Here’s this weekend’s top selections.

Celtics at 76ers (Fri): The earlier meeting occurred in Boston at the end of November with the Celtics winning by 7. The game went "over" the posted total. Both are playing under .500, with Philly three games up in the standings over the Celts. Both teams have premier scorers in Philly’s Allen Iverson and Boston’s Paul Pierce. Each side has been involved in significantly more "over" results. Boston’s games average 14 more total points on the road than at home. OVER.

Grizzlies at Spurs (Sat): Memphis won three of four meetings from the Spurs last season, although each win was by 3 or less. San Antonio’s lone win was by 22. This is their first meeting this season with San Antonio hosting Detroit two nights earlier. Memphis had a home game Friday night against surging New Jersey. These same teams will hook up in Memphis on Monday, setting up a revenge situation for the straight up loser, That means we may get to cast two tickets on underdog Memphis. Three of the four meetings last season went below the total and each side is likely to conserve energy. UNDER.

Cavs at Blazers (Sun): This is Cleveland’s middle game of a five game road trip and third in four nights. Portland is in the middle of a two week, eight game home stand and did not play Saturday. The situation favors Portland, which has had difficulty adjusting to new coach Nate McMillan. Cleveland’s LeBron James will be by far the best player on the court. Cleveland won both meetings last season. Portland’s 16-18 ATS mark shows the team has been more competitive than expected. Blazers should be decent underdogs here. BLAZERS.

Last week: 0-3

Season: 11-18-1