Pistons have huge
advantage not
being in West

Feb 7, 2006 5:39 AM

With Pittsburgh beating Seattle in Super Bowl XL the focus of the sports wagering public shifts from football to basketball for the next several months. Baseball is still a couple of months away.

The mathematical midpoint of the NBA season has passed with most teams having played 45 or so of their 82-game regular season. Two key dates will occur over the next few weeks — All Star weekend and the trading deadline.

In less than two weeks the NBA takes its annual break. This season’s festivities will be held in Houston, where the hometown Rockets have had a surprisingly disappointing season. All Star weekend provides organizations with a good opportunity to assess their teams’ chances for making the postseason.

Shortly following the All Star break comes the trading deadline. Within the past few weeks we have seen several trades take place. Most noteworthy was Indiana’s deal of Rod Artest to Sacramento in exchange for Peja Stojakovic. More recently a pair of non-contenders, New York and Toronto, exchanged a pair of players (Anthony Davis back to Toronto for Jalen Rose and a No. 1 draft pick) in what might be a prelude to follow-up trades with contending teams.

Detroit remains the top team in the NBA with their 39-7 record through last weekend. The Pistons have opened up an 11-game lead for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Their lead for the best record in the NBA is just 2½ games over both Dallas and San Antonio.

In the East only seven teams have winning records. Of this group, only Detroit, Miami and Cleveland seem assured of making the playoffs. Each is at least eight games above .500, while the other four winning teams are no greater than three above break even. That quartet, despite their ever so slight winning records, are in decent position to make the postseason because the losing teams in the East have very woeful records.

Of the eight Eastern teams with losing marks, five are at least a dozen games below .500. Orlando is seven games under and Chicago six. Only Washington, at 22-23, has a realistic chance to reach .500 by the All Star break. The Wizards are currently the No. 8 seed in the East.

As has been the case all decade, the overall quality of teams in the West is vastly superior to that in the East. All eight teams currently holding playoff seeds have winning records. Four of those are winning over 60 percent of their games. Only seventh seed New Orleans and the No. 8 Los Angeles Lakers are fewer than six games above .500.

Three additional teams are within four games of .500 and hope to ride a strong second half to overtake the Hornets and Lakers. Portland, the Western team with the worst record, still has a better mark than four Eastern teams and is tied with a fifth.

Thus we have a situation where the league’s best team (Detroit) resides in the East, while the league’s overall to clubs are in the West. This makes Detroit’s road to the NBA Title that much easier since should they make it out of the East. The Pistons will face a team that will have had at least two and perhaps three tough preliminary series within the Western Conference.

Road teams still maintain a point spread edge over home teams, but the margin has been cut in half since the Jan. 1. In November and December, road teams were +44 games versus the line. The first five weeks in 2006, home teams have been +22 above .500.

A similar pattern has emerged with Totals. For November and December there were 32 more "over" than "under" results. Since Jan. 1, the "under" holds an advantage of just 18.

This illustrates the importance of paying attention to current form rather than relying on season to date results.

Often, there may be a significant reversal of form after the linesmaker has had a chance to make adjustments to how a new season unfolds.

At the end of the season, it’s not uncommon to see results hover right around 50-50 with most teams showing rather neutral tendencies. As handicappers, we seek out the teams at either extreme and look to back those teams in favorable situations.

Next week we’ll again review those teams that have exhibited the most ”˜extreme’ performances over the season’s first 50 or so games.

Last week: 3-0

Season: 18-23-1

Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.

Spurs at Nets (Fri): When healthy, both teams have legitimate chances to be title contenders. San Antonio is a contender even when faced with injuries such as the ones nagging Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs are tied with Dallas for the best record in the West. Their depth gives them an edge over all other Western teams.

New Jersey lacks such depth and must rely on a healthy Richard Jefferson, Jason Kidd and Vince Carter to make a realistic run at Detroit. San Antonio won the earlier meeting at home a month ago but that five point victory was a point spread winner for the Nets. New Jersey has one of the best home records in the league but the Spurs are second best to Detroit on the road. San Antonio is in the middle of a long eight game road trip. The Nets have been home for a week. NETS.

Grizzlies at Lakers (Sat): These teams meet for the fourth time this season. but for the first time in more than six weeks. Memphis has won two of the three meetings and the spread has not come into play in any of the games. Their last encounter was won by Memphis in overtime by a single point at Staples Center. Except for that extra session. the three meetings would have gone "under" the total. Memphis plays Friday night here against the Clippers so no travel is involved.

The Lakers are playing their first home game in more than two weeks after returning from a seven game road trip. They are rested, having last played in Houston on Wednesday. Still, the Lakers may show effects of rust and fatigue. The Grizzlies are solid defensively, which may hinder Kobe Bryant a little. UNDER.

Pistons at Heat (Sun): The top two teams in the East meet with a chance for Miami to at least make a statement that they are not about to concede the top seed in the East without putting up some resistance. Their only previous meeting this season came a few days before the New Year and the Pistons won in Detroit by 5, barely missing the cover as a -6 favorite. The contest was high scoring with the 207 total points, exceeding the total by 14. Detroit is the NBA’s most talented team and its 18-5 road record is better than Miami’s 16-6 home mark.

Miami coach Pat Riley will have the Heat ready for this rematch. The game will be competitively priced, perhaps even a pick. Miami will take the court with the underdog mentality and stars Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal likely to give maximum efforts. HEAT.