The NBA All Star break is behind us and while the weekend was wildly entertaining, that warm and fuzzy feeling dissipated quickly.
Players returned to their teams and the latter part of the regular season resumed. Perhaps the greatest excitement coming from last week’s festivities in Houston is the anticipation for the 2007 All Star weekend at the Thomas & Mack Arena.
The most immediate concern of team management is the impending trade deadline this Thursday. The number of circulating rumors always exceeds the actual transactions. A handful of contending teams seeking to improve playoff seedings or making a playoff run is expected to be active.
In the West, Dallas overtook San Antonio for the top record in the conference. Thus, Avery Johnson rather than Gregg Popovich was behind the West bench this past Sunday. More importantly, Dallas now holds the top seed for the playoffs, though with 30 games remaining it’s quite likely we’ll see several switches.
The Spurs and Mavs have split their first two meetings, both in Dallas. The teams will meet twice more, both at San Antonio in early March and a month later. Should Dallas and San Antonio end up with the top two records in the West, rather than being able to meet in the conference finals, the Spurs and Mavs would meet in the second round of the playoffs.
This results from the three division winners getting the top three seeds in each conference with the fourth seed going to the non-division winner with the best record. Using the All Star standings as a guide, Dallas would be seeded first, Pacific leader Phoenix second and Northwest leader Denver third. San Antonio would then be seeded fourth.
It’s unlikely that the Northwest winner can overtake Phoenix for the second seed and it’s equally unlikely the Suns can catch either Dallas or San Antonio. Phoenix currently is six games behind Dallas and five behind the Spurs.
From a wagering standpoint there could be some value in playing the Phoenix Suns to win the NBA Title at their current odds of about 5-1. If you can find the Suns at 8-1 or better, you might give them some serious consideration.
The Suns’ path to the NBA Finals gets easier not having to face both the Spurs and the Mavs. In fact, the Suns might benefit by facing the survivor of what would be a war between the Mavs and Spurs. That meeting would come in the Western Conference finals.
Similar value may exist with whichever team wins the Northwest — the opponent Phoenix would face in the second round. Currently, Denver leads the Northwest with Utah just two games back and Minnesota four out. The Nuggets are 15-1, the Jazz 40-1 and Minnesota roughly 25-1. However the value in playing a team from the Northwest is illusory at best. Denver leads the division with a record just two games above .500.
The value with Phoenix comes from their 35-17 record without their star, Amare Stoudemire. It’s often said that to win an NBA Title you need to have a trio of bona fide superstars on the roster. With Stoudemire, Steve Nash and Shawn Marion, the Suns clearly fit that profile. And, the playoff experience gained from last season will be a benefit.
Last week: 2-2
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.
Spurs at Grizzlies (Fri): San Antonio won both previous meetings this season which were played in a three day period in mid January. Both teams are playing their third game in four nights after returning to action, with Memphis off a game a night earlier in Dallas. San Antonio was on the road for eight straight games before the break and has been away from home in 10 of its last 11 contests over a four-week period. Memphis will be focused for this game, catching the road weary Spurs at the right time. MEMPHIS.
Hornets at Jazz (Sat): Utah will be well rested, playing only its second game since Valentine’s Day and first since hosting Boston on Tuesday. New Orleans has shown great improvement since last season when owning the second worst record, winning just 18 games. They’ve already won 29, despite being based mostly in Oklahoma City in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Chris Paul, the likely Rookie of the Year, has been banged up of late. Still, New Orleans won five straight and 9-of-10 heading into the All Star break with nine going "over" the posted total. OVER.
Pacers at Nets (Sun): The home team has won each of the two previous meetings with both games going "over" the total. Indiana is still without Jermaine O’Neal, but the Pacers have adjusted to his absence. Indiana has won 5-of-6, with the "under" on a 7-2 run. New Jersey won 5-of-7 before the break, with the losses coming against San Antonio and Detroit. The Nets have also been involved in more "unders" than "overs" recently. Right now, the Nets are healthy and have better depth than the Pacers. NEW JERSEY.