See no evil ...

Feb 28, 2006 8:19 AM

The NBA trading deadline passed without much fanfare. In fact, the biggest trade involved a pair of struggling teams, hapless New York and Orlando. Teams in playoff contention stood pretty much pat, but for a handful of minor transactions.

With 25 or so games remaining in the regular season, the focus shifts on teams positioning themselves for the postseason. Were the playoffs to begin based on the current standings, no team with a losing record would qualify.

The two number eight seeds, Milwaukee in the East and the Los Angeles Lakers in the West, each start the week with identical 28-28 records. Chicago is Milwaukee’s nearest pursuer, 3½ games back. The Lakers’ lead over ninth seeded Utah is just 1½. The other four pursuers are within 3½ games, suggesting a hotly contested race for that final West berth. This is especially true given the recent play of Houston and Sacramento.

There is a huge gap between the West’s top three and the rest of the field. The battle for the top seed figures to go down to the final week. Dallas has a one game edge over San Antonio in the Southwest. The winner will secure the top seed with the second place team seeded fourth and likely to face each other in the second round.

Phoenix leads the Pacific by six games over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Suns, likely a No. 2 seed, would right now face the third seed Denver. Phoenix will have a much easier path to the West finals, figuring to meet either the Mavericks or Spurs off their expected showdown. Barring any setbacks, Phoenix will have a healthy and fresh Amare Stoudemire back in their lineup within the month.

The Clippers continue their fine play, currently seeded fifth. Vagabond New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets are seeded sixth and Memphis seventh.

Things are much more settled in the East where Detroit has an 11-game bulge over Miami for the top seed. The Heat are four games ahead of New Jersey for the No. 2 slot. Cleveland currently sits fourth with a two game edge over streaking Washington, which begins the week with a 10-game win streak. Rounding out the East are Indiana, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

Once considered a virtual certainty for the top overall seed, Detroit’s lead over the top Western team is just two games over Dallas. San Antonio is three back. I see this being one of the more intriguing postseasons in several years.

There are no teams covering the pointspread at 60 percent or greater. Only Seattle is losing to the line at such a rate. In fact, the 20-36-1 ATS mark in one of the worst in recent memory, covering at barely 35 percent. That’s only half of the Seattle saga this season.

The OVER is 37-19-1 in Seattle’s contests, one of the strongest posted totals results seen in recent memory. Of the 57 games, 21 have resulted in successful "Seattle/OVER" parlay plays. Had you been on that parlay since the start of the season you would have shown a healthy PROFIT of approximately 20 units.

Of course, you might have had to be Nostradamus to have seen such a trend before the season began. Seattle’s strong tendencies were evident at the end of 2005. Through December 31, Seattle’s pointspread record was 12-16-1 and their "over/under" was 22-6-1 with 12 games falling "Opponent and Over."

In Seattle’s 28 games played in 2006, the winning combination of "Against Seattle/OVER has cashed nine times.

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

Nuggets at Rockets (Fri): Denver won both earlier meetings, by 22 at home in late December and then two weeks later by 2 in Houston. Denver leads Utah in the Northwest by 3½ games and is the only team in that division with a winning record. Houston sits fifth and last in the Southwest and is the only team in that division with a losing record. Scheduling dynamics favor the host with the Rockets in the midst of a homestand.

Denver hosted Detroit two nights earlier and returns home after this game to face Orlando on Saturday, a much more winnable game. Houston is healthy and the duo of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming have found their chemistry. ROCKETS.

Pistons at Lakers (Sat): Detroit won its previous meeting at the end of January in a game that went almost exactly as the linesmaker expected. Detroit covered by a half point in a 102-93 home win and the game landed exactly on the 195 projected total. Not surprisingly the Pistons have the league’s best road record, 20-7, and figure to be favored by a couple of buckets here. The Lakers have the most dominant player in this game, Kobe Bryant, but Detroit arguably has the next seven or eight most talented players and is clearly the better ”˜team.

There is no travel edge, both teams having played on the road Friday night. It would not surprise me if each came in sluggish on offense. Detroit has the better defense and has been heavily involved in low scoring games of late. Entering this week the Pistons had played five straight "unders" and 9-of-11. To a lesser extent the Lakers have also been involved in lower than expected scoring games, three straight below the total. Conditions are right for that form to continue. UNDER.

Suns at Mavericks (Sun): This is an important game for both teams. Dallas seeks to maintain its position atop the West, though having played Thursday at San Antonio. This is also an opportunity for Phoenix to make up ground in the race for the West’s top seed, especially with a pair of games against San Antonio within the next two weeks. Dallas won the two previous meetings, but this is the first matchup since mid-December. Dallas was favored by 2 in their three-point double overtime road win, and by 4 in a six-point home victory.

As the season has progressed, both teams have gotten better. Dallas has improved its defensive play and Phoenix is much more comfortable with a lineup that has played all season minus Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire. Dallas began this week riding a 14 game home winning streak that barely survived thanks to a frenetic comeback against Toronto last Saturday. The streak should be at 16 when these teams take the court. Phoenix is a solid candidate to break that run with their up tempo pace, averaging nearly 107 ppg on the road. SUNS.

Last week: 2-1

Season: 23-28-1