Pistons plan resting
players until playoffs

Mar 21, 2006 4:58 AM

Less than a month remains in the NBA regular season, which means the teams have fewer than 20 games in which their playoff fates will be determined.

Detroit, Miami, San Antonio and Dallas have each clinched playoff spots with Detroit just one away from wrapping up the Central Division. The Pistons may already be Division Champs by the time you are reading this after hosting Atlanta on Monday night.

Detroit is still a couple of weeks away from wrapping up the top seed in the Eastern Conference, currently leading Miami by 7½ games. Given Detroit’s somewhat sluggish play over the past month we might expect coach Flip Saunders to start resting his regulars once the Pistons clinch the top seed.

The battle for the top spot in the West remains a two team race between Southwest Division rivals San Antonio and Dallas. With Dallas’ loss at New Jersey on Sunday, the Spurs have a half game lead (one in the loss column) over the Mavericks. The Division winner will be the top seed in the West with the runner up seeded fourth.

As the regular season winds down we often see inflated lines in games involving teams with something to play for facing a team eliminated from the playoffs. Don’t instinctively play the team with need, especially if the lesser foe is rested.

A first half play on these huge underdogs is often preferred The better team may look to conserve energy until the final quarter when the game is for the taking.

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

Bucks at Lakers (Fri): The Lakers won the earlier meeting in Milwaukee by 19 points but that game was in early December. This matchup ends a brief three game road trip for Milwaukee, while the Lakers returned home earlier in the week from a brief roadie of their own. Milwaukee played their best basketball early in the season. The Lakers have shown slow yet steady improvement. LAKERS.

Nuggets at Suns (Sat): Phoenix won the two earlier meetings with the most recent victory decided by more than five points. Denver is one game below .500 on the road and has played its best over the past month, although in the midst of back-to-back contests. The Nuggets are just .500 against teams in the West and step up in class here. The total should be around 220, but a high scoring contest may still be expected. OVER.

Nets at Pistons (Sun): In Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter, New Jersey has the stars needed to contend for a title. Detroit has won two of three meetings this season and will be a solid favorite to win here. All three meetings went well below the total with none of the games featuring more than 176 points. Detroit has played more high scoring games of late but against teams that play little defense. UNDER.

Last week: 0-3.

Season: 28-32-1