All roads in East
head through Detroit

Mar 28, 2006 5:20 AM

With barely a dozen or so games remaining to either make the NBA playoffs or improve seedings, five of the 16 berths have been clinched.

Detroit and Miami are assured of the postseason in the Eastern Conference, while Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio are similarly assured in the West. Of the five, only Detroit has clinched its division title and the Pistons are about a week or so away from mathematically wrapping up the top Eastern seed.

New Jersey will win the Atlantic, entering the week with an 8½ game lead over Philadelphia. The Nets will be seeded third in the East. Denver has a seven game lead over Utah in the Northwest and will have the West’s No. 3 seed.

Through 70 games San Antonio and Dallas are tied atop the Southwest with identical 54-16 records, a scant 1½ games behind Detroit for the league’s overall best record. The Spurs might have a slight edge with two more home games than Dallas, including one against the Mavericks in their final meeting of the regular season a week from this coming Friday.

The linesmaker continues to do an excellent job of balancing teams’ pointspread results. No team is covering at a rate of 60 percent or higher and only one is covering at 40 percent or lower.

Five teams are managing to cover at between 55 and 60 percent, led by Charlotte’s 39-28-4 ATS mark and Indiana’s 37-27-4 log (each 58 percent). Toronto, Memphis and Phoenix are the others.

Seattle’s 27-40-2 ATS mark is worst in the league at 40 percent. Only Portland (43 percent) and the New York Knicks (45 percent) are outside the 46-to-54 percent range.

Had you wagered on Charlotte in every game this season, your profit would be about one net unit every three weeks. Similarly, a wager against Seattle in every game has resulted in one net unit of profit every 2½ weeks.

This demonstrates the importance of selectivity in handicapping. Sure, you can take advantage of streaks, both for and against, but there is great danger in blindly playing on or against teams over the course of a full season.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Grizzlies at Hornets (Fri): New Orleans has won the last two meetings between the teams, but the most recent meeting was two months ago. Since then. the Hornets have struggled and have a losing record over the past two months. They clearly overachieved early in the season, but the lack of overall talent and depth have finally caught up. Still, they will have great motivation in this situation, Memphis is actually better off finishing behind the Clippers and "earning" the sixth seed, rather than fifth. HORNETS.

Pacers at Bucks (Sat): Both teams having losing records over the last 40 games and are right around .500 for the season. The home team has won and covered in each of three meetings this season, although Milwaukee’s home victory was by a single point. Indiana’s two home wins were by 24 and 11. The Pacers are well coached and have battled injuries much of the season. A healthy Jermaine O’Neal is the best player on the court. The addition of Peja Stojakovic has given the Pacers added offense. Milwaukee is off of a physical game in Detroit on Friday whereas the Pacers last played at home Thursday. PACERS.

Heat at Nets (Sun): New Jersey has won two of three meetings, but has covered all three. Only once has one of these teams scored more than 95 points. The first two matchups went well below the total, but were played before Christmas. The Nets’ 102-95 home win in early February barely went above the 192½ posted total. If form holds in the playoffs, these teams will meet in the Conference semifinals for the right to meet Detroit. This should be a defensive contest with Miami hving played in Cleveland on Saturday perhaps a bit more fatigued. UNDER.

Last week: 1-1-1

Season: 29-33-2