Mavericks have best
chance to knock
off San Antonio

Apr 11, 2006 6:12 AM

The Best of the West

It’s been a long haul, this 82-game NBA regular season, but it’s winding down.

That means the playoffs are just around the corner. This week it’s the best of the West, a conference having captured six of the last seven NBA titles.

Spurs: The defending champions know what it takes to play winning basketball in the postseason, earning titles in 1999, 2003 and 2005. Defense is their calling card, allowing 43 percent shooting (third in the league) and 88.7 ppg (second). This is a veteran team in its prime, with defensive stalwarts center Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen.

They have offensive stars in Duncan, sparkplug Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili along with role players Brent Barry and Nazr Mohammed. Despite the home loss to the Kings last week, this team allows 87 ppg at home where the ”˜under’ is 23-12. San Antonio’s +6.9 points differential per game is No. 2 in the NBA (behind Detroit). Ten of the Spurs’ 17 losses have come in the second game of a back-to-back spot. The average margin of defeat in those 10 setbacks is 11.9 points. Still, they have a deadly combination of defense, experience, star power and team-oriented play.

Mavericks: Dallas has made a remarkable transformation under coach Avery Johnson, who emphasizes strong defense. The Mavs defense is tenth in field goal percentage (44.2), allowing 93 ppg. The offense scores 99.6 (eighth best), so this team has a deadly balance. Dallas has star power behind 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki (26.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg), a quick guard in Jason Terry (17 ppg) along with role players like center Erick Dampier and sixth-man Jerry Stackhouse.

A big story is the emergence of 25-year old 6-7 Josh Howard (15 ppg, 6 rpg), who crashes the boards and is a tenacious defender. Dallas was never known for defense under Don Nelson. Dallas is 14-11 SU, 17-8 ATS its last 25 games as an underdog.

Suns: Steve Nash was the missing piece of this puzzle a year ago, as Phoenix ran opponents into the ground averaging an NBA best 110 ppg. The Suns are again deep, averaging 108 ppg, behind Nash (19 ppg, 10.5 apg) and 6-7 Shawn Marion (21.5 ppg, 12 rpg). The ”˜over’ was 59-39 in Phoenix games last season and 43-29 this year with that unique style.

Naturally, a team that runs needs depth, and they do with guard Raja Bell, 6-8 Boris Diaw, 6-10 Tim Thomas and Eddie House. The recent loss of Amare Stoudamire for the season is a major blow to any title hopes. The Phoenix run-and-gun attack is tough to defend and 47.8 from the field (No. 2 in NBA) and a league best 39 percent from three-point land. For the second year in a row, oddsmakers have underestimated the Suns on the road. Phoenix began 21-15 SU, 21-14 ATS away from home after going a remarkable 36-12 SU, 27-18 ATS on the road a year ago.

Grizzlies: While the Suns try to tire opponents out, Memphis takes a different approach: Keep the game close with a strangling defense. Memphis has a deep, versatile team that is all about defense under second-year coach Mike Fratello. Memphis allows 88.8 ppg, tops in the league, which is why the ”˜under’ is 26-12 below the posted total at home. The Grizzlies are 53-27 below the total at home the last two years. However, Memphis is 8-17 SU, 14-10 ATS as a dog.

Kings: It has been a tale of two seasons. Sacramento battled injuries in the first half of the year, then got healthy around the time they traded Peja Stojakovic for Ron Artest. They are now in good shape to make the playoffs, going 20-12 since Artest was acquired from Indiana. The Kings have a sparkplug floor general in Mike Bibby, an underrated center Brad Miller along with role players Bonzi Wells, Kevin Martin and sixth-man Shareef Abdur-Rahim. The Kings pulled off an impressive 97-87 upset at San Antonio last week, though they are only 15-24 SU, 17-20 ATS on the road.