East still least halfway into NBA year

Jan 9, 2007 5:05 AM

The NBA season is approaching the midpoint of the 82-game regular season with the imbalance between conferences exemplified by some pretty bad teams in the East still in the playoff hunt.

In the East, Toronto leads the Atlantic Division with a 15-19 record. Fourth place Boston is just 2½ games back and last place Philadelphia 5½ back despite a 9-24 record.

There is actually a fairly decent division in the East with four of the five Central teams playing winning basketball and last place Milwaukee just one game under .500.

None of the three Western Conference divisions can claim four winning teams, although that’s basically due to the good clubs knocking off one another. But don’t let that one quirk lead you to believe that the East is gaining on the West.

The teams with the five best records in the NBA all play in the West. Cleveland’s Cavaliers have the best record in the East at 21-12, a mark that is topped by Dallas, Phoenix, Utah, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers in the West.

A rather lengthy streak of note came to an end this past Sunday when San Antonio won at Memphis 110-96. The over / under closed at 214½, a move of 4-to-5 points from the opening total. The move made sense, but did not come through as the under ended a streak of 12 straight overs played by the Grizzlies.

Most attention paid to streaks revolves straight up or pointspread results. As with most sports, more wagering action will be on sides rather than totals. But teams often go through over / under streaks as well. Many opportunities for profit can arise as a result of following totals streaks.

After all, the money spends the same.

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

Magic at Lakers (Fri): Southeast Division leader Orlando has the second best record in the East, just one game behind East leading Cleveland. The Lakers, despite winning better than two of every three games, sit 2½ games behind Phoenix in the Pacific Division. The Lakers have battled injuries in recent weeks, including the current absence of Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown from the starting lineup. Still, the Lakers have won four straight beginning the week and seven of their last nine. Included in this stretch is a 106-93 win at Orlando two days after Christmas, the Lakers’ fourth straight victory against the Magic over the past three seasons.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson is doing a masterful job with a roster consisting of star Kobe Bryant and a host of complementary players. The Lakers return home after a brief two game mid week road trip. Orlando is in the second game of a four game road trip and must play in Phoenix on Saturday. The Lakers don’t play again until Monday and figure to be well prepared here. LAKERS.

Rockets at Kings (Sat): Houston had a five game winning streak snapped in Minnesota on Sunday, yet continue to play well with Yao Ming sidelined. The oft injured Tracy McGrady has returned from his own injury to lead the Rockets attack. Houston has been one of those streaky totals teams over the past month, playing five straight overs then 5-of-6 unders, followed by four straight overs entering this week.

Sacramento’s play to date has been disappointing and owns a record below .500. The best player, Ron Artest, has been the subject of trade rumors and there appears to be chemistry problems on a team with pretty good all around talent. Both teams played elsewhere on Friday night and could be a bit fatigued. The Kings have historically played much better at home and should have value as a very low priced favorite. KINGS.

Nuggets at Blazers (Sun): With the NFL Playoffs taking center stage during January, the Sunday NBA schedules are rather light. After going 21-61 last season Portland is on a pace to increase its win total by double digits this season, though not threaten for the playoffs. Denver is on pace to qualify for one of the final two playoff berths, but will be without Carmelo Anthony for about another week. Once he returns, it will be interesting to see how he teams with recently acquired Allen Iverson in making the Nuggets an even higher scoring team.

Denver is third in the league in scoring offense, but also third worst in scoring defense. Portland is the second lowest scoring team in the league and slightly better than average in points allowed. Against a weak defensive team, the Blazers are likely to have one of their better offensive showings. They are capable of running the court with the Nuggets, who prefer a fast tempo pace. OVER.