Vegas feels All Star buzz

Jan 30, 2007 5:38 AM

The buzz around Las Vegas has already picked up greatly as the eagerly awaited arrival of the NBA All Star game and the related festivities are less than three weeks away.

The weekend of Feb. 17-19 will feature mega parties attended by the best players in the NBA, many players not participating in the games or skills competitions and numerous "A" list celebrities.

For those 48 hours or so Sin City will be the center of the basketball universe and in typical Las Vegas tradition things will be done in a grand way. But there is still much basketball to be played before that gala weekend.

Both Dallas and Phoenix are setting blistering paces in the battle for the two top spots in the Western Conference playoff seedings. As we go to press, Phoenix has won 17 straight games heading into Monday night’s contest at Minnesota yet its 36-8 record is just a half-game better than Dallas’ 36-9 mark.

San Antonio’s current record of 32-14 might be good enough to be the league’s best record at this point in many seasons, yet the Spurs find themselves with only the third best and a full five games behind the conference leader with nearly a half season still to play.

Questions have abounded about what’s wrong with the Spurs? Aside from getting a bit older there is not that much wrong with a team that has still managed to win 70 percent of their games. It’s just that in relation to the performances of Dallas and Phoenix, the Spurs look like an also ran in terms of being a true contender.

Don’t count out the Spurs, especially as Tim Duncan remains healthy and plays at an All Star level. Put into proper perspective, the Spurs would be the top seed in the weaker Eastern Conference with a significant 4½ game lead over current Eastern leader Washington.

The Wizards are the only Eastern team winning more than 60 percent of their games although Detroit is right on their heels, just a half game back.

Road teams continue to fare better than home against the pointspread with one half of the regular season complete. Away sides are 340-304-14 ATS, showing a very slight profit at 52.8 percent. As has been the case for most of the season to date, totals results are nearly dead even. The over holds a slight edge.

Here’s a look at three games to be played over Super Bowl weekend.

Lakers at Pacers (Fri): The home team has won and covered in each of their last seven meetings dating back to the 2003-04 season, including a 101-87 win by the Lakers this past December. Los Angeles has exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations due largely to the play of Kobe Bryant. He has not only involved his teammates more than in the past, but assumed the role of team leader. That was something Kobe was reluctant to do in the past, especially when he was playing with Shaquille O’Neal.

As well as the Lakers have played at home, they sport a losing record on the road. Indiana recently completed a huge eight player trade with Golden State and we can expect the benefits of that deal to begin being reaped as the new and existing players become assimilated as a team. Indiana is well coached and catches the Lakers in the third of an eight game road trip, along with playing their third game in four nights. INDIANA.

Wolves at Mavs (Sat): In their only previous meeting this season Dallas eked out a 93-87 home win in late November, failing to cover the 9-point spread. Since getting off to a shaky 0-4 start, the Mavericks have won 36-of-41. Minnesota recently made a coaching change with Randy Wittman replacing Dwane Casey. Minnesota is basically a .500 team with superstar Kevin Garnett and a modest supporting cast.

Dallas is a very deep team with their own superstar, Dirk Nowitzki. Coach Avery Johnson has already shown he is an excellent coach and has the former run and gun Mavs playing outstanding defense. Sixteen of the last 20 opponents have been held below 100 points. Still, Dallas will again be close to a double digit favorite after having several days of extra rest while Minny played in New Orleans on Friday night. Garnett has enough to keep the T-Wolves in the game late before Dallas ultimately gets the straight up win. But the pointspread value will be with the road underdog. MINNESOTA.

Pistons at Cavs (Sun): There will be added interest in this game since there are numerous Super Bowl propositions tied to this NBA matchup. Particularly, the performance of Cleveland’s LaBron James. In their only previous meeting this season, a few days before Christmas, Detroit won at Cleveland 87-71 as 3-point underdogs. The result went below the posted total by more than 25 points. Detroit recently signed native son Chris Webber, but the Pistons offense has not shown a significant spurt.

With the exception of one overtime game, Detroit has topped 100 points just once since the start of 2007. Cleveland has played in higher than expected scoring games of late. Five of the last six have exceeded the posted total. But two of those needed overtime to get there. The teams are in a three way battle for the top spot in the Central with Chicago. There is just a one game gap between first and third. The teams met 11 times last season, including the playoffs, with nine staying below the total as well. UNDER.