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Sixers trying to claim home court

Mar 20, 2001 6:07 AM

Less than a month remains in the NBA regular season. Playoff berths will be clinched in these final few weeks, but most of the seeds probably won’t be known until the last few days.

Philadelphia remains the only team to have officially clinched a playoff spot. The 76ers are on course to wrap up their division and the Eastern Conference’s top seed in the next week to ten days. Clinching the NBA’s top overall seed is another matter.

The 76ers led the league all season, but have only a two-game lead over San Antonio for best record. Five teams are within three games of the Spurs in the West, meaning any of a half dozen teams can finish from first to sixth there. A hot streak to close the season, combined with the injuries of Philly’s Allen Iverson, could snare home-court advantage throughout the playoffs for a team from the West.

Seven teams in the East have winning records and should make the playoffs, but the battle for the eighth and final spot is between Boston and Indiana. They begin the week separated by just half a game. They have a pair of meetings remaining this season, including one we’ll preview next weekend. Ever since Rick Pitino left as the Celtics’ coach, Boston has stepped up its defensive effort. Indiana has been unable to establish an identity under first-year coach Isiah Thomas, but his coaching instincts (or lack thereof) will be revealed over the next few weeks.

In the Western Conference, three games separate six teams. San Antonio leads the Lakers by a game for the best record in the West, but both lead their respective divisions by just a game. How good is the quality in the West? The top six teams are winning better than 65 percent of their games. Four more teams have winning records. A fifth, Denver, is two games below the break-even mark. Most of them will face one another over the next few weeks, yet it appears things won’t be decided until mid-April.

Here’s a look at a trio of games this weekend.

Philadelphia at Phoenix (Friday) — Philadelphia continues to have the best record in the league, although half a dozen teams in the Western Conference have a shot to catch the 76ers with a streak down the stretch. Phoenix is not in that group, but the Suns are in a three-way battle with Minnesota and Houston for the final two West playoff spots. Philly wraps up a four-game road trip without star Allen Iverson and coach Larry Brown at the start of the trip. Yet this is actually a favorable scheduling spot for the Sixers. This is their only game in a five-day stretch.

Dikembe Mutombo has been effective since being acquired from Atlanta. Philadelphia’s defense has been excellent all season. Phoenix is led by Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. Depending on Iverson’s availability, the Sixers might be a small favorite. The Suns are playing their third game in four nights. They played in Seattle last night. Philadelphia is worth a shot. If Iverson doesn’t play, there will be added value. Philly is strong in the frontcourt, with George Lynch and Tyrone Hill supporting Mutombo. There may also be a play on the UNDER if the Total is 185 or higher.

Charlotte at Dallas (Saturday) — Both are headed for the playoffs, but neither is certain where they’ll be seeded. Dallas is one of six teams within three games of the top Western Conference seed. Charlotte is chasing Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference’s Central Division for the No. 2 seed behind Philadelphia, but could wind up fifth as it battles with Miami and New York. Charlotte has one of the league’s better backcourt tandems in Baron Davis and David Wesley. Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown provide strength up front. Dallas is paced by Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki. The addition of Juwan Howard gives the Mavericks a proven third option.

Despite all this offense, the game handicaps as a relatively low-scoring affair, with our projected Total being 188. Use that as a guide for playing OVER or UNDER. If Dallas is favored by 4 or more points, Charlotte is worth a play. We should get at least that number with Dallas rested and the Hornets having played in Chicago last night.

San Antonio at Miami (Sunday) — Over the past month or so, San Antonio has established itself as a legitimate contender to win its second NBA title in three seasons. Led by Tim Duncan and David Robinson, the Spurs got healthy. Contributions have been spread out, taking much pressure off the duo as the only options.

Miami is a contender in the East, but the loss of Alonzo Mourning makes its chances of reaching anything beyond the conference finals questionable. It figures to be played at a deliberate pace, dominated by rebounding. Injuries sidelined Miami’s Eddie Jones and Tim Hardaway, leaving Anthony Mason as the Heat’s major offensive threat.

The Spurs’ defense and inside game should be the difference as San Antonio gets the win by from 4 to 6 points. It should be a near pick ’em game. The Over/Under is likely to be low, with the UNDER preferred — but not if the line is below 175.

 

Here is a look at how the remaining 16 teams have done straight-up and against the spread for the season:

 

School Straight-up Pointspread

Arizona  

25-7 16-15

Cincinnati  

25-9 15-14

Duke  

31-4 17-14

Georgetown  

25-7 16-8

Gonzaga  

26-6 15-12

Illinois  

26-7 19-11

Kansas  

26-6 17-13

Kentucky  

24-9 14-15

Maryland  

23-10 14-14

Michigan State  

26-4 17-12

Mississippi  

27-7 16-10

Penn State  

21-11 15-13

Southern Cal  

23-9 15-13

Stanford  

30-2 16-12

Temple  

23-12 18-16

UCLA  

23-8 19-11


NCAA tournament at odds

Scoring margins in tournament

1. Illinois

30.0

2. Duke

28.0

3. Kansas

26.5

4. Michigan St.

25.0

5. Cincinnati

24.0

6. Arizona

23.0

7. UCLA

19.0

8. Stanford

18.0

9. Temple

17.5

10. Maryland

11.0

11. Georgetown

10.5

12. Gonzaga

9.0

13. Penn State

9.0

14. USC

9.0

15. Kentucky

8.5
16. Ole Miss 2.5

John Bennett’s Hoop Picks

NBA
Thursday

Spurs by 3 over Hawks

Celtics by 4 over Nets

Grizzlies by 2 over Cavaliers

Trailblazers by 6 over Jazz

Suns by 4 over Supersonics

Kings by 8 over Pistons

Clippers by 3 over Rockets

 

Friday

Raptors by 9 over Hawks

Pacers by 7 over Grizzlies

Knicks by 8 over Nets

Nuggets by 3 over Wolves

Bucks by 6 over Magic

Hornets by 8 over Bulls

Suns by 7 over 76ers

Lakers by 14 over Wizards

 

Saturday

Cavaliers by 9 over Nuggets

Hornets by 6 over Mavericks

Jazz by 11 over Wizards

Supersonics by 5 over Rockets

Warriors by 6 over Pistons

 

Sunday

Heat by 4 over Spurs

Magic by 6 over Pacers

Raptors by 11 over Grizzlies

Celtics by 7 over Bulls

Bucks by 8 over Hawks

Wolves by 10 over Nets

Lakers by 3 over Kings

NCAA

NCAA Tourney down to 16 teams, with the favorites stepping to the front on Sunday with a bang. Interesting teams are still alive. It’s time for the favorites to step up the pace.

Thursday
East Regional at Philadelphia

Duke 79, UCLA 73: Bruins overachieve as an underdog. Bad team as a favorite. Duke’s been tough, but they better be ready for UCLA. Bruins plus 10½ gets the money – and maybe the game.

Kentucky 85, So. Cal 71: Trojans had a great run, but it’s the end of the line. Wildcats minus the best bet of the day.

West Regional at
Anaheim, Calif.

Stanford 78, Cincinnati 63: Stanford too big, too good and great free throw shooters. Cincy turned things around since mid-season slump, but not enough to upset Cardinals. NCAA Committee favors the top-seeded teams, Stanford has a home game at Anaheim. Stanford minus gets the money.

Maryland 79, Georgetown 78: Hoyas give Terps all they can handle and come close to winning straight up. Georgetown’s superior depth could tell the story. Georgetown plus 6½ gets the money and just might win the game.

Friday
Midwest Regional
at San Antonio

Kansas 71, Illinois 67: Kansas, a decided short-ender, comes to the front and upsets the Illini. With Kansas, you get about 3 points.

Arizona 67, Ole Miss 42: Arizona comes to the "wars" prepared to go all the way, Ole Miss is not the team to stop them.

South Regional at Atlanta

Penn State 56, Temple 54: Two teams from the East (not the Big East) meet in a Sweet 16 second round game. Selecting winner: difficult. Under in the total: easy.

Gonzaga 61, Michigan State 59: Another great battle predicted, with Gonzaga advancing to the round of eight, halting Spartans’ dream of back-to-back titles. Underrated Gonzaga gets a rematch with Arizona, with a chance to advance to the "Final Four." With Gonzaga, you get about 5 points.


Jockeying in NHL

By bob joyce

Tuesday

Toronto at Buffalo: These two division opponents collide for the fifth and final time before heading into the playoffs. Both have one win against each other. The other two games ended in ties. Buffalo has a two-point lead over the Maple Leafs which right now would make the Sabres the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Toronto would be seeded seventh. Buffalo sports a good home record (22-10-3). Toronto is playing .500 on the road at 15-15-4-1. Expect this to be a hard-hitting, low-scoring game. Predicted score: Buffalo 3-1.

San Jose at Colorado: One question remains: will power forward Teemu Selanne, acquired from Anaheim last week, be able to join his new teammates after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee March 6? The Sharks could really use Selanne in the line-up as they chase Dallas for the top slot in the Pacific Division. They only trail the Stars by four points. San Jose is 0-2-1 against Colorado this season. The Sharks are 17-11-7-1 on the road; Colorado is 24-6-4-2 at home. Assuming Selanne will be in the lineup for this important contest, that gives the Sharks the added boost they so desperately need. Predicted score: San Jose 3-2.

Thursday

Colorado at St. Louis: The Blues landed a heavyweight last week, but it wasn’t Eric Lindros. St. Louis acquired 6-foot-2, 225-pound power forward Keith Tkachuk from the Phoenix Coyotes. Tkachuk will beef up the Blues. Their physical effort will be felt around the league. Because of his physical nature, Tkachuk takes unnecessary penalties with his cheap shots on opponents. These two clubs meet for the fourth time this season. They’re all knotted up at 1-1-1. St. Louis has the best home record in the league (25-4-4-2). Colorado is Numero Uno on the road (20-7-5-2). St. Louis trails Detroit by four points for the top spot in the Central Division. Expect an all-out effort from the Blues in this important contest. Predicted score: St. Louis 4-2.


New sport hopes fans get a kick out of it

By: Adam Soboleski

The Orleans is bringing something new to Las Vegas. A kickboxing card will be presented there March 31 at 6 p.m.

"This is going to be great for the city," said Elena Tillotson, Draka Inc. promoter. "This is the first time this is coming to Las Vegas. The fighters (on the card) are from nine different countries. Kickboxing is a new sport. We’re going to do a great job."

No bets will be taken on this card, but Tillotson said it’s an introduction to Las Vegas’ bettors.

"After a few cards, you will be able to bet on (Las Vegas’ cards)," she said. "In the next (two or three) months, there will be fights at MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay." There are seven matches on the card.

The featured match is between super heavyweights Andrei Dudko (26-3, 28 KOs) and Sam Molioo (12-4, 5 KOs). Dudko, from Belarus, was the K-1 USA 2000 champion. Molioo, from Hawaii, is a kickboxing champion there.

A featured f