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Celts remain story, even in decline

Jan 15, 2008 5:23 AM
2-1 13-17  43.3

As has been the case since the early weeks of the season, the lead story is about the Boston Celtics. Only this time the question is whether they are finally starting to come back to the rest of the league.

At 30-5 the Celtics still have, by far, the best record in the league and are the only team with fewer than 10 losses. But they have lost two of their last three games entering this week.

It continues to be Boston and Detroit as the class of the East. Boston has an 11-game lead over Toronto in the Atlantic Division. Detroit is 8½ games clear of Cleveland in the Central. Though they have not received the attention Boston has, the Pistons have the second-best record in the league. It’s a superior record to any of the three Western Conference Division leaders. This could mean an Eastern team will have a homecourt advantage in the NBA finals.

The better overall ball is being played in the West, where 10 of the conference’s 15 teams are above .500. Contrast that to just six teams in the East. Aside from Boston and Detroit, only Orlando is more than three games above break even. In the West, seventh seeded Golden State is winning better than three games in five with their 22-16 record. That’s a half game worse than Orlando’s 23-16 mark, good enough for the third seed in the East.

Within the next two weeks the mathematical midway point of the regular season, 41 games, will be reached by most teams. The rigors of travel and fatigue have already started taking their toll and it is reflected in often inconsistent play from game to game.

Scheduling dynamics has always been an important handicapping factor but it takes on even greater importance in mid season.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Warriors at Bulls (Fri): Golden State continues to play solid ball after starting the season 0-6. The Warriors have gone 22-10 since and are currently seeded eighth in the West. There continue to be reports of disharmony in the Bulls locker room, a situation that is not conducive to good play in a team sport. Both teams play again on Saturday with the Bulls hosting arch rival Detroit, a potential distraction. Chicago has a losing record at home. The Warriors have a winning record on the road. WARRIORS.

Spurs at Rockets (Sat): These rivals have already met twice this season with each team winning at home in November. Both games were very low scoring, producing 170 and 174 total points and going UNDER the posted total. Houston has been without star Tracy McGrady for the past several games and his return here is uncertain. With their rather ordinary 6-4 record over the past couple of weeks, the Spurs are likely to place extra emphasis on this game against a division foe. SPURS.

Nets at Suns (Sun): Out of respect to the NFL taking center stage with their Conference Championship games, this is the lone NBA game scheduled for Sunday. New Jersey continues to play inconsistently with more talent than its .500 record would indicate. Phoenix is rested. Half of the Nets”˜ 18 losses have been by double digits and this is not a favorable situation. SUNS.