Hey Celts, make way for New Orleans

Jan 29, 2008 5:27 AM
LAST WK SEASON PCT
2-1 17-19 47.2

The NBA season has reached its mathematical halftime with all but Atlanta and the Los Angeles Clippers having played at least half of their 82-game schedules.

The ceremonial midpoint of the season will be two weeks following the Super Bowl when the league gathers in New Orleans on Feb. 17 for the annual All Star festivities.

The trading deadline is also just a few weeks away. Teams considered contenders will be contemplating offers designed to strengthen their rosters for the stretch run to the playoffs.

For much of the season the story has been the Boston Celtics. Their remarkable early season play made headlines for most of the past two months, but another story is unfolding that is just as fascinating.

Following the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005, the New Orleans Hornets were forced to play away from home the following season.

They astutely drafted Chris Paul in 2006 and he has emerged as one of the elite players in the league. Paul has led the Hornets to the best record in the Western Conference at 31-12. New Orleans is percentage points ahead of 32-13 Phoenix for the top seed in the West. This past Saturday the Hornets further confirmed their ascension up the NBA ladder by routing the Spurs in San Antonio, 102-78.

It’s just the regular season, and much ball remains to be played. However, the play of the Hornets has them an attractively priced long shot to fare well in the playoffs.

Two other teams worth mentioning for their fine play over the season’s first half are the Atlanta Hawks and the Portland Trailblazers.

At 26-18 Portland has nearly matched its 32 wins of last season. Atlanta won just 30 games last season and they are almost at .500, with an 18-22 record this season. Both are young, up and coming teams with quite a ways to go before they are contenders.

Portland is one of six teams currently covering at least 60 percent of their point spread decisions. The Blazers are 26-17 ATS with five teams faring slightly better. New Orleans leads the way at 29-14 (67 percent) followed by Washington’s 26-14-1 ATS mark (65 percent). Also in the 60-over over club are Orlando, Detroit and Boston.

At the other end of the point spread spectrum are the three teams covering less than 40 percent. To the surprise of nobody, Chicago and Miami are at the bottom of the list at 15-27 ATS (36 percent), ignoring pushes. Next worst is New Jersey at 16-27 (37 percent).

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

Lakers at Raptors (Fri): The Raptors catch the Lakers off what figures to be a grueling battle in Detroit a night earlier. The teams split two meetings last season, each winning at home. The Lakers are feeling the effects of the loss to injury of up-and-coming Andrew Bynum. Toronto has won their last five home games. RAPTORS.

Nets at Hawks (Sat): Atlanta is on the upswing, while New Jersey is in decline. The Nets have already won both meetings earlier this season, but the games were decided by 5 and 6 points. However the Nets played in Miami on Friday night while Atlanta is rested, This spot sets up nicely for the host, especially playing with double revenge. HAWKS.

Mavs at Pistons (Sun): Dallas won the first meeting 102-86 earlier this month at home after the teams traded road wins in last season. The Mavericks are in much better current form than the Pistons, who have gone just 5-5 in their last 10. Dallas is 8-2, but just 10-10 away from home this season. Detroit is 15-4 at home. PISTONS.