Balance of power for NBA clearly found in West

February 26, 2008 3:52 AM

3-0 25-22 53.2

The trading deadline has passed, leaving the focus of most teams on making the playoffs and improving the seeding for the eight spots available in each conference.

As the deadline approached Dallas was finally able to acquire Jason Kidd from New Jersey. The other major development that occurred just as time expired involved Cleveland’s reshaping part of their roster in a three-team trade, designed to give star LeBron James more support for the stretch run.

The schedule has begun to take its toll as most teams have between 25 and 30 games remaining over the next month and a half.

Things could not be any tighter in the Western Conference where the top seven teams are separated by just 2½ games. The two teams tied for the eighth and final playoff spot (Denver and Golden State) are only five games out of first place in the West.

The Nuggets and Warriors would be seeded third if in the Eastern Conference, suggesting that the balance of power is clearly again in the West. The tightness of the race this deep into the season appears to be unprecedented.

It does not appear any of these nine Western teams are about to enter a slump. Each has played at least .500 ball over the past 10 games. In fact, despite their current 12-game winning streak, Houston starts the week as the seventh seed in the West.

The East is clearer with Boston and Detroit the teams to beat. Orlando and Cleveland can be considered possible dark horse contenders to pull an upset. Beyond those four teams, it is hard to construct a scenario that would produce an upset. Only five teams are playing winning basketball in the East (Toronto is that fifth team).

The linesmaker continues to do an excellent job in balancing home and road point spread winners along with posted totals. Each are within just a few games of 50-50.

At 36-29-1 the Los Angeles Lakers have the best point spread record in the NBA, followed by Boston (32-19-3).

At the other end of the spectrum are Miami (17-35-2) and the New Jersey Nets (22-34-0). Portland is on a 1-14 ATS run.

The Lakers have covered their last 8 and 13-of-14 as Pau Gasol has fit seamlessly into the Lakers’ lineup.

Jazz at Hornets (Fri): Utah continues to excel at home (24-3) and struggle on the road (12-17). New Orleans has been almost identical at home (18-9) as they have been on the road (19-8). New Orleans should be motivated for a strong effort here after dropping two earlier meetings at Utah by 28 and 22 points. HORNETS.

Sixers at Suns (Sat): Despite their 25-32 record, Philadelphia is in control of the eighth seed in the East. The Sixers are 7-3 in their last 10. Phoenix is 1-2 since Shaquille O’Neal took the court, but those games were against Boston, Detroit and the Lakers. Phoenix should have success forcing the pace and extending a second half lead. SUNS.

Mavericks at Lakers (Sun): Dallas won the only meeting this season, 112-105 at home back in January as a 7-point favorite. Both teams made key trades prior to the deadline, giving up little in exchange.This is the third game in four nights for both teams, but neither played on Saturday. Expect both to run the court. OVER.