Who will win East? Celtics, Cavs or Magic

Dec 30, 2008 5:10 PM

Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |

last week

Two months into the NBA season we have seen a clear demarcation between the teams likely to be serious challengers for the title and those who might just make it through a round or two of the playoffs.

With Boston losing back-to-back games at the Lakers and at Golden State things have tightened up in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland now trails the Celtics by just two wins with each team having just four losses. And, then there’s the Orlando Magic with a 24-6 overall record.

Based on what we’ve seen so far it’s hard to envision any team other than one of that trio representing the East in the NBA Finals next June.

In the West the Lakers (25-5) still hold a solid lead atop the conference. This despite their sluggish play over the past few weeks. However, LA is off the emotionally satisfying win over Boston on Christmas Day and has now won and covered three straight after a stretch of 10 straight point spread losses.

New Orleans is now second-seeded behind the Lakers with its 18-9 mark. The Hornets are one of a host of teams in that half-dozen or so game range behind the Lakers.

As strong as the West is at the top of the conference there are also five teams yet to win at least 10 games. Only one team in the East (Washington) has yet to achieve double-digit wins.

Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend:

Jazz at Lakers (Fri): Utah continues to play well despite being banged up and missing key players due to injury. The Lakers are likely to be solid favorites.

Both teams are well-rested which should enable Utah to stay close for at least the first half. But the lack of depth should be determinative in the second half as the Lakers pull away with more contributions from their bench. LAKERS.

Hornets at Nuggets (Sat): The teams have met once before this season, also in Denver, with visiting New Orleans winning by 4 points in a pick ‘em game. Since then New Orleans has gone 9-4 with all four losses to teams with winning records.

The Nuggets have gone 10-5 with the losses also to teams with winning records. The home site a night earlier creates a more favorable situation for the host. NUGGETS.

Magic at Raptors (Sun): The Magic defeated Toronto at home in mid-November 103-90, covering as 6-point favorites. Toronto has yet to play to its potential even since making their coaching change a few weeks ago.

Friday’s home game against Houston was the Raptors’ first since returning from a 6-game western road trip. Toronto is in its most favorable spot since mid-December. RAPTORS.