EDITOR’S NOTE: Andy handed out a technical for not including last week’s 3-0 mark to his season record. We have undone that wrong and now Andy’s win streak is at 6.
The NBA trading deadline passed last week without much fanfare except for followers of UNLV alumni currently playing in the pros.
The former UNLV tandem of Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks, traded a year ago from Phoenix to Miami, were again dealt as a tandem to Toronto in exchange for the well traveled Jermaine O’Neal.
Less than two months remain in the regular season, meaning that qualifying for and positioning within the playoffs takes on added importance. There is a three-team battle in the Eastern Conference for the top seed with Cleveland and Boston separated by a half game. Orlando is just 2½ back.
The Magic acquired the very much underrated Rafer Alston via a trade with Houston to replace the injured Jameer Nelson. Alston’s ability to direct the offense will keep the Magic in contention and at worst they will be seeded third.
There is a huge drop off to fourth seeded Atlanta. The Hawks are 9 behind third seeded Orlando, but hold a 3-game edge over Miami for that all important fourth seed that carries home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
Those five are the only Eastern Conference teams with winning records.
Nine teams are separated by a total of just seven games for the final three playoff spots with about two dozen or so games remaining. Even Toronto, with its 22-36 record and second to last in the conference, is just 5½ games from the final playoff berth.
The Los Angeles Lakers have all but wrapped up the top seed in the Western Conference with a commanding 8-game lead over San Antonio. Denver is just a game behind the Spurs for that second seed. Just nine teams are vying for the eight playoff spots. Second seeded San Antonio is just 6½ games in front of ninth seeded Phoenix.
Speaking of Phoenix the firing of coach Terry Porter last week may have been one of the best moves of the season from an entertainment perspective. Porter was not a fan of the frenzied style of play employed by his predecessor, current Knicks’ coach Mike D’Antoni.
Despite the fact that the Suns were a respectable 28-23 under Porter, that record was good enough for only ninth place in the highly competitive West. And the players were not all that enamored of Porter as well.
The appointment of assistant coach Alvin Gentry – a holdover from the D’Antoni regime – has reenergized the Suns to the tune of three straight wins in which they scored at least 140 points. Fine, albeit the wins were a pair over the LA Clippers and one over Oklahoma City.
Be prepared to see totals in the 240 range in upcoming Phoenix games. And, also be ready to see more than a fair share of those games go over those high totals. Interestingly, Phoenix enters the week having gone 7-6 in their last 13 games with all 13 decided by double digits!
Fatigue becomes a factor at this point of the season and we can expect to start seeing some of the younger teams in the league struggle, especially in the second of back-to-back games or on lengthy road trips.
The lines maker knows this as well but often cannot compensate more than a point or two while the actual impact is often several baskets or more.
Here’s a look this weekend’s games:
Heat at Hawks (Fri): The teams split their first two games, each played in Miami and decided by double digits. Both teams have identical 10-10 records over their last 20 games. The teams are evenly matched although it remains to be seen how newly acquired Jermaine O’Neal will mesh with his new Miami teammates, especially Dwayne Wade. The most attractive play in this game may be the total as the first two games produced just 160 and 174 total points. UNDER.
Rockets at Bulls (Sat): Houston has won the last six against the Bulls including 107-100 at home that fell right on the number. Chicago was involved in a pair of trade deadline deals that brought Tim Thomas over from New York and both John Salmons and Brad Miller from Sacramento. There is some upside for the revamped Bulls in coming weeks but it should take some time for the team to establish a new identity. Houston’s overall experience and depth gives them the edge. ROCKETS.
Lakers at Suns (Sun): The Suns began the Alvin Gentry era with a trio of very high scoring efforts before being held to 108 in a 20-point home loss to Boston. While the Suns’ up-tempo style allows them to outscore and wear down lesser teams in the league, the elite are often able to frustrate that pace. The Lakers have won the first two meeting with the Suns, by 13 and 5. LA has had success against up tempo teams such as New York and Golden State with both games hitting high totals. OVER.