Favor West in 'Easy'

Feb 12, 2008 9:05 PM

Bettin' on B'ball by Andy Iskoe | Although all teams have played more than 41 of their 82-game schedule, the NBA marks the midpoint of its season with the annual All-Star festivities this weekend in New Orleans.

The "Big Easy" plays host to most of the game’s outstanding players for a weekend of slam dunks, three point shots and an exhibition game in which the defense always rests. Make no mistake about it, All-Star weekend is fun and entertaining.

As teams gear up for the second half run to make the playoffs the trade deadline approaches. Significant trades are rare in these days of free agency but already we’ve had a pair of major trades that figure to shake up the dynamics of the Western Conference.

After the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from Memphis, Phoenix got rid of a pair of former UNLV Rebels, disgruntled Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks in exchange for former league MVP Shaquille O’Neal in a trade with Miami. At first glance the trade has raised eyebrows as many have questioned how an aging and slowing Shaq will fit in with the run and gun Suns. But upon further reflection the acquisition makes sense.

Those two major trades illustrate just how powerful – and well balanced – the Western Conference is this season, with no clear cut favorite but with multiple legitimate contenders.

In the Eastern Conference it’s all but taken for granted that either Detroit or Boston will make the NBA Finals. But in the West a case can be made for nearly a half-dozen teams. Now, this week’s picks.

Heat at Bulls (Thu): Look for Miami to play more uptempo as Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion team their talents. Neither club is strong defensively so this should be a higher score than expected. OVER.

Mavs at Suns (Thu): There is a chance that Shaquille O’Neal will make his Suns debut here. Dallas won the earlier meeting this season at home by 3. Each team is 7-3 in its last 10 games. Dallas has had some injuries over the past week. SUNS.

All-Star Game (Sun): It’s an exhibition. Neither team plays much defense until perhaps the last five minutes. Totals are often in the 250 range. With a pair of hometown Hornets, David West and Chris Paul, the West may give a better effort. WEST.