Lakers figure to win, but not as high-priced favorites

Nov 6, 2001 6:00 AM

The NBA has completed its first week of action and while it is way too early to form solid conclusions as to how the season will unfold in terms of teams exceeding or falling short of expectations, there are some observations that can be made.

Michael Jordan will make Washington an improved team, but the degree of improvement may not be as great as many expect. Aside from Richard Hamilton, Jordan does not have much talent around him and while he will make his teammates better, the fatigue of a long season will take a toll.

New Jersey and Boston are clearly improved, and the Nets might show the most improvement of any team with the leadership of G Jason Kidd. He has already been instrumental in some early wins but the entire attitude of the team will become more positive as Kidd assumes the leadership role that has been missing for many years. A healthy Kenyon Martin and a hard working rookie, Richard Jefferson, also strengthen the Nets.

Philadelphia clearly misses the injured Allen Iverson. That is obvious. But the off season departure of Tyrone Hill and the recent trade of George Lynch have taken away a pair of hard working physical players. The Sixers have been non-competitive in some early games although they should be pleased with the play of Speedy Claxton.

Houston has adjusted to the loss of longtime C Hakeem Olajuwon and the backcourt tandem of Steve Francis and Cutino Mobley have gotten off to good starts. Francis is getting his mates more involved in the offense and when he becomes less selfish the chances for the Rockets to be a surprise playoff team improve.

The Lakers are off to a 4-0 start and it would not be a surprise if they are a poor pointspread team this season, often doing just enough to win. Los Angeles showed last season that despite a much-publicized in-season supposed feud between starts Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers played their best ball in winning a second straight title.

Coach Phil Jackson knows very well that an 82-game schedule is grueling and that it is best to be fresh come playoff time. Expect the Lakers’ bench to see plenty of action this season. Consider that in winning two straight titles, the Lakers have played the equivalent of an extra half season over the past year and a half.

The Lakers are a very public team and will often be laying double digits, even on the road, and there may be great value in going against the Lakers in such situations.

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

Friday, Nov. 9

Kings at Magic: Both teams are expected to make the playoffs and be serious contenders to make the NBA Finals. Orlando has a healthy Grant Hill to complement Tracy McGrady while Sacramento is a deep team even without injured star Chris Webber. The off-season swap bringing Mike Bibby to the Kings gives Sacramento a solid backcourt along with Doug Christie. Orlando plays five road games in seven days against Western Conference teams following this game so a win here becomes very important since four of the five road teams they’ll face made the playoffs last season. Take ORLANDO.

Saturday, Nov. 10

T’wolves at Bucks: A pair of improving contenders clash here with Milwaukee’s chances of ruling the East far better than Minnesota’s of dethroning the Lakers in the West. These teams have been involved in numerous trades over the past several seasons and are familiar with each other’s personnel. Milwaukee may have the deeper roster but Minnesota has the best player on the court, Kevin Garnett. Neither team played last night and should be fresh. Both teams have above average shooters and Milwaukee is clearly suspect on defense. This should be the most entertaining game on the night’s schedule and produce the most total points. Take OVER.

Sunday, Nov. 11

Raptors at Nuggets: Toronto appears to be a major contender in the East based upon their early performance while Denver is trying to make do until star Antonio McDyess returns from injury perhaps in January. The Nuggets had the most pronounced home court advantage in the NBA last season, winning 19 more games at home than they did on the road. Toronto has the game’s best player, Vince Carter, and is likely to be a small favorite here. The Raptors just played the previous night in Utah while Denver is rested. Upset special. Take DENVER.