West still best in balanced NBA

Nov 27, 2001 6:20 AM

The NBA season is about to conclude its opening month of play and several things are already apparent. First and foremost is that the balance of power is again rooted in the Western Conference.

The top four teams, the Lakers, Sacramento, Minnesota and San Antonio, have a combined 41-9 record. Contrast that to the top four teams in the East (New Jersey, Milwaukee, Detroit and Toronto), who are a combined 35-16.

New Jersey continues to set the pace in the Atlantic Division. Perhaps no player has had as much of an impact on his new team than Jason Kidd with the Nets.  His presence could well transform this perennial doormat into a playoff contender.

Kidd makes all of his teammates better with his on the court leadership and ability to get everyone involved.

Philadelphia has already climbed to second place in the Atlantic Division, despite opening the season with five straight losses while Allen Iverson was injured. Iverson may be the player in the NBA, who is most valuable to his team.

Milwaukee continues to set the pace in the Central and had the Eastern Conference’s best record through last Sunday at 9-1. The Bucks have been strengthened by the addition of Anthony Mason and remain the overwhelming favorite to win the division.

Detroit is also off to a fine start but the Pistons are currently being challenged by an injury to star Jerry Stackhouse. If Detroit continues to play well in his absence we may be looking at another new face in the playoffs as Miami and New York show signs of fading.

Minnesota and San Antonio have established themselves as the class of the Midwest and both have recent playoff experience to make them at least potential challengers to the Lakers.

Dallas is beginning to play much better while Utah continues to struggle.

The Lakers are the best team in the NBA and heavily favored to win their third straight league title. Sacramento should continue to mount a challenge.

Friday, Nov. 30

Kings at Spurs: San Antonio seeks to avenge a 103-83 loss at Sacramento in the opening week. The Kings have played well in the early going despite the absence of Chris Webber who returns in December. PG Mike Bibby is proving to be a significant upgrade from the enigmatic Jason Williams. San Antonio is paced once again by Tim Duncan and has gotten surprisingly strong play from their PG Tony Parker. Sacramento is ending a grueling four game road trip over five days. Take SAN ANTONIO.

Saturday, Dec. 1

T’wolves at Lakers:  Three of the game’s top stars will show their talents with the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal matching up against Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett. Both teams have excellent starting lineups and solid depth. The Lakers are the public team and will likely be overpriced.  Take MINNESOTA.

Sunday, Dec. 2

Celtics at Raptors: Boston  features the potent scoring threat of Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce who figure to challenge the Raptors’ Vince Carter for high points honors. Toronto has the more physical supporting cast and passed a major test by faring well on a lengthy road trip against the West. Take BOSTON.