Still Lakers, then everyone else

Dec 4, 2001 9:03 AM

With the NBA season just over a month old it is once again plainly evident that the title is the Lakers’ to lose.

Barring injuries that would sideline either Shaquille O’Neal and/or Kobe Bryant for any significant length of time, the Lakers are clearly the best team in the NBA by a wide margin and are even stronger and deeper than last season.

Several times already this season we’ve seen the Lakers simply go through the motions for a half or so and then play outstanding basketball in spurts to take over games, often erasing early double digit deficits.

It’s tough to imagine any team capable of taking four of seven games from the Lakers come next spring. Despite some strong starts by other teams in the league the Lakers, at 15-1, have three fewer losses than any other team and have already opened up a three game lead over Sacramento in the Pacific Division.

Detroit (11-5) and New Jersey (10-6) remain the early season surprises a fifth of the way through the season. The Pistons and Nets lead their divisions. Both have been able to win on the road and that is a key sign for teams that might be able to go deep into the playoffs.

Conversely, the rapid decline of both Miami and Utah continue. Both teams are playing terribly at home. Utah has lost 6-of-10 home games, Miami 8-of-10.

Barring a dramatic turnaround, Miami will miss the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

Utah last missed the playoffs following the 1982-83 season, when many of this season’s players were still in diapers! But all runs eventually end and perhaps age has finally taken its toll on Karl Malone and John Stockton.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Friday, Dec. 7

76ers at Spurs: Both teams were eliminated by the Lakers in last season’s playoffs with the Sixers managing the only win in nine games. Philadelphia has overcome an early season slump when Allen Iverson was injured, but has not been sharp of late after winning seven straight. San Antonio’s Tim Duncan is at the top of his game. The Spurs do not have anyone who can match up with Iverson. It should be a tightly contested defensive game. Take UNDER.

Saturday, Dec. 8

Nets at Bucks: Both teams have cooled off late, especially Milwaukee. The Bucks lost all four games both straight up and against the spread on their recent West Coast road trip. New Jersey had dropped five of eight games since starting 7-1, but is clearly much improved. The Nets are playing their third game in four nights as they begin a well spread out four game road trip. Milwaukee has not played back-to-back nights in more than a week and will be the fresher of the teams. Take MILWAUKEE.

Sunday, Dec. 9

Heat at Kings: Pat Riley has probably never been more frustrated than he is right now with the 2-13 start. The Heat end a three-game Western trip facing perhaps the second best team in the league. Chris Webber’s return is imminent for a strong Sacramento team started the year 13-5. The Kings swept San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio on the road and may be a double-digit favorite. Miami is playing just its third road game in nine days. Take MIAMI.