NBA starting to gain momentum

Dec 11, 2001 6:51 AM

The NBA season is in full swing and shortly will become the highlighted television events of the weekend as the football season winds down.

Just under a quarter of the regular season has been completed and there have already been some surprising developments, both good and bad, and some recent changes in early season momentum as well.

In handicapping the NBA it is important to be aware of such momentum shifts since the NBA can be streaky, especially given the dynamics of the schedule.

Last season the Western Conference was far and away the more dominant with 10 of 14 teams finishing with winning records.

This season the distribution of winning teams is balanced. The top eight teams in each conference were .500 or better. The more powerful teams are still in the West.

New Jersey and Detroit remain the surprises of the early season, each leading their respective divisions. Philadelphia continues to struggle when Allen Iverson sits out due to injury.

The 76ers are battling injuries to several key contributors including Aaron McKie, Derrick Coleman and Speedy Claxton. Miami has started to play more competitively over the past week but Pat Riley’s team begins the week with the league’s worst record.

New York Knicks coach Jeff van Gundy resigned over the weekend although his team had also been playing better over the past two weeks.

Out West, Utah has started to improve but is still a pair of games below .500 beginning the week. Don’t be surprised if the Jazz go on a brief spurt over the next few weeks, but Utah is still an aging team that seems likely to contend, at best, for one of the final two playoff spots.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Friday, Dec. 14

Bucks at 76ers: Allen Iverson may be back for this contest which will be the first meeting between the teams since Milwaukee took the Sixers to seven games in last season’s Eastern Conference finals. The Bucks bulked up during the offseason with the signing of Anthony Mason but there have been recent chemistry problems. Both teams are rested and play again Saturday. Milwaukee has better balance and is the healthier team. Take Bucks (give 3-to-5 points).

Saturday, Dec. 15

T’Wolves at Mavericks: Both teams have hopes of being the main challengers to the Lakers supremacy and are off to solid starts. Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett may be the best player on the court but Dallas’ Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki are both All Star players as well. Dallas is the more rested of the teams and will try to force the pace to take advantage of that edge. Take Dallas (give 8-to-10 points).

Sunday, Dec. 16

Nets at Knicks: New Jersey continues to lead the Atlantic Division while New York is starting to make a move and now has a new coach. Under Jeff Van Gundy, the Knicks were reluctant to run the court despite the presence of scoring threats Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston. New Jersey has been keyed by an improved frontcourt presence and the play of Jason Kidd, who has gotten his teammates more involved. New Jersey won the earlier meeting 109-83. This meeting figures to be closer. Take OVER.