Just another brick in ‘The Wall’

Jan 8, 2002 4:47 AM

They call it “The Wall.”

It does not refer to a structure that once stood in Berlin nor does it describe one of the world’s most well known wonders in China. Rather, “The Wall” refers to the time of the season in the NBA when young players, most notably the rookies, begin to suffer from the grind.

It would not be surprising to see many of this season’s top rookies ”” the ones who have been getting significant minutes ”” to start showing the signs of fatigue. It takes several seasons for players to adjust to the grueling schedule and travel demands of the NBA.

Asking the younger players to play the equivalent of a full college season in roughly two- thirds the time (playing three or four games a week during some stretches) takes a toll. Teams heavily dependent on youth like Memphis, Golden State, Chicago and the LA Clippers are likely to suffer most.

For the most part these are the weaker teams in the league. The Clippers, of course, are much improved, but even that might be deceiving. Los Angeles has played the fewest road games of any team in the league. Beginning this week the Clippers are 16-7 at home, but just 2-8 on the road.

The second half of the season is heavily weighted towards road games. The effects of hitting “The Wall” can last from a couple of weeks to a month and a half before the body adjusts and the young players get their second wind.

Don’t be surprised to see several one-sided losses from teams that have been reasonably competitive over the past month. As these losses mount, the lines will be adjusted. Within about a month, the second wind occurs and these bad teams start covering once again.

In handicapping, the attractive teams are most often winning road underdogs. Although playing on large underdogs may be tempting, caution is advised during the next month or so when considering backing losing teams too reliant on youth.

Here’s a look at three of the more interesting matchups this weekend.

Friday, Jan. 11

Spurs at 76ers: San Antonio has been solid all season despite a recent slump. Philadelphia has been struggling because of numerous injuries that have forced Larry Brown to use several different lineups and rotations. San Antonio has a top five player, Tim Duncan, and a capable supporting cast headed by David Robinson, still capable of posting big numbers on any given night. We should see a maximum defensive effort here. Take UNDER.

Saturday, Jan. 12

T’wolves at Wizards: Minnesota has played consistent ball all season and begins the week with the fourth best record in the NBA. Washington has made great progress in recent weeks behind the leadership of Michael Jordan. MJ has already shown flashes of his former brilliance in recent weeks and the Wizards are currently within four games of the Atlantic Division lead. Most of Washington’s success has come against struggling teams from the weak East. The T’wolves have played well on the road, winning 10 of 17 games away from the Target Center. Take MINNESOTA.

Sunday, Jan. 13

Suns at Kings: These teams met in Phoenix last Saturday in a pick’em game, Sacramento controlled the contest, winning by six but led by many more for much of the contest. Phoenix is paced by ex-UNLV star Shawn Marion and stands a couple of games over .500 at the start of the week. Sacramento’s Chris Webber is in fine form after missing more than a month. The Kings have the second best record in the NBA, trailing the Lakers by just half a game. They’ve also won 19 of 20 home games and figure to be heavily favored here. The first three games between these teams produced at least 200 points and averaged 222 per contest. This is the last meeting this season. Take OVER.