The NBA resumes regular season play this week following an entertaining weekend of All Star festivities that did little to tarnish Philadelphia’s reputation of being a city with rather hostile fans.
The City of Brotherly Love renewed its license as having the nation’s most boorish fans with the constant booing of hometown hero Kobe Bryant. It’s one thing to boo a player when he comes in as an opponent with another team, such as Bryant did with his Laker teammates in last season’s NBA Finals.
Bryant deserved a much better reception for the All Star events, especially given his local roots. But perhaps the fans in attendance wanted to prove to the younger generation of fans that the legend of Philadelphians booing Santa Claus is indeed no legend at all.
Overall the NBA’s All Star weekend is the most entertaining of the major sports galas. The question arises as to which highlight will be shown more often in coming weeks ”” Michael Jordan’s missed mammoth breakway jam or Tracy McGrady’s spectacular off the backboard stuff past an apparently disappearing Dirk Nowitzki?
With about two months remaining before the playoffs begin this is an appropriate time to assess whether there may be some values in the NBA Futures Book to win the NBA Title. Clearly the Los Angeles Lakers remain the prohibitive favorites (even).
Given that Shaquille O’Neal’s foot problems have been chronic, coach Phil Jackson may be doing the right thing by not having his team overextend during this part of the season. The Lakers remain the team to beat.
In looking for legitimate challengers to the Lakers worth backing to win the NBA title that may have some value the place to start is in the East. The reasoning is that if a West team beats the Lakers it could suffer an emotional letdown.
New Jersey leads the East and is becoming more confident each week. At odds of 7-1, according to Monday’s updated Las Vegas Sports Consultants listing, the Nets are priced about right. On-court leader, Jason Kidd, has that experience. And their coach, Byron Scott, has some title rings from his playing days with the Lakers.
Defending conference champion Philadelphia is playing better basketball and should be considered to have a solid shot of repeating as conference champion. But the current 12-1 odds have climbed due to a likely seeding in the middle of the conference.
Milwaukee is priced at 12-1 due to significant defensive concerns combined with the lack of a dominating inside presence. None of the other Eastern contenders are priced attractively enough to consider a play.
The power of the NBA is still in the West, reflected in the relatively low odds of the elite teams. Of the four main challengers to the Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs have the experience to be a threat. Both Tim Duncan and David Robinson played on the Spurs’ title team three seasons ago. At 12-1, the enthusiasm for backing the Spurs is there, but the chances are marginal.
Sacramento currently has the league’s best record but the 9-2 odds still make it hard to justify our backing. Rather, take a look at Minnesota, which has have been to the playoffs five straight seasons. Minnesota has a young, maturing team. At 8-1, Minnesota might be worth a shot.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
Friday, Feb. 15
Celtics at Blazers: Both teams currently hold down playoff berths with Boston’s position in the East better than Portland’s in the West. The Celtics have relied on the exploits of Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker while Portland is led by Rasheed Wallace.
The teams are meeting for the first time this season with Boston in the midst of a grueling seven-game road trip to be played in just 12 days. Portland is the much fresher team and figures to force the pace against the Celtics. Take BLAZERS.
Saturday, Feb. 16
Mavs at Clippers: Both teams are much improved this season with Dallas moving into the class of the NBA’s elite. The Clippers are in playoff contention for the first time in half a decade. Dallas center Dirk Nowitzki has become one of the top players in the league and has gotten solid support from Steve Nash and Michael Finley.
The Clippers are a young team on the rise with Elton Brand emerging as their best player. Jeff McInnis has also developed his game and the Clippers have much upside potential if the nucleus of the team can remain intact. The teams have met twice this season, both within the last month. Both contests were fast paced and high scoring. The total will be high, perhaps around 210. Through the All Star break, Dallas had been involved in a remarkable 35 Overs and just 14 Unders. Take OVER.
Sunday, Feb. 17
Sixers at Pacers: Both teams had almost identical records at the All Star break. The 76ers led Indiana by half a game for the final playoff spot with about 30 games remaining. Indiana won the only other meeting this season, a 10-point road victory in the season’s opening week.
The 76ers have battled a ton of injuries all season but Allen Iverson appears to be as healthy as ever since missing time back in November. Both teams have forces in the middle with the Pacers’ Jermaine O’Neal matching up against Philly’s Dikembe Motombo. It’s always fun to watch Indiana’s Reggie Miller oppose the Sixers’ Allen Iverson. Philadelphia is the better defensive team and that should be decisive here. Take SIXERS.