Exel-lent time to make NBA deals

February 19, 2002 8:25 AM
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Following the All Star break the next major date of significance for the NBA is the trading deadline which occurs this week.

In recent seasons there have been very few trades of significance completed, mostly due to salary cap and contract restrictions. But preceding the deadlines rumors fly rampant. Amongst the names mentioned most often this season as changing uniforms via trade are Golden State’s Marc Jackson, Indiana’s Jalen Rose and Denver’s Nick Van Exel.

Jackson is attractive for teams seeking more of an inside presence while both Rose and Van Exel will provide a scoring spark for teams looking to place added emphasis on offense. It would seem to make sense that teams hovering around the .500 mark, and therefore on the edge of making or missing the playoffs, would be the teams most likely to reconfigure their rosters to make a late season run towards postseason play.

Most teams have about 30 games remaining in the regular season and the balance of power remains in the West. Five of the six teams with the league’s best records are in the Midwest and Pacific Divisions. Only New Jersey, leader of the Atlantic Division, is a member of this elite group and the Nets begin the week with the NBA’s fifth best record.

Despite losing only its second home game of the season last Sunday, Sacramento continues to have the best record in the NBA. The Kings lead the team with the second best record, the Los Angeles Lakers, by three games in the Pacific Division. Dallas, Minnesota and San Antonio rank 1-2-3 in the Midwest Division to round out the top five seeds in the West.

The three Midwest teams begin the week each separated by a game and a half. Utah, Portland and Seattle hold the remaining three Western Conference playoff berths and these three teams are separated by just a single game. Phoenix and the Los Angeles Clippers are both within two games of the final playoff spot.

New Jersey leads the Boston Celtics by five games in the Atlantic Division and holds the conference’s best record. Milwaukee leads the Central and its record is only a half game better than Boston. The Bucks, Detroit and Toronto are all tightly bunched in the Central.

Michael Jordan’s Washington Wizards would not only qualify for the playoffs if they were to start right now, but they’d be seeded number five in the East with a record of four games over .500. The Wiz trails Boston by just a game and a half and they have a very realistic chance of moving into the number three seed with a strong performance during the remainder of the regular season.

Orlando is currently the number seven seed while Philadelphia, Indiana and Charlotte are each a game below .500 which is sufficient to hold the eighth and final playoff berth. This logjam of mediocrity also gives hope to the resurgent Miami Heat. Pat Riley’s troops, winners of 13 of their last 20 games, are just four and a half games out of the playoffs. The Heat have plenty of time to close that gap with 18 of their final 32 games at home.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend:

Friday, Feb. 22

Nets at Knicks: These teams have not met since mid-December and the Nets captured both early meetings by 26 and 18 points before New Jersey had fully proven itself as a legitimate contender. New York was struggling and things have gotten no better since then with the Knicks seemingly destined to a last place finish in the Atlantic Division. New York does have some scoring punch with Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston and Jason Kidd has done an excellent job of involving his Nets teammates in New Jersey’s offense. The earlier meetings easily went over the posted total of about 180. Take OVER.

Saturday, Feb. 23

T’wolves at Spurs: Both teams are battling with Dallas for the top spot in the Midwest, but the third place team in the Division likely ends up with the fifth seed in the West. The teams have split their first two meetings, each winning at home. Minnesota will be without PG Terrell Brandon for the rest of the season but veteran Chauncey Billups has filled in very well.  San Antonio continues to be paced by Tim Duncan while David Robinson is still capable of putting forth a strong effort. The Spurs are just a .500 team over their last 20 games, covering more than a month. Minnesota is better balanced even without Brandon, and are certainly capable of pulling off the upset. Take T’WOLVES.

Sunday, Feb. 24

Pistons at Bucks: Both teams are battling for the top spot in the Central, along with Toronto, which would likely mean the Eastern Conference’s number two seed behind New Jersey. Milwaukee won the only previous meeting, an 18 point road victory about a month ago. The Bucks are the more talented, better balanced team but have had chemistry problems. Detroit is paced by Jerry Stackhouse. After a lull which followed their surprisingly strong start, the Pistons are again playing well. However,  Milwaukee will be solid favorites here. Take BUCKS.

NBA Picks
NJ/NY over T'Wolves
Bucks