NBA having its Madness

Mar 11, 2008 6:00 PM

Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe | While much of Hoops Nation is preparing for the phenomenon of March Mania that accompanies the upcoming NCAA Tournament, the NBA enters the stretch run of its regular season.


Barely five weeks remain for things to be sorted out and much meaningful basketball remains to be played, even though many teams have already begun to set their sites on next season.

This situation is especially acute in the Western Conference where the top eight teams are separated by just 4½ games. The ninth team, Denver, currently on the outside of the playoff picture, is just two games out of that eighth and final seed. Most teams have 20 games remaining to make up ground or hold their positions.

Denver’s 37-25 record would be fourth in the East where only three teams have winning records. Houston remains the hottest team in the NBA, riding an 18-game win streak. Prior to the streak, the Rockets were a rather modest 24-20, battling with a few other teams for the final playoff spot.

Now 18 wins later, Houston is currently seeded third in the West with a 42-20 record, tied with New Orleans a game behind defending champion San Antonio for the Southwest Division lead.

The Spurs have been getting very little attention when discussion of which is the team to beat this season. Many pundits believe the Los Angeles Lakers are that team and with good reason.

Phoenix had been a fashionable choice to dethrone San Antonio but that talk has quieted since the Suns acquired Shaquille O’Neal via trade. Things have not worked out well during the transition but there’s still time for the retooled Suns to find their comfort level. Sunday’s win over San Antonio was a much needed confidence booster for Phoenix.

Dallas and Utah have received some attention as being viable longshots, but their chances seem to be limited because of both teams’ inability to fashion a winning road record. Entering this week the Jazz and Mavericks have identical 14-19 records away from home, the only two currently seeded teams with losing road records in the West.

In the East it’s been pretty much taken for granted that Boston and Detroit will determine the conference champion.

There has been much talk that if Boston or Detroit does play for the NBA Title, the chances for the Celtics or Pistons are enhanced because of what shapes up as a very contentious Western Conference playoffs. Given the state of affairs in the West, there are no easy outs from the opening round on out.

Currently both Boston and Detroit have better records than the best in the West, meaning that the Celtics or Pistons would have home court advantage in the NBA Finals and likely be fresher. At 2-1 or less, there is little value in making a futures play on Boston. But the Pistons are an attractive play at 6-1.

A look at overall performances shows that home teams are winning 59 percent of the time, but covering just a shade under 50 percent. The linesmaker has done an excellent job of balancing both point spread results and over / under results. Yet it should be noted that there has been a recent tendency for games to go over the Total.

Since Feb. 27, a span of 94 games, the over has a 58-34-2 edge.

Here’s a look at three key games to be played this weekend, all of which feature interconference matchups of contending teams.

Jazz at Celtics (Fri): Boston won the previous meeting in Utah, 104-98. Utah has struggled on the road. Boston catches the Jazz playing a third road game in four nights. Boston is likely a solid favorite and added Sam Cassell. CELTICS.

Spurs at Sixers (Sat): The Spurs won the only prior meeting this season, winning by 7 in mid January, but failing to cover as a small double-digit favorite. The Sixers are playing their best ball of the season, winning 7 of their last 10 and the teams have nearly identical records over the past month and a half. SIXERS.

Hornets at Pistons (Sun): New Orleans has cooled off lately, splitting the last 10 games and is just 12-8 over the last 20. Detroit won the only prior meeting 91-76 in New Orleans as a 1-point dog. Neither team played Saturday so both should play hard at the defensive end of the court. UNDER.