The two top stories in the NBA three weeks into the season involve the starts by a pair of title contenders in the Western Conference.
The red hot Dallas Mavericks remain the league’s lone unbeaten team, beginning this week at a perfect 10, as in 10-0. Six of those wins have come on the road and the Mavs are not entirely healthy. Raef LaFrentz and Nick van Exel are both sidelined so Dallas is getting a chance to develop added depth while still winning.
The second story concerns the three time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Without Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers have won just three of 10 games. Kobe Bryant cannot do it alone, despite posting several 40-point performances. O’Neal is expected to return later this week and his presence in the lineup makes all the difference.
Expect a Lakers surge once Shaq Daddy returns but the linesmaker will make an immediate adjustment in the line. The Lakers will likely be overpriced still once Shaq returns.
Indiana remains a pleasant surprise in the East, benefiting from playing six of its first nine games at home. The Pacers notched eight victories without injured sharp-shooting Reggie Miller.
Miami and New York began the week with just one win apiece. Those bitter playoff rivals from the 1990’s continue to show signs that last season’s decline for each was not a one season aberration.
Surprisingly, only six Western Conference teams started the week with winning records. There are 10 in the East, but it’s still early.
Here’s a glance at three games on the slate this weekend.
Magic at Pacers (Friday): Indiana has won all six home games. This is Orlando’s first game back east following a trip to the West Coast. Grant Hill is already suffering some injuries and sat out Sunday’s game in Sacramento. The Magic have one of the game’s top players in Tracy McGrady but the travel and fatigue favor the host. INDIANA (-5).
Sonics at Mavs (Saturday): Dallas has gotten much of the early NBA ink, but Seattle’s 8-2 start through 10 games is nearly as good. Gary Payton and Brent Barry form a solid backcourt. Rashard Lewis continues to develop as a player and Desmond Mason provides a great lift off the bench. Dallas has improved greatly on defense, due largely to an improved Shawn Bradley. The reputation of both teams to score might provide value in the total. UNDER.
Bucks at Lakers (Sunday): Shaq
was initially scheduled to return on Friday against Chicago and could go here.
Milwaukee is off to a rather average start at 5-4 despite great talent
and depth. The coaching edge goes to the Lakers’ Phil Jackson, whose
reputation has come into question following the poor start. Maybe Jackson does owe his legacy to Michael Jordan!
The Lakers will be solid favorites with Shaq and Milwaukee does have a
game in Phoenix on Monday. The frenzied crowd could result in a fast paced game. OVER.
Last week: 2-1.