LA fallin’

Dec 3, 2002 5:54 AM

   More than a month into the NBA season has produced some familiar faces atop the standings.

   Philadelphia has started strongly, winning 14 of 18, to take the early lead in the Atlantic Division. Once again Allen Iverson is providing the scoring punch and the leadership in a division that figures to come down to the 76ers, Boston, New Jersey and Orlando.

   Indiana is the biggest surprise in the early season with a 14-2 start through Sunday night’s games. Detroit and New Orleans are the only other teams with winning records in the Central Division. Milwaukee languishes at .500, while Atlanta at 8-9 needs to show more improvement.

   Dallas finally lost its first game of the season in Indiana, but the 15-1 mark was tops in the league. San Antonio, at 11-7, was second but somewhat of a disappointment. Houston has also played well over the first month and could overtake Minnesota or Utah as a playoff team.

   The shocking story is in the Pacific as the Los Angeles Lakers begin the week tied for last place following their Sunday night home loss to Minnesota. Despite the return of Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers have yet to develop a rhythm or dominance that led them to three straight NBA titles.

   Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.

   Mavericks at Lakers (Friday): Despite their rough start the Lakers are still the team. Michael Finley, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki are more than capable of matching the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in putting up points. Dallas has also improved defensively since last season, which makes the Mavs more of a threat in the postseason. This game will get a lot of the midweek hype prior to being telecast nationally on ESPN. It should live up to the billing. OVER.

   Magic at Nets (Saturday): Two of the better teams in the East match up with Orlando’s Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill facing the Nets and Jason Kidd. McGrady may be one of the top five players in the league. Hill was certainly in that group before injuries sidelined him the past few seasons and at time this year. The Nets are a deep team and can play different styles of ball, making them a dangerous opponent. Orlando played Friday, while the Nets last played on Tuesday. NETS (-8).

   Kings at Spurs (Sunday): The Spurs appear to have declined a bit in the early stages of the season. Sacramento is a talented and deep team with more scoring options than San Antonio. The Spurs rely mainly on Tim Duncan and overall team defense. Neither team played Saturday and the Spurs may try to dictate a slower tempo to frustrate the Kings’ desire to get into rhythm. UNDER.

   Last week: 2-1

   Season: 8-7.