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Nets becoming home bullies

Dec 31, 2002 5:08 AM

After two months of the NBA season, division races are starting to take shape.

New Jersey has assumed the top spot in the Atlantic by three games, winning six straight games to start the week. The Nets sport a league best 17-1 SU home record, but are below .500 on the road. In fact, there are only five teams that have more road wins than losses. Three of those five are 8-7.

Indiana leads the Central Division by a game and a half over Detroit. New Jersey, Indiana and Detroit are the only East teams with single digit losses beginning the week.

In the West, the Lakers continue to struggle at 13-19. Their logical successors, the Sacramento Kings (23-9), are not the early frontrunners. The Dallas Mavericks have exploded out of the gate with a league best 25-4 record.

The hottest team in the NBA over the past 10 games is Phoenix. The Suns were 9-1 SU starting the week and sit second in the Pacific, three games behind Sacramento. In the Midwest, Dallas is six games ahead of San Antonio with Houston, Utah and Minnesota tightly bunched.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Magic at Hornets (Friday): Both teams appear to be of playoff quality although Orlando continues to be plagued by injuries, most notably to Grant Hill. Star Tracy McGrady has also been sidelined at times yet the Magic have a winning record and sit seventh in the Eastern Conference. New Orleans has fared exceptionally well at home since moving from Charlotte following last season. Winners of 11 of 13 home contests the Hornets have talent and depth and should be a contender in the East come playoff time. Both teams are rested following the New Year’s hiatus although Orlando must play again on Saturday when hosting New Jersey. New Orleans is the healthier and more complete team at present and may be backed as a favorite in this spot. NEW ORLEANS (—4).

76ers (+7) at Mavericks (Saturday): Keep in mind that this is scheduled for 10:35 a.m. PT as ABC kicks off a full day of sports coverage with both NFL Wild Card games following this contest. After starting strong, Philadelphia had dropped seven of its last 10 games to start the week. Dallas has been getting solid contributions from up and down the lineup. Philadelphia has All-Star guard Allen Iverson but not much else in the way of a consistent scoring threat. That should be the key here. Dallas has too much depth and and should have the 76ers tiring after halftime trying to keep pace. DALLAS (—7).

Suns at Lakers (Sunday): This is the second of home and home contests with the teams having played in Phoenix on Saturday night. These games will be a test of sorts for both teams. Can the Lakers start their way back to .500 by defeating a team playing very well? Can Phoenix solidify their position as a playoff contender with a good showing? A sweep by either team will give some clues to the answers but this game figures to be played at a slower, more deliberate pace. The teams might be a bit more tired from having played the night before. UNDER.

Last week: 2-1

Season: 15-10-1.

 

WEEKEND PICKS

New Orleans -4 (Fri)

Dallas -7 (Sat)

Phx/LAL under (Sun)