NBA All Star Game still works

Jan 28, 2003 6:50 AM

Unlike the two All Star games to be played this weekend in the NFL and NHL, the NBA All Star game features most of the top players in the game and will be very entertaining.

The All-Star break is a key time of the year, allowing teams on the edge of the playoffs enough time to prepare for the second half and maintaining or enhancing their positions.

What looked to be a runaway race in the Western Conference for the top seed and the overall best record in the league has become interesting over the past week. Dallas leads Sacramento by just three and a half games. San Antonio holds down the number three seed, six games behind the Mavericks while Portland trails by just another half game in fourth.

These four teams are separated by just two games and then there is a gap of four games to the Golden State. The Warriors under first season coach Eric Musselman have played very well in recent weeks, winning six of their last 10. The Warriors have a half game lead over the defending world champion Lakers (who are also tied with Seattle). With Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, two of the top five players in the league, we can expect the Lakers to make a late season run and get into the playoffs.

Indiana has supplanted New Jersey as the top seeded team in the East. The Pacers have actually opened a two and a half game lead over the Nets. Detroit is a half game further back and then there is a two and a half game gap back to Boston.

Philadelphia and New Orleans are tied for the fifth and sixth seeds and Milwaukee is tied with Orlando for seven and eight. Michael Jordan’s Washington Wizards are just a game out of the number eight seed and the New York Knicks are just three games back.

Next week’s All Star break will give all teams a breather of at least four days and fatigued players and teams will have the chance to recharge their batteries.

Here’s a look at three of the more attractive games to be played this weekend.

Lakers at Kings (Fri): These teams met for the first time Christmas Day with Sacramento getting a 105-99 road win. The Lakers were struggling at the time and the Kings were a road favorite in that game. Shaq and Kobe each contributed 27 points but Sacramento took control of the game in the third quarter. It was a statement game for the Kings who were still bitter following their game seven loss to the Lakers in last season’s Western Conference finals.

This game is a statement game for the Lakers. They can send a message to Sacramento that the three time defending NBA Champs will be a force in the playoffs regardless of where they are seeded. The Lakers are rested while Sacramento was in Seattle the night before. LOS ANGELES.

Nets at Pistons (Sat): Two of the top teams in the East meet for the third time this season. The teams split the earlier meetings, played within a week of each other in December, with the home team winning each team by nearly identical scores of 101-91 and 100-92.

The Pistons covered each game with both going Over the total by at least a dozen points. Both teams played on Friday. The Nets had a pair of midweek home games that followed a stretch in which New Jersey played seven of eight on the road including a five game Western swing. The Nets have also had to cope with injuries this season which makes depth a concern. Detroit has a huge edge in the middle with Ben Wallace while New Jersey’s edge is in the backcourt with Jason Kidd.

Fundamentally these teams should play a lower scoring game than the first two meetings and we may get some added value in the Over/Under because of the high scoring nature of those two games. UNDER.

76ers at T’wolves (Sun): Both teams currently sit in fifth place in their respective conferences with an eye towards moving up and getting home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Minnesota’s record is three games better than that of the 76ers because Timberwolves’ star Kevin Garnett has a much better supporting cast than does Philly’s Allen Iverson. Philadelphia won the earlier meeting six weeks ago 99-94 at home but failed to cover as six and a half point favorites.

Minnesota will be favored in this contest. They are in better current form and catch Philly in an unusual one game road trip. Both teams last played on Friday. Surprisingly Minnesota is the only team currently in playoff position in the West to have a losing record against the Eastern Conference.

The Timberwolves are playing their most consistent basketball of the season, winning eight of their last 10 games. MINNESOTA.

Last week: 2-1

Season: 20-17-1

WEEKEND PICKS

Lakers +pts (Fri)

NJ/Det under (Sat)

T’wolves —pts (Sun)