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Portland at 25-1 blazing trail to respect

Feb 4, 2003 7:46 AM

The NBA’s All Star Break has arrived and teams get a much-needed rest as they regroup and plot their strategies for the regular season stretch run. Most teams have about 35 games remaining and while some are secure in their positions to make the playoffs there will still be several interesting races to follow over the next two months.

The All Star Break also affords us the time to step back and take a look at how the season has unfolded. There’s still much basketball to be played but there may also be some opportunities to find some teams that remain attractively priced to win the NBA Championship.

Portland, at 25-1, might be the most attractive longshot available. Teams from the weaker Eastern Conference might also present value at shorter odds. New Orleans (12-1) and Boston (15-1) both have the talent to make a run at the current conference front runners.

With just over two months remaining before the playoffs, teams need to realistically assess their chances of making postseason play. Some will make the decision to play the rest of this season with an eye towards next year. Not much time remains before the NBA’s trading deadline and we might see some teams trade high salaried veterans for younger, developing players or draft choices.

Those unlikely to make the playoffs may be looking to be players in the off- season free agent market and are seeking to clear salary cap room on their rosters. They are likely to make their players available to the various types of contending teams that are likely to be in the trade market.

One type of team may need one more player to make a run at making one of the lower seeded playoff berths. These clubs won’t make major trades but might look to take on a player that can provide a late scoring punch in an attempt to win close games.

The other type of team likely to be involved in deadline trades are those teams that feel they have a legitimate chance of at least making it to the NBA Finals. This could be a very interesting next few weeks, with the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers struggling.

Many observers believe the Lakers will not win their fourth straight title. Teams such as Dallas, San Antonio and Sacramento in the West, and Indiana and Detroit in the East, may be players in the trade market over the next two weeks.

As the All Star break approaches, races in each conference continue to take shape. Gaps begin to either widen or narrow in divisional races. In the East, Indiana, New Jersey and Detroit have opened up a significant margin. Indiana currently holds the top seed in the conference with a 1½ game lead over New Jersey and two over Detroit. There is a 5½ game cushion back Boston in fourth.

Things get really interesting in the battles for the final four playoff berths in the East. No fewer than six teams are bunched within four games of one another. Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando and Atlanta currently hold the final four playoff spots with Washington and New York close behind.

Out West, Dallas has a five and a half game lead over Sacramento with San Antonio a half game further back and surprising Portland one back behind.

The Mavericks clearly remain the team to beat. At 37-9, the Mavs have the league’s best record and lead Indiana by four games for the top overall seed and home court edge should they reach the NBA Finals.

Utah, Minnesota, Phoenix and Houston hold the final four spots in the west. The Lakers have improved their record to 22-23 and are currently seeded ninth. Los Angeles has 3½ games to make up on Houston and then can set its sights on moving up to perhaps fifth in the West over their final 37 games.

As to this Sunday’s All Star game, keep in mind that this is an exhibition game for the fans and television audience. Wagering on exhibition events is always dangerous and most professionals will not even bother with a token play on the game. But, since many people enjoy having some action on the game perhaps OVER is the way to play.

Defense usually takes a rest in these games as the players are encouraged to show off their passing and shotÂí­making skills. The NBA All Star game has been high scoring over the years and the linesmaker has made adjustment.

Still, if you are going to play the OVER be sure to shop around because you will likely find slight differences at the various sports books.

Last week: 2-1

Season: 22-18-1