Better climb on Milwaukee’s wagon

Dec 30, 2003 8:05 AM

Two months into the NBA season and we continue to get confirmations of teams that have been early season surprises yet continue to play well nearly a third of the way through the campaign.

The number of teams playing non-losing basketball in the Eastern Conference has risen to six so right now there would be a pair of teams with losing records making the playoffs. Of the teams playing at least .500 ball the biggest surprise might be the Milwaukee Bucks, which made a major roster overhaul in the offseason and a coaching change.

The projected win total for the Bucks was just 28. With barely a third of the season complete Milwaukee is more than halfway there. Four of the five teams above .500 in the East are in Milwaukee’s Central Division with Indiana having the best record in the East. At 21-10, only the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento have fewer losses. Keep in mind that three teams in the East are winning less than 30 percent of their games and only five teams have fewer than 11 wins.

In the Western Conference all eight teams that would qualify for the playoffs have winning records. In recent weeks, however, there has been more balance in the West. Three teams (Golden State, Portland and Memphis) are at exactly .500.

With the Christmas and New Year’s holidays falling on Thursday, the NBA schedule has a little different look for a couple of weeks, especially regarding home stands and road trips. After the first of the year the normal patterns will resume with Tuesday/Wednesdays and Fridays/Saturdays having the bulk of the games played.

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

Nuggets at Blazers (Fri): Denver continues its fine play, winning nearly two of every three games and showing that the early season start has not been a fluke. Rookie Carmelo Anthony has infused some life into this longtime down franchise. The play of Marcus Camby and Andre Miller has given the Nuggets several options on offense. Portland has been at .500 since the season began and remained winless on the road. Rasheed Wallace and Zach Randolph provide solid offensive punch. This should be a fast paced game. OVER.

T’wolves at Mavericks (Sat): After a slow start Minnesota is playing its best ball, having won eight of the last 10 and moving within a 1½ games of the lead in the Midwest Division. It was only natural to expect it would take time for the newly acquired talent to blend in with Kevin Garnett. Dallas has been more of a disappointment thus far, mainly due to poor play on the road. The Mavs have won just four of 14 games away from Dallas, but are 13-2 at home. Both teams played last night and have to travel to Dallas. Perhaps the matchup between Garnett and Dallas Dirk Nowitski is a tossup but Dallas, at home, has the deeper roster and extend after halftime. MAVERICKS.

Nets at Knicks (Sun): Both teams have started to play better basketball over the past couple of weeks after struggling early. New Jersey is expected to again contend for the East title while the Knicks are considered to have only a marginal chance to make the playoffs. New York has started to win on the road, a sure sign of an improving team. The Nets have been able to win both home and away in finally going above the .500 mark. The Nets have the better overall roster, especially with Jason Kidd. The Knicks have a prolific scorer in Allan Houston and the supporting cast is contributing more. Travel is not a factor so we should see fresh bodies in action. Look for a high scoring game. OVER.

Last week: 2-1

Season: 19-7