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Kings opening room
in Pacific Division

Jan 13, 2004 7:19 AM

The mathematical halfway point of the NBA regular season is approaching, with several teams reaching 41 games by this weekend.

As such we have a much clearer picture of how the season is shaping up and perhaps what we might expect over the second half of the campaign.

Sacramento has quietly opened up a three game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific Division and owns the NBA’s best record. The Kings begin the week as the only team with fewer than 11 losses, accomplishing this without Chris Webber. The All-Star forward’s return from injury and suspension is still uncertain.

A recent slump has pushed the Los Angeles Lakers to fourth in the West with both San Antonio and Minnesota having better records. The Spurs have a one game lead over Minnesota in the Midwest as they prepare to tangle in San Antonio this Wednesday.

The lower half of the Western Conference playoff chase has four teams, all with winning records and all within a game and a half of one another. Those four teams ”” Denver, Dallas, Houston and Seattle ”” must hold off another winning team, Utah. Memphis can also be a factor. The Grizzlies are on course to the best record in franchise history. With a record currently at .500. Memphis is just a 1½ games of the eighth and final playoff spot. If only the NBA knew its geography a bit better, Memphis would be a playoff team.

In the Eastern Conference, only seven of the eight teams currently in playoff position have winning records. The final team, Philadelphia, begins the week three games short of even. Indiana continues to lead the conference by a healthy six games over New Jersey. Seeds three through six all belong to Central Division teams with Detroit, New Orleans, Toronto and Milwaukee each boasting a better record than seventh seeded Boston.

Both Detroit and New Orleans have better records than New Jersey so the balance of power in the weaker East clearly is in the Central. Boston has joined the Nets as the only two Atlantic Division teams with winning records, with the Celtics barely a winning team at 20-19.

At nearly the midpoint of the season, just four teams are winning at least 60 percent of their pointspread decisions (ignoring pushes). Indiana, Milwaukee, San Antonio and Utah are each covering at least three of every five games.

Similarly, four teams are winning less than 40 percent of their pointspread decisions. In fact, Atlanta, Dallas and Orlando are losing better than two of every three ATS. The Lakers are also covering fewer than two in every five games.

Only Memphis and Seattle are going "over" the total at least 60 percent of the time. Four teams have at least 60 percent "under" decisions, including Detroit and Houston. The two teams showing the greatest "under" tendencies are Toronto and San Antonio. The Spurs and Raptors have gone "under" the total in more than two of every three games.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

San Antonio at Indiana (Fri): A quick rematch of contending teams that met in San Antonio this past Saturday. Indiana rallied in the fourth quarter but lost by a point in overtime. The result exceeded the low total of 163 only due to OT. The Spurs are played Minnesota two nights earlier. Indiana travels to conference rival New Jersey on Saturday. San Antonio, which began the week having won eight straight road games has won 17 of 18. Last week’s win over Indiana snapped the Pacers’ seven game winning streak. Indiana may be revenge minded but San Antonio has won six of the last seven meetings. SPURS.

Minnesota at Houston (Sat): Both teams will have had a couple of days rest. After a sluggish start the Timberwolves have won 15 of 18 since the start of December. Houston has played .500 ball over the last month. The Rockets took the first game between the teams in mid-December, 75-72, when playing the better ball. Minnesota played its last two games in midweek against tough defensive minded foes. Kevin Garnett is the difference, especially being rested. T’WOLVES.

Portland at Phoenix (Sun): Phoenix has basically conceded this season with the recent trade of both Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to New York in which they not only received some players but also some draft choices. Portland is below .500, but has the talent to overtake several teams ahead in the standings with both Rasheed Wallace and Zach Randolph outstanding players. Phoenix is now committed to rely on both Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson for the bulk of its scoring, while awaiting the return to full duty of injured Amare Stoudemire. Portland hosted Dallas the night before in a likely fast paced game. Could be fatigued here. SUNS.

Last week: 1-2

Season: 23-9