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NBA has tough All-Star act
to follow

Feb 10, 2004 8:40 AM

Three of the four major professional sports enjoy their All Star festivities within a one week span and the NBA has a tough act to follow after the NFL and NHL provided immensely entertaining All Star games last weekend.

Fortunately the NBA All Star game has a history of being a high scoring, fast paced game and after all, the fans want to be entertained. They don’t want to see teams run 15 to 18 seconds off the time clock before going into their offense. There’s too much of that already during the regular season.

Run and gun, up and down the court. That’s what the fans want to see and in recent editions of the All Star game that’s exactly what the fans have received.

A discussion of recent All Star history and wagering possibilities will be presented shortly, but first let’s look at the state of the NBA as we approach the figurative halfway point of the season.

Most teams have played at least 50 of their 82 games, so the reality of the All Star break is that it comes after nearly 60 percent of the season has been played. With most teams having just about 30 games to be played, each contest now becomes much more significant than games played in November and December. The trading deadline is less than two weeks away and teams are about to reveal their hands as to the direction they shall take for the rest of the season.

The battles for the playoffs are now the focus of most front offices as teams begin the jockeying for the best positioning. Getting home court advantage is very important in the NBA. Unlike the NFL and even Major League Baseball in recent seasons, it’s very unusual for a team to rise suddenly from nowhere to win or even contend for the NBA title. It is very tough to win a series-deciding game on the road.

Three of the four divisional races are pretty one sided given that there is still so much of the season still to be played. New Jersey, Indiana and Sacramento each enjoy five-game leads in their respective Divisions. The closest race is in the Midwest where Minnesota leads San Antonio by just two and Dallas is just a game further back.

The race for the league’s top record and overall top seed is also contentious. Indiana owns the league’s best winning percentage but has one more loss than Sacramento. Minnesota has one more loss than Indiana but the three teams are clearly the best and are the only ones winning better than two of every three games.

As to the Los Angeles Lakers it is looking more and more as if they will not be able to chase down Sacramento in the Pacific. The Lakers continue to be plagued by injuries to half of their Fabulous Foursome. Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone remain sidelined and, although Bryant’s return appears imminent, it is likely that Malone will be sidelined for another month.

Still, the Lakers appear headed to the playoffs albeit with a seeding that is up in the air. Currently seeded fifth the Lakers are just five games from No. 1 and just three out of the eighth and final slot. All eight teams with winning records in the West would make the playoffs but there are three other teams lurking within just two games of .500.

It’s a different story in the East as it has been for the past several seasons. It is likely that at least one team with a losing record will make the postseason. Three teams with losing records would be in the playoffs were they to begin now. Toronto, New York and Boston hold down the final three berths and both Philadelphia and Miami are within two games of that final berth.

Indiana has a healthy 7½ game lead over New Jersey for the top seed in the East and a five game margin over Detroit in the Central race.

New Jersey is an intriguing story. The two time East champions fired coach Byron Scott a couple of weeks ago and the team has responded impressively — winning and covering eight straight games through this past Sunday. The Nets remain the only Atlantic Division team with a winning record. Only Jersey, Indiana and Detroit have winning records on the road in the conference. That makes the Nets once again a contender.

Indiana and Minnesota have the league’s best road record (17-9). Sacramento also has lost just nine times away from home but has played five fewer road games than the Pacers or Timberwolves. Indiana and Minnesota have realistic chances of overtaking the Kings for the top overall seed during the final couple of months.

Now let’s take a look at this Sunday’s All Star game.

The average score of the past 10 NBA All Star games has been 135-122. Last season’s game went two overtimes and was won by the West, 155-145. Five times since 1980 the game has gone into overtime. Over the past decade the game has gone OVER the total just four times. However the linesmaker has anticipated the public’s sentiment to expect high scoring games.

The total has varied from a low of 250 to a high of 270. Since totals were widely posted beginning in the late 1970s, the lowest placed on the NBA All Star game has been 243. Interestingly the lowest scoring All Star game in the past 25 years was just three seasons ago and produced just 221 points.

To put into perspective how the All Star game differs from anything you are likely to see in the regular season, consider that the highest "over / under" posted thus far has been 218. The highest combined total points scored in a game this season has been 248 and that game went to overtime. In games that were decided in regulation the greatest number of points scored has been just 238.

Despite being the weaker of the two conferences in terms of team quality, the East has actually won four of the last six All Star games. Rarely is either conference favored by more than 4 and as such the line rarely comes into play. The favored conference has won and covered six of the last seven games and eight of the last 10.

Unlike the NHL and NFL All Star games last weekend we are likely to see a dozen or so propositions concerning the game and perhaps even some of Saturday’s festivities such as the three point shooting contest. The high scoring nature of the NBA’s All Star product lends itself nicely to player versus player scoring props and whether the high scorer, rebounder, etc. will be from the East or the West.

Kevin Garnett led all scorers last season with 37 points while Allen Iverson led the East with 35 points. Both played 41 of a possible 58 minutes and, in fact, four of the five starters on each side played at least 33 minutes of the double overtime contest.

Given the recent history of the game the first inclination is to look to the favored team, likely to be the West. But laying more than 4, might be risky. The line is likely to favor the West by about 6. The initial impulse is to play the "over" but at +250 this could become risky.

Last year’s game was tied at 120 at the end of regulation and five of the previous seven games featured a total of 252 or less. If you must play this game, which is really nothing more than an exhibition game, use 255 as your guideline. OVER.

Last week: 2-1

Season: 29-15.