Get those red hot Franks

Feb 24, 2004 6:55 AM

New Jersey continues as the hottest team in the NBA with 13 straight wins including a dozen straight for new coach Lawrence Franks.

Yet as well as the Nets have played, Indiana has won 8 of 10 games despite injuries to key players. Currently the Pacers are without Ron Artest but continue to win.

Indiana continues to own the best record and top seed in the Eastern Conference, six games ahead of New Jersey. The two leaders have achieved separation from the rest of the teams in their respective divisions. The Pacers are eight games clear of Detroit in the Central, while the Nets are 9½ ahead of Boston in the Atlantic.

The NBA trading deadline has passed and there should be more stability as games are played without players facing the uncertainty of being here today and gone tomorrow.

However there is still a major factor to be considered when making bets over the last month and a half of the season. Injuries continue to play a major part in both setting the line and in betting against that line.

With greater frequency than in recent seasons many Sports Books will delay posting lines on games involving players listed as questionable for that night’s games. In the past this practice was usually limited to the uncertain status of only the elite players but more and more we have seen this occur when starters other than the league’s elite are involved.

Situational handicapping remains the preferred method of tackling the pointspread at this stage of the season. Power Ratings are well established and the value of each player

is pretty much stable. The linesmaker knows the relative strengths and weaknesses of each team so the edges to be gained by the bettors come in evaluating the scheduling dynamics and likely motivation of the teams involved.

This is more of the artistic side of handicapping that calls upon the bettor to make judgments as to whether teams are likely to play at, above or below their established levels of play based upon intangibles surrounding the game.

The playoff races continue to take shape and we are beginning to see more gaps between teams and groups of teams. In the West, there are now just eight teams with winning records. All eight would qualify for postseason play. There is a four game gap between the No. 8 seed Denver and Portland, currently ninth. The Blazers begins the week with a losing record, a game below break even.

Sacramento has the NBA’s best record and a five game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific. The Kings margin over Minnesota for the top seed in the West is just a single game, although Sacramento does have two fewer losses. Minnesota is three games ahead of San Antonio in the Midwest with Dallas 1½ games further back.

There is just a four game gap between the fourth seeded Lakers and eighth seeded Denver so there will still be a contested race for that final home court advantage for the opening round. Keep in mind that the first round was changed last season to a best of 7 series from a best of 5, which had been the case previously. The longer series favors the better team.

Only five teams in the East have winning records. Sixth seeded New York is five games below .500. There are six teams ”” all with losing records ”” bunched within 3½ games of one another vying for the final three playoff spots.

Detroit, currently seeded third, made the major move at the trade deadline, acquiring star Rasheed Wallace. Although the Pistons have since lost two straight over the balance of the season, Wallace’s impact will be positive. But the intrigue comes from how he will take to the strict coaching style of Larry Brown. The Pistons will be a factor but New Jersey and Indiana still rate the roll of co-favorites to win the East.

Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

Grizzlies at Bucks (Fri): The Grizzlies and Bucks are two of the most pleasant surprises in the NBA this season. Memphis is 16-4 in its last 20 games, gaining confidence and experience each time they take to the court. Milwaukee has cooled a bit from a fine start, splitting their last 20. Memphis won the first meeting early this month by 20 and clearly playing the better basketball. The Grizz should be underdogs here and are worth backing against a Milwaukee team that may be running out of gas. MEMPHIS.

Nuggets at Spurs (Sat): Defending champion San Antonio got a much needed confidence boost with its win at Minnesota this past Sunday. Denver has been a major surprise behind rookie Carmelo Anthony, but may be showing signs of fatigue. The teams are 1-1 in the two prior meetings at Denver. The Spurs played earlier this week against both Texas rivals Dallas and Houston. Denver has a winnable home game against New York on Sunday and may conserve their strength. SAN ANTONIO.

Lakers at Nets (Sunday) After being swept by the Lakers in the NBA Finals two seasons ago New Jersey won both meetings last year. This is their first of two matchups this season and the Nets are better now. New Jersey is an amazing 12-1 ATS in its 13-game win streak. The Lakers are 7-3 in their last 10 road games. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal are likely to be bothered by nagging injuries the rest of the way and the Lakers just started an East Coast road trip in Washington on Saturday night. NEW JERSEY.

Last week: 2-1

Season: 32-16