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Indiana sets sight
on NBA’s best mark

Mar 16, 2004 8:06 AM

Barely a month remains in the NBA regular season and much is still to be decided.

Competitive races are taking place in both the Eastern and Western Conference in order to determine which teams shall make the playoff field and where they will be seeded.

During the past week Indiana became the first team to officially clinch a playoff berth. The Pacers are virtually assured of being the top seed in the East, holding a seven game lead over Central Division runnerup Detroit and 8 ½ clear of Atlantic Division leading New Jersey.

But Indiana has higher aspirations. The Pacers begin the week tied with Sacramento at 49-17 for the league’s best overall record and home court edge it would bring should they make the NBA Finals. Sacramento did defeat the Pacers in the only previous meeting this season but the Pacers will get a chance for revenge when they host the Kings this Friday night.

New Jersey will likely end up seeded second in the East with Detroit finishing third. New Orleans and Milwaukee are separated by just a game for the numbers four and five seed. There is a gap of several games to a group of six teams. Cleveland, New York, Miami, Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia begin the week with just 2½ games separation among the six pack.

Each team has about 15 games remaining. Sadly, none of the six is likely to finish with even a .500 record. However their games, especially against one another, should feature playoff type intensity during the remainder of the regular season.

Sacramento has opened a 3½ game edge over Minnesota for the top seed in the much superior Western Conference. The Kings also begin the week with a six game edge over the Los Angeles Lakers and should win the Pacific Division. Four teams are within six games of Minnesota in the Midwest Division with San Antonio the closest pursuer to the Timberwolves, just two games back.

Dallas, Memphis and Houston hold the next three spots. In terms of playoff seeds the Lakers are nudged in between San Antonio and Dallas with the fourth seed but the margin between third seeded San Antonio and seventh seeded Houston is just four games.

There is then a significant gap to the three teams battling for the final playoff berth. Denver leads Utah by 1½ games and Portland just two back.

Unlike their counterparts in the East, the eighth seeded team in the West should have a record several games above break even.

Clearly the race to the playoffs will come down to the final week of the season in determining the teams that are in and where they are seeded. The NBA top brass couldn’t be happier.

Home teams continue to maintain a slight edge over road teams in season long point spread results. Home teams are 478-469 ATS for just 50.5 percent. There have been 15 pushes.

The "unders" have picked up in recent weeks. For the season, the "over" holds a 487-460 edge (51.4 percent) with 15 pushes.

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

Nets at Knicks (Fri): This game has playoff implications for the host Knicks as New Jersey is pretty much guaranteed of finishing with the number two seed in the East. New York is one of six teams battling for the final three playoff berths. The Knicks could end up facing the Nets should they end up with the seventh seed.

The Nets are just one game above .500 on the road this season and have played just .500 ball since their amazing winning streak that followed the firing of coach Byron Scott. The Knicks have won four of six since dropping seven in a row. A couple of New Jersey’s key players (Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin) have missed time in recent weeks and should be less than 100 percent healthy. NEW YORK.

Pacers at Grizzlies (Sat): This is an excellent spot for the host to gain a victory over one of the league’s best teams. Memphis has been playing outstanding basketball for the past three months. They catch Indiana off of a very important home game Friday night against Sacramento. That game could well determine which of the two teams winds up with the NBA’s best record.

A win over the Kings could lead to an Indiana letdown here. A loss by the Pacers could have them disheartened. Either way Memphis did not play Friday night and will be fresh against a team that likely expended great energy just 24 hours earlier. MEMPHIS.

Rockets at Kings (Sun): Sacramento returns home following a whirlwind Eastern road trip that featured three games in four nights. The Kings defeated San Antonio at home this past Sunday, but are likely to be fatigued. Two of the games were against the top two teams in the East including a matchup at Indiana just 48 hours before tip off.

Houston has been a solid team defensively all season. Sacramento won the only two previous meetings this season. The Kings have also been an "under" team of late with five of their last six games and 10 of 15 winding up below the posted total. That, combined with their likely fatigue and defensive philosophy of Houston, suggests another relatively low scoring contest. UNDER.

Last week: 2-1

Season: 37-20