Tuesday , Feb , 20 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Finals: Detroit vs. Dallas?

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – When was the last time that a team held
the eighth and final playoff spot at the All-Star break and was the second
choice to win its conference? Miami is currently a .500 club at 26-26 but yet
is 2-1 to win the East!

At 32-19, Detroit has won 11 of its last 14 games and leads the Heat by almost
seven full games in the standings. The Pistons, however, only are favored by
the slimmest of margins at 9-5. Which club, at this stage of the season,
provides the most value for the money? No doubt that its the Pistons, who are
a lock to be either a one or a two-seed come the postseason. Miami, on the
other hand, will be lucky to host a first-round playoff series.

In the Western Conference, the Mavericks and the Suns are the teams to beat,
which is why they are the top two choices at 7-5 and 5-2, respectively. Dallas
has not missed a beat all year long, losing only nine of its first 53 games.
Phoenix has been hit with the injury bug, as all-world guard Steve Nash
has missed the last four games with a badly bruised right shoulder.
Coincidentally, the Suns have dropped their last three games.

Time to examine the top teams in the league and figure out which clubs present
the best value to win each conference:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1) DETROIT (9-5)

All the Pistons could do in last seasons playoffs vs. the Heat was fail to
reach 93 points in all six games. Their defense was stellar in the first two
rounds, as they held both Cleveland and Miami to an average of 92 points per
game. The last 11 contests they played all went UNDER. Since January 1, 2007,
Detroit has played 22 games and has held the opposition to an average of 90
ppg, so the solid defense is still there. The Pistons, 14-8 in those contests,
are 11-5 against the other top eight teams in the conference standings.
Another statistic of note is that Detroit is the only Eastern club with a .500
or better road record at 15-9. In fact, the closest team is Indiana at 11-14.
The Pistons are the best squad in the East, and their 9-5 odds seem about
right.

2) MIAMI (2-1)

It is true that Shaquille ONeal has played only 13 games this year, and
thats the main reason the Heat are so close to missing the postseason.
Obviously, a lot of people think Shaqs return will propel the Heat to loftier
standings, but will it really? ONeal, at 13.5 ppg, is averaging approximately
half his career mark of 26 points per game. He is also at the lowest point of
his career in rebounding with only six boards per game. Miami is dead last at
5-10 against the other top eight teams in the East. I know that Shaq has
missed most of those games, but at 2-1 odds, the Heat quite possibly could be
the worst bet of all time.

3) CLEVELAND (9-2)

The Cavaliers have the second-worst record at 7-10 vs. the upper echelon of
the Eastern Conference. LeBron James is doing all he can to carry Cleveland,
but hes averaging five points less per game this year than last, and the team
had a better winning percentage last season. On the flip side, the change in
the rules allowing the second-best team in a conference to be in the two-spot
will be a huge benefit and that could carry the Cavs all the way to the
conference finals. Cleveland is very playable at 9-2.

4) CHICAGO (6-1)

Most of the so-called experts were jumping all over Chicagos bandwagon during
the preseason after the club added Ben Wallace. His numbers with the Bulls are
extremely similar to when he was with Detroit, but its obvious the supporting
cast here is nowhere near the level of that of the Pistons. Chicago is playing
great ball within its division (7-2) and is 10-7 vs. the other top eight teams
in the conference. However, the Bulls need more playoff experience before they
can seriously challenge the top teams in the league. Pass.

5) WASHINGTON (15-1)

The Wizards are much-improved from last seasons squad that took Cleveland to
six games in the conference quarterfinals. The series was tied at two before
the Cavs won the final two games in overtime. Washington very well could make
an even better run in this years playoffs, especially considering how well
the club has played against Detroit (5-2) and Cleveland (4-2) in the last
couple of seasons. A fantastic longshot play at 15-1.

THE REST OF THE EAST

Indiana, Toronto and Orlando sit at 16-1, while New Jersey, with all its
injuries, is 25-1. The Pacers have gone backwards in recent years, from the
conference finals, to the semis to the quarters. Despite their mid-season
acquisitions, they still lost to Denver, Seattle and Golden State all at home
earlier this month.

Toronto is definitely a team to watch in coming years, but this season
will be a learning year for the young Raptors. The Magic are 5-12 in their
last 17 games, so I won’t even waste my time with them. Finally, the Nets are
battling too many injuries to even be considered a factor down the stretch.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1) DALLAS (7-5)

The Mavericks have been the best team in the league all season long, with
winning streaks of 12 and 13, and they currently are riding high on a nine-
game stretch. For the Western Conference, only six teams will be included:
Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Utah, Houston and the Lakers. To no ones
surprise, the Mavs have, by far and away, the best record vs. the other
teams at 10-4. After failing to win the NBA title last season, Dallas has been
on a mission to do so this year, and the Mavs get my vote to take the West
even at 7-5 odds.

2) PHOENIX (5-2)

Phoenix is the sucker bet of the West. The Suns failed the past two seasons in
the conference finals, which shows that their style of play falters against
the top defenses (Dallas and San Antonio) when the chips are on the table.
Despite its 39-13 record, Phoenix sports the worst record against the other
top five teams at 3-7, and at 5-2 odds, I’d rather put my dough on other teams
with much better value.

3) SAN ANTONIO (5-1)

The Spurs have had a disappointing first half at 35-18 for a .660 winning
percentage. They are currently fourth in the West, yet they would have
finished third in the entire NBA last year with that very same winning
percentage. San Antonio has failed to win more than five straight games the
entire season and is 11-10 since January 1. Another disturbing statistic
is a 5-9 record vs. the other top five Western clubs. Once again, this is
where money management comes into play. Which team has a better chance of
winning a conference, the Spurs at 5-1 having to go up against the Mavs and
Suns, or the Cavs at 9-2 with Detroit being their main competition?

4) UTAH (9-1)

Carlos Boozer will be back by late February, and Utah has been playing
magnificent as of late, winning six of the seven games that its leading scorer
has missed. The Jazz should reach the final four in the West, and anything can
happen from there. Utah is 8-4 vs. the top-rated clubs and has not lost to
Phoenix since November 2005. If the Jazz square off with the Suns in the
semifinals, all they would need is one more series win to reach the NBA
Finals. If Dallas gets upset early, 9-1 looks very enticing as the longshot
play in the West.

5) HOUSTON (10-1)

Every year, it seems that the Rockets must overcome some sort of major injury.
Last year it was Tracy McGrady who missed 35 games, and this season, Yao Ming
has played in only 27 of the teams 52 contests. Despite missing its big man,
Houston is a mere 1 1/2 games behind San Antonio for fourth in the Western
Conference. Unfortunately, thats not the spot to be in, as Dallas could very
well be the Rockets’ second-round opponent. Houston is not worth a flyer, even
at 10-1.

6) LOS ANGELES LAKERS (16-1)

LA has dropped 11 of its last 15 games and finds itself only five games out of
the playoffs. Of the top six teams in the West, the Lakers are the only club
with a below .500 road record, which doesn’t bode well for the postseason. No
chance.

THE REST OF THE WEST

Why would anyone bet money on the Nuggets at 19-1? They are only one game
over .500 and are 8-12 with Allen Iverson in the lineup. This is where value
comes into play, as a team such as Washington at 15-1 is a much better play in
the weaker Eastern Conference.

Minnesota and New Orleans are 28-1, while the Clippers are 32-1. None of these
clubs has a realistic chance of winning the West, let alone making the
playoffs and NOT playing the Mavericks in the first round.