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A View From the Bench

   by ASA - 11/30/2006

The best place to watch any basketball game is from the bench. While most players yearn for that chance to rip off the warm-ups, we here at the end of the bench prefer a comfy courtside seat. Besides, who needs to risk a sprained ankle or even break a sweat, for that matter. Here’s what we saw and who we liked in the NBA over the last week.

PG – Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns
The Suns have rebounded from a slow start primarily due to the play of their MVP point guard, Steve Nash. The slight Canadian leader led Phoenix to a perfect 3-0 week SU and a 1-0-2 mark ATS. Nash missed some time last week but returned this week at full capacity with averages of 24.3 points and 10 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field. He has also been instrumental in working center Amare Stoudemire back into the flow of the offense. Next week: home versus Houston, Milwaukee and Sacramento.

SG – Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks
While the Hawks struggled to win outright last week, they gave foes fits in going 3-1 ATS. Joe Johnson, who has made the leap to one of the top players in the Eastern Conference, led the way. Johnson averaged 25.3 points, 3.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds all while shooting 52 percent from the floor. Atlanta won only one of four games this week but took a streaking Detroit team down to the wire, lost to Washington on the last possession and fell to Orlando, the hottest team in the East. Johnson is currently seventh in the league at 27.1 points a game. Next week: home versus Charlotte and Cleveland, at Portland and Seattle.

SF – Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets
Carmelo Anthony’s strong play at the World Championships has transferred over to the NBA season and it was especially evident last week when he guided the Nuggets to a 3-1 SU and ATS records. Not only has he become one of the top scorers in the league, he has stepped up his all-around game as well. Anthony averaged an increasingly typical 33.3 points a game and added six assists, six rebounds and 2.5 steals a game while shooting an astounding 57 percent from the field. He has been remarkably consistent this year as well, scoring 28 or more points in 12 of 13 games this season. Denver will need Anthony to continue his strong play if it is to keep pace with streaking Utah. Next week: at Minnesota, home versus Indiana.

PF – Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves had the busiest week of any team in the league last week, playing five games in seven days. Minnesota went 3-2 SU and a perfect 5-0 ATS in those games behind the usual stellar play of Kevin Garnett. The Wolves were dogs in four of their five games but still covered by an average margin of nearly eight points a game. Garnett led the team in rebounding five times and scoring three times in averaging 21.2 points, 11.6 boards, 3.4 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.4 steals while hitting 59.4 percent of his shots. Next week: home versus Denver, at Philadelphia.

C – Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic
Orlando has been the Eastern Conference’s hottest team recently and that could mostly be chalked up to the play of the man-beast that is Dwight Howard. The third-year center led the Magic to a 4-0 SU record and 3-1 ATS mark last week, averaging 17.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Orlando’s week concluded with an impressive 88-75 road win over Utah, which owns the best record in the NBA. Howard’s inside presence has played an intricate role in the Magic’s second-ranked defensive field goal percentage, third-ranked rebounding margin and fourth-ranked scoring defense. Next week: at Seattle, Portland, LA Clippers and Sacramento.

6th Man – Joey Graham and the Toronto Raptors
The Raptors put together their second consecutive strong ATS week, going 3-1 to improve to 6-1 ATS in their last seven games. Toronto wasn’t favored in any of its games this last week but covered by an average margin of over 13 points a game. Improved bench play, led by small forward Joey Graham, has been the catalyst behind Toronto’s resurgence. Graham, who many thought would have his minutes cut following numerous offseason acquisitions at his position, averaged a nifty 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in providing the Raptors with valuable backup minutes. Toronto has been competitive in almost every game this season and continued strong play from Graham will maintain that competitive play.

Potential pointspread play: NBA - GOLDEN STATE (-) over Milwaukee, Sat 12/2
Nellie Ball is in full effect in the Bay Area so the Warriors should have a fun time against Milwaukee’s porous defense. Golden State is third in the league at over 106 points a game and fourth with a 48.3 shooting percentage. The Bucks have been a collection of defensive sieves this season as they allow more than 102 points a game while allowing opponents to shoot 48.2 percent from the field, 27th and 28th in the NBA, respectively. Milwaukee has allowed over 100 points in eight of 13 games and owns just a 1-7 record in those contests. Golden State should have no problem lighting up the scoreboard and easily eclipsing the century mark against the Bucks.

The Bucks have struggled out of the gate with a 4-9 start while the Warriors are off to a solid 8-6 start. Golden State has been especially tough at home, where it is 7-3 SU and 8-2 ATS. Meanwhile, Milwaukee is in the midst of a four-game West Coast swing. The Bucks are just 2-5 on the road coming into this week’s action and have lost by an average of 15 points a game. Don Nelson has never been one to shy away from running up the score and that may be the case in this game.

Milwaukee has been horrible against the Western Conference the last two seasons, going just 3-27 SU and 10-18-2 ATS. Its struggles will continue on this trip with a blowout loss to Golden State. Warriors by as many as they want!

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