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A View From the Bench -- NBA Update

   by ASA - 01/05/2007

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 from our view from the bench.

PG – Mike Bibby and the Sacramento Kings
Mike Bibby has been hampered by injuries that have affected his play all season but he overcame those ailments to put together a nice set of games last week. He averaged 21.8 points and six assists for the week and saw a dramatic jump in his shooting percentage. Bibby shot 52 percent for the week after hitting on just 35 percent of his shots prior to last week. His improved play catapulted Sacramento to 3-1 SU and ATS marks for the week. The Kings did all of their damage at home, downing Philly, Golden State and New York at Arco Arena by an average of 20 points per game. If Bibby can continue his strong play he will join 2-guard Kevin Martin to form one of the top backcourts in the game. If Bibby’s shooting woes return, Sacramento will be have a difficult time making the postseason in a loaded Western Conference. Upcoming week: home versus Los Angeles Lakers, home versus Portland, and home versus Cleveland.

SG – Tracy McGrady and the Houston Rockets
Many thought Houston’s season was going to quickly spiral downward with the loss of Yao Ming but T-Mac has returned with a healthy back to keep hopes alive. After receiving what is being called a “miracle cureâ€쳌 for his nagging back problems, McGrady averaged 28.7 points, 4.3 boards and 3.3 assists to carry the Rocket offense. His return, along with a stellar defense that allowed just 82.7 points per game, propelled Houston to a 3-0 SU and 2-1 ATS week that featured blowout wins over New Jersey and Atlanta. Both McGrady and the Rocket defense will need to maintain their level of play with Yao out if Houston is to remain in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference. Upcoming week: home versus Seattle, home versus Utah, at Minnesota, and at Chicago.

SF – LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs limped into last week’s action with a 9-17 ATS record but turned things around with a 3-1 SU and ATS week. Cleveland pounded a depleted Atlanta squad on the road and picked up big home wins over Milwaukee, which was riding a six-game win streak at the time, and San Antonio, which owns the league’s third-best record. At the helm was, of course, LeBron James. The King posted averages of 27.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and four assists in 41 minutes for the week. As great of a player as James is, one trend to keep an eye on is his increasingly poor free throw shooting. He made just 19-of-35 from the charity stripe last week and is down to less than 70 percent on the season. Poor free throw shooting down the stretch could very easily be the difference between covering and not covering. Upcoming week: at Boston, at Milwaukee, home versus New Jersey, and at Sacramento.

PF – Elton Brand and the Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers proved last week they can win at home, now they must prove they can do it on the road. Los Angeles went 3-0 SU and ATS at home and 0-1 SU and 0-0-1 ATS on the road for an all-around solid 3-1 SU and 3-0-1 ATS week. Elton Brand is starting to show signs of recovering from a slow start, posting averages of 23.5 points, seven boards and 4.5 blocks while shooting a stellar 66 percent from the floor. Brand showed serious signs of fatigue following zero offseason after playing in the World Championships and that weariness brought down not only his production, but the entire team’s. He seems to be regaining his energy going into final two-thirds of the schedule and continued strong play could push the Clippers back into the early playoff picture. Los Angeles will get its chance to prove itself on the road this week with four games away from home. Upcoming week: at Miami, at Washington, at Atlanta, and at Oklahoma City.

C – Amare Stoudemire and the Phoenix Suns
Stoudemire is making microfracture surgery look good right now. He averaged 22.8 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks – all while shooting 57 percent – in leading Phoenix to a 3-1 SU and ATS week. Stoudemire and the Suns have made that early-season talk of poor chemistry completely mute as Stoudemire is making a push for an all-star selection and Phoenix is 21-3 SU and 17-5-2 ATS over the last seven weeks. Upcoming week: at Toronto, home versus Miami, home versus Golden State, and home versus Seattle.

6th Man – Ben Gordon and the Chicago Bulls
Gordon is running away with his second Sixth Man of the Year award. He became just the second player in NBA history to score 40 or more points off the bench over the course of a season … and he did it in a one-week span. Gordon, Chicago’s primary offensive weapon, averaged 31 points and 5.5 assists for the week in leading the Bulls to a 3-1 SU record and a 4-0 ATS mark. He erupted for a career-high 41 points in a one-point loss to Phoenix and has now scored 20 or more points in 12 of his last 13 games, all of which came as the sixth man. Gordon is currently the only non-starter to lead his team in scoring this season. Chicago’s 4-0 ATS week pushed them to 16-15-1 ATS for the year, joining fellow Central Division members Detroit, Indiana and Milwaukee to form four of the Eastern Conference’s six teams with ATS records of .500 or better. Upcoming week: at New Jersey, home versus Detroit, and home versus Houston.

Teams to Consider
Take a long look at the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis’ slow start may lead the odds-makers to give bettors everywhere favorable lines in Grizzly games. The Grizzlies have immediately seen a change in philosophy following the Mike Fratello firing, with the team utilizing a much faster pace in averaging 109.5 points per contest in going 2-0 ATS under new head coach Tony Barone. Teams generally play harder in the weeks following a coaching change and this situation should be no different. Making matters easier for Barone and the Grizzlies will be a home-heavy schedule that features five consecutive games at the FedEx Forum.

Teams to Avoid
Continue to avoid Atlanta as the Hawks have lost seven consecutive SU and six straight ATS. Atlanta has fallen to 28th in the league at a measly 93 points per game and has averaged just 76.5 points over its last four. Also avoid the Miami Heat right now. Dwyane Wade has put forth an admirable effort in keeping Miami afloat but fatigue and nagging injuries have slowed him down. Coupled with injuries to Antoine Walker, James Posey, Jason Williams and Shaquille O’Neal and head coach Pat Riley’s leave of absence and the Heat are a team in trouble.

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