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A View From the Bench

   by ASA - 01/24/2007

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 – Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets
Kidd has put his personal problems aside to play some of the best basketball of his career this season. He led the Nets to 3-1 SU and ATS records last week despite injuries to starters Nenad Krstic and Richard Jefferson. New Jersey started the week with two road wins over Charlotte and New York and followed with a home win against Orlando. The Nets would’ve gone 4-0 for the week if not for Mike Bibby scoring 15 points over the final seven minutes of New Jersey’s 88-87 loss to the Kings. Kidd was the driving force behind the 3-1 week, averaging 18.5 points, 7.3 assists and eight rebounds per game. He will need to continue his strong play if the Nets want to hold off a surging Toronto squad for the Atlantic Division title. The week upcoming: at Golden State, at LA Clippers, at Denver and at Utah.

SG – Allen Iverson and the Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets put together an unblemished 4-0 SU and ATS week and The Answer was just that. Iverson averaged 26.3 points, eight assists and two steals and became the sixth-fastest player in NBA history to reach the 20,000-point plateau for his career. Perhaps his biggest contribution, though, was his willingness to play the role of Robin to Carmelo Anthony’s Batman. Iverson averaged only 17.5 shots in Anthony’s first two games back, six fewer than his average for the season, and doled out 8.5 assists per game. If he can continue to voluntarily take a back set to Anthony that will make the Nuggets that much more of a dangerous team. The week upcoming: at Utah, home versus New Jersey and home versus Charlotte.

SF – Josh Howard and the Dallas Mavericks
It just wouldn’t seem right if a member from the Mavericks weren’t on the list. Dallas has won eight straight and 22 of its last 23 games to hold off a red-hot Phoenix team for the best record in the NBA. Last week was no different as the Mavs went 3-0 SU and 2-0-1 ATS. Howard has been one of the main cogs behind the Dallas machine. Everybody knows about Dirk Nowitzki but what the Mavs really needed was for Howard to raise the level of his game. And he hasn’t disappointed. He is making a strong push for the All-Star game after averaging 26.3 points, eight rebounds and 1.7 steals last week, all while shooting 51 percent from the floor. Don’t expect Howard and the Mavs to slow down any time soon. The week upcoming: at Chicago, home versus Sacramento and home versus Seattle.

PF – Amare Stoudemire and the Phoenix Suns
Just like Dallas, it’s rare to see a week go by when the Suns don’t put together a winning stretch. Phoenix is doing everything in its power to keep pace with Dallas, going 4-0 SU (3-1 ATS) last week to run its latest winning streak to 14. Stoudemire continues to dazzle despite admittedly not playing at 100 percent. He led the Suns in scoring in three of four games last week, averaging 21.3 points for the week to go along with 8.3 boards, 1.5 blocks and 63 percent shooting. The week upcoming: at New York, at Milwaukee, at Cleveland and at Minnesota.

C – Mehmut Okur and the Utah Jazz
Utah joins Denver as the lone teams to post perfect 4-0 SU and ATS records last week. Utah’s week was perhaps more impressive as three came on the road, including wins over Eastern Conference contenders Detroit and Chicago. The Jazz also showed an ability to rebound from a rough stretch as their current four-game winning streak is coming on the heels of a four-game losing streak. Okur has been the offensive catalyst behind the run, topping the team in scoring the last three games. He averaged 24.5 points for the week and has become Utah’s best three-point shooter, giving the Jazz a dimension that most teams don’t receive from their center. Okur teams with power forward Carlos Boozer to give Utah the best frontcourt tandem in the NBA, combining to average 39.4 points and 19.1 rebounds. The week upcoming: home versus Memphis, home versus Denver, at New Orleans/Oklahoma City and home versus New Jersey.

6th Man – David Lee and the New York Knicks
Lee has become the role player that every team covets and was a large part of New York’s 3-1 ATS week. The Knicks only went 1-3 SU but Lee’s play was an integral part of New York’s ATS success. He is seventh in the NBA with 10.6 rebounds per game and is the only player in the top 20 to do a majority of his damage off the bench. Lee averaged 12.5 rebounds for the week and even pitched in with a little offense, averaging 12.3 points, including a career-high 20 points against Indiana in New York’s lone outright win of the week. Lee is the exact type of hustling, unselfish player that the Knicks need and his continued strong play could keep New York in the hunt for a playoff birth. The week upcoming: home versus Phoenix, home versus Miami, at Milwaukee and home versus Tuesday.

Teams to Consider
Look for Utah to maintain its strong play. The Jazz have a fairly easy schedule with three of their four upcoming games coming at home, including catching New Jersey at the back end of a five-game road trip. Additionally, Memphis will be distracted by the Pau Gasol trade rumors and New Orleans is still recovering from the numerous injuries that have peppered its roster all year. Utah has recent winning records against each team it plays this week. It is 6-3 in its last nine home games against Memphis, 3-1 ATS in its last four home games with Denver, 4-1 ATS in its last five road games against New Orleans and 3-1 ATS in its last four home games with New Jersey. There’s a high potential all those trends could continue.

Teams to Avoid
Continue to avoid Milwaukee until it gets some of its injured regulars back. Michael Redd is still at least a couple of weeks away, Mo Williams’ return has been pushed back a week and Charlie Villanueva’s injury has been a mystery to the Buck training staff. The Bucks have gone just 1-7 SU (2-6 ATS) since Redd’s injury, are losing by an average of nearly 14 points a game and failing to cover by an average of nearly 10 points per game. Milwaukee just doesn’t have the depth to overcome injuries to four starters – if you’re counting Bobby Simmons’ pre-season injury – and that has been proven over this rough stretch.

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