Heading Into The All-Star Break (West Conf)

by Larry Ness

The NBA's All Star Weekend is set for Feb 18-20 in Cleveland. Teams will play on Thursday, Feb 17 but the schedule won't resume until Thursday, Feb 24 (that's a SIX-day break!). I posted an NBA article last Monday (Jan 21), concentrating on Eastern Conference teams and will now complete the process by checking in on the Western Conference. However, let me take a quick peek at the East, first. It's been a logjam at the top of the East all season and last Monday morning, the top six teams were separated by only 2 1/2-games. There is only one significant change this Monday, as the Nets have 'imploded' with EIGHT straight losses. How 'bout that KD, Kyrie and Harden trio? I hope none of you have a 'future' on the Nets to win the NBA title. The standings (as of the morning of Feb 7) look like this. Miami is 34-20, Chicago 33-20, Milwaukee 34-21, Cleveland 33-21 and Philadelphia 32-21. That's one through five separated by just 1 1/2-games. The No. 6 seed (last guaranteed playoff spot) now belongs to Toronto, which is 28-23, four games back of the top-seed. The Nets have fallen to 29-24 and now own just the No. 7 seed. Hello 'play-in' round!

Over in the West, there is a very different 'picture.' 42-10 Phoenix owns the NBA's best record and is the West's No. 1 seed but unlike in the East, where just four games separate seeds one through six, 13 1/2-games separate the top-seeded Suns from the 6th-seeded Nuggets (29-24). While just 8 1/2-games separate Miami (No. 1 seed) from the East's No. 10 seed (25-29 Atlanta), a whopping 21 1/2-games separate the Suns from the 10th-seed Pelicans (21-32) in the West. 

Phoenix ended a 10-season playoff drought last year by going 51-21 (one win shy of Utah's NBA-leading 52 wins) and made it all the way to the Finals. The Suns took the first two games at home but then saw the Bucks win FOUR in a row, to win the team's second-ever NBA title. The first came way back in the 1970-71 season, led by Lew Alcindor (now Kareem) and the Big O. As for the Suns, it was the team's third appearance in the Finals, losing previously back in 1976 to the Celtics (if you don't remember Gar Heard, you are too young!) and in 1993, when MVP Sir Charles and Co. lost to MJ and the Bulls.

The Suns opened the current season just 1-3 but then ripped off 18 consecutive wins! Another 1-3 'drought' followed, but the Suns are currently on a 15-2 run, giving them a 42-10 (.808) record. The Warriors opened the season 18-2 but then were hit with injuries and COVID during a 26-game stretch in which the team went just 14-12. However, the Warriors open the new week on an EIGHT-game winning streak, giving them the NBA's second-best record at 40-13 (.755), but are still 2 1/2-games back of the Suns. The Memphis Grizzlies were just 9-10 around Thanksgiving but have put together a 28-8 run (including 11 consecutive wins between Dec 26 and Jan 13), to move past the Utah Jazz for the West's No. 3 seed (37-18). The Jazz won an NBA-best 52 games last season and 'hung' right with Phoenix and Golden St early on, opening the season 28-10. However, Utah would lose 11 of 13 games from Jan 7-30, before winning its last two. At 32-21, the Jazz have fallen 10 1/2-games behind the Suns, eight back of the Warriors and also four back of the Grizzlies.

The Jazz may also need to 'look over their shoulders,' as the Dallas Mavericks have won 15 of 20 to reach 31-23, just 1 1/2-games behind Utah. The 29-24 Nuggets own the No. 6 seed in the West. The 7-10 seeds ('play-in' round) look like this. The T-wolves are 28-25, followed by Staples Center co-tenants, the Clippers (27-28) and Lakers (26-28). Just moving into the No. 10 seed is New Orleans at 21-32. The 21-33 Blazers have lost five straight (10 of last 32), to fall behind the Pelicans by a half-game. It's almost a certainty that the No. 10 seed in the West will enter the 'play in' round with a sub-.500 record but with two wins, could become the West's No. 8 seed.

I'll close with some ATS and over/under numbers to 'chew on!' Memphis owns the best ATS record at 36-19 (65.6%) but look at which team is No. 2. It's the 17-35 Thunder, who have gone 32-18-2 ATS (64.0%). Note the 42-10 Suns are 29-23 ATS (55.8%) and the 40-13 Warriors are 29-21-3 ATS (58.0%). Cleveland is the only other team above 60% ATS, at 32-20-2 (61.5%). Looking at playing an 'under,' you may want to consider Dallas (66.0% of its games have stayed under) or Cleveland (63% of its games have stayed under). The best 'over' team is Milwaukee, which is 32-21 (60.4%) in favor of the over.

Good luck...Larry

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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