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A View From the Bench

   by ASA - 12/13/2006

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 from our view from the bench.

PG – Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs
As if being engaged to Eva Longoria isn’t enough, Tony Parker has to continue to play at an all-star level. The lightening-quick French point guard led the Spurs to a 3-1 week (SU and ATS) in which they played the Los Angeles teams a combined three times. Parker had a great week despite playing limited minutes due to San Antonio winning by an average margin of nearly 24 points a game. He averaged 15.3 points and 8.3 assists per game, including a career-high 15 dimes at home against the Clippers. Parker did all of this while shooting his usual high percentage, converting 50 percent of his shots. Upcoming week: home versus Minnesota, at New Orleans/Oklahoma City, and home versus Philadelphia.

SG – Mickael Pietrus and the Golden State Warriors
The Warriors had another solid week, going 2-1 SU and 3-0 ATS. Golden State sandwiched a last-second road loss at Seattle with impressive double-digit home wins over the Hornets and the Kings. Pietrus, who has stepped in nicely for the injured Jason Richardson, played an integral role in the winning week. He averaged 18.7 points, five rebounds and one block while shooting a sizzling 60 percent from the field, including 11-of-21 from beyond the arc. Continued strong play from Pietrus will keep the Warriors competitive and allow Richardson to fully heal from his injury. And for those keeping track at home, that’s two Frenchmen on the list this week. Upcoming week: home versus Houston, at Phoenix, at Toronto, and at New Jersey.

SF – Rashard Lewis and the Seattle Supersonics
Lewis and the Sonics receive some kudos following a week in which they went 2-1 SU and ATS despite the absence of star Ray Allen. Lewis, assuming the role of leader with Allen sidelined, posted averages of 22 points, six rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 51 percent from the field. Seattle has remained surprisingly competitive in the deep Western Conference and Lewis’ play has been a large part of that. Seattle’s strong road play has also played a part as Tuesday night’s ATS win at Milwaukee improved the Sonics to 8-1-1 ATS on the road this season. They’ll need to maintain their solid road efforts as they finish up a five-game road trip this week. Upcoming week: at Chicago, at Cleveland, at Detroit, and at Memphis.

PF – Shawn Marion and the Phoenix Suns
The Suns are currently the hottest team in the NBA, going 4-0 SU and ATS last week to run their SU winning streak to 11 consecutive and their ATS streak to five straight. The often underappreciated Marion’s versatility and all-around game has been vital to Phoenix’s recent stretch. Marion averaged 23.8 points, 10.3 boards, three steals and two blocks for the week while converting on nearly 60 percent of his field goal attempts. Making the week even more impressive for Marion and the Suns is the fact that all four of last week’s game were on the road, with the first win and last win of the week coming against Eastern Conference division leaders New Jersey and Orlando. Upcoming week: at Miami, home versus Golden State, at Sacramento, home versus Toronto.

C – Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves
Kevin Garnett may not be listed as a center, but it’s hard to consider the weak-rebounding Mark Blount any more of a center than Garnett, so I’m going to fudge the positions a little. KG and the Wolves have remained on the fringe of the Western Conference playoffs by playing every opponent tough, as evidenced by a 3-0 SU and ATS week. Even more impressive is the quality of the wins, which came against Houston, Utah and Chicago, three teams sure to be playing in the postseason. Garnett had his usual all-star week with averages of 24.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, three blocks and 2.3 steals while turning the ball over just three times. KG continues to perform at an elite level despite non-stop trade talks, and if that continues, he may lead his squad back to the playoffs. Upcoming week: at San Antonio and at Milwaukee.

6th Man – Manu Ginobli and the San Antonio Spurs
Ginobli is the prime example as to why the Spurs are championship contenders year-in and year-out. An all-star caliber player, he has voluntarily accepted the sixth-man role on San Antonio and has actually improved his play. Ginobli provided the spark off the bench the Spurs had previously lacked, averaging 19 points, 3.3 boards, 3.3 assists and two steals in less than 22 minutes per game. Ginobli came off the bench in San Antonio’s first three games last week but returned to a starter role in its fourth and final game of the week. Coming off the bench seemed to rejuvenate Ginobli but whether he resumes his starting role for good remains to be seen. Upcoming week: home versus Minnesota, at New Orleans/Oklahoma City, and home versus Philadelphia.

Team to Consider
Bettors everywhere have to continue to ride the Suns until they lose. Phoenix has won 11 straight overall and has gone 10-2-1 ATS in its last 13 outings. Additionally, the Suns have a fairly easy week ahead of them with three games against sub-.500 teams and another against an 11-11 Golden State team. And for those of you with access to Friday’s Phoenix-Golden State matchup, don’t miss it. These squads own two of the top three scoring offenses in the NBA and could potentially match the Phoenix-New Jersey output of a week ago. The odds-makers may not be able to set the total high enough in this one.

Teams to Avoid
Superstar injuries (along with a quasi-suspension) seemed to be the trend in the NBA last week as Toronto’s Chris Bosh, Atlanta’s Joe Johnson and Los Angeles’ Lamar Odom all went down with injuries while Philly’s Allen Iverson saw his locker cleaned out following his trade demand. All of these occurrences should lead bettors to avoid the above teams. Toronto and Atlanta are one-trick ponies and with their only tricks sidelined with injuries, they should be avoided. Neither Bosh’s nor Johnson’s injuries appear serious but their statuses should be monitored. Odom’s injury looks to be more serious as he could be out for up to a month. Odom was playing the best basketball of his career before the injury and his importance to the Lakers should not be underestimated. Finally, while the Sixers have stated they want to get an Iverson deal finalized quickly, this whole situation could drag out much longer. Philly has gone 0-4 SU and 1-3 ATS since the trade demand was made and the continued distraction could push the 76ers into a hole they won’t be able to climb out of.

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