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A View From the Bench

   by ASA - 12/20/2006

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 – Gilbert Arenas and the Washington Wizards
The Wizards, who started the season with eight straight road losses, have rebounded to win three of their last four away from home and Agent Zero has been the reason why. Arenas was just as much to blame as anyone for Washington’s road difficulties as he posted an 18-point scoring differential between home and road contests. He has turned things around, though, averaging more than 38 points in his last four road outings, including possibly the least talked about 60-point outing in NBA history. The Wizards split their four games last week between home and away, going 3-1 SU and 2-1-1 ATS. Arenas averaged 36 points, 6.5 assists, 6.5 boards and 2.8 steals for the week. He may have also set the league’s unofficial record for most three-point attempts over a four-game span, putting up 49 trifectas during the week. Upcoming week: at Sacramento, at Phoenix, and home versus Memphis.

SG – Josh Howard and the Dallas Mavericks
Howard has stepped up to be the perfect compliment to Dirk Nowitzki and it’s just what the Mavs need. Dallas is 10-1 SU this year when it boasts two 20-point scorers and Howard provided just that last week. He exceeded 20 points in three of four games to lead the Mavs to a 4-0 SU record and a 2-2 ATS mark, with their two ATS losses coming by a combined 1.5 points. Howard averaged 23.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, two blocks and 1.3 steals for the week, all while shooting a stellar 56 percent from the field. Dallas is just one game behind San Antonio for the best record in the NBA and continued solid production from Howard could propel the Mavs past the Spurs. Upcoming week: at Seattle, home versus Los Angeles Clippers, and home versus Charlotte.

SF – Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics
Renewed vigor from Pierce and the rest of the Celtics led Boston to a 3-0 SU and ATS week and put off the dismissal of head coach Doc Rivers a little big longer. The Celtics downed the pre-brawl Nuggets at home and posted road wins at Philly and Charlotte to improve to 8-3 ATS on the road this season. Pierce, as is often the case in Boston, paced the team with averages of 30.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and six assists while shooting 54 percent from beyond the arc and 57 percent overall. His continued leadership of this young and inexperienced squad has pushed Boston into first place in the Atlantic Division. Upcoming week: home versus Golden State, home versus Philly, and at Denver.

PF – Zach Randolph and the Portland Trailblazers
Portland may have only played a league-low two games last week but it picked up two impressive wins to make it four straight victories overall. The Blazers downed Memphis by 14 on the road and returned home to defeat the Clippers by 10. Randolph, who is the only player in the NBA to average at least 25 points and 10 rebounds, led the way. He averaged 23.5 points and nine rebounds in the two games and – despite his reputation as a non-passer – even averaged four assists. Randolph is in a situation very similar to Pierce’s in that he is the veteran leader on a young team. If he can continue to lead by example, these Blazers could make a run at the eighth seed in the playoffs. Upcoming week: home versus Houston, home versus Toronto, and at Phoenix.

C – Al Jefferson and the Boston Celtics
Jefferson joins Pierce on the list because he is finally showing signs of living up to the potential that everyone knew he had. With fellow big men Kendrick Perkins, Theo Ratliff and Michael Olowokandi on the shelf, Jefferson has stepped into the middle and done an excellent job. He averaged 18.9 points, 11 boards and 1.3 blocks while shooting 55 percent from the floor for the week. The Celtic organization has been waiting two years for Jefferson to put together a stretch like this. His presence gives Boston a much-needed inside scoring option and takes a lot of pressure off of Pierce. Upcoming week: home versus Golden State, home versus Philly, and at Denver.

6th Man – Andrea Bargnani and the Toronto Raptors
The Raptors followed the lead of Seattle two weeks ago and went on a nice little run with their star player out. Much like the Sonics did with Ray Allen out, Toronto went 3-1 SU and ATS last week with Chris Bosh sidelined. Some of that success can be attributed to the play of No. 1 draft pick Andrea Bargnani. The Italian averaged 16.3 points for the week and proved pundits who said he wasn’t physical enough wrong by adding 6.8 boards and two blocks in less than 28 minutes a game. It’s looking more and more like Bosh’s stay on the injured list is going to be a long one so sustained solid play from Bargnani could keep Toronto in the hunt for first place in the wide open Atlantic Division. Upcoming week: at Los Angeles Clippers, at Portland, and at Seattle.

Teams to Consider
When a team is hot, you have to ride it until it’s not. That’s why Phoenix and Dallas should be strongly considered this week. The Suns have run off a franchise-record 15 straight wins and have a favorable schedule this week. They open with a Denver team that will be without both Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony and conclude with home games against Washington and Portland, two teams with sub-.500 ATS records. The Mavs have won 18 of their last 21 games and are 14-7 ATS over that stretch. They too have an easy schedule with a road game in Seattle, where the Sonics are 4-8 ATS, followed by home games against Clipper and Bobcat teams that are combined 3-16 SU and 5-14 ATS on the road this season.

Teams to Avoid
The two teams to avoid this week both face difficult road trips ahead of them. The previously mentioned Los Angeles Clippers play four games, with three coming on the road. They open the week with a home game against a feisty Toronto squad and close with away contests at Dallas, Houston and Utah, which are a combined 51-23 SU on the season. Los Angeles has been an awful road team this season, going just 1-8 SU and ATS and failing to cover by an average of nearly 13 points a game. Golden State is in a very similar situation as it plays three of four games on the road as well this week. The Warriors are just 1-9 SU and 4-6 ATS away from home this season. They play a hot Boston team Wednesday night and then must play back-to-back games against Orlando and Miami before coming home to play a possibly rejuvenated Philadelphia team.

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