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NBA Sleeper Teams

   by Al McMordie - 02/25/2007

The Mavericks and Suns are getting all the press this season as the teams to top for the NBA title. And rightfully so. Both have incredible depth, star power, and different ways to kill you. It's hard to believe Dallas started this season 0-4, clearly a hangover from blowing the 2006 NBA Finals. They've gone 46-5 since! With that said, here is a list of some teams just below the radar who will be looking to make a second half push to solidify their title chances.

Spurs: Don't overlook this veteran team, with three NBA titles since 1999, including one two years ago. In fact, they could be shooting for their third straight title if Dallas hadn't pulled out a tough overtime win in Game 7. While San Antonio has shown some age, this is still a formidable group that can play sensational defense. San Antonio is tops in the league allowing 90 ppg and 5th allowing 44% shooting by opponents.

Tony Parker regained his stroke this weekend, scoring 21 points in 25 minutes as the team destroyed Seattle. Robert Horry (remember him?) made four 3-pointers among his 17 points as the Spurs won for the fifth consecutive game to match their longest streak of the season. Bruce Bowen's defense and Tim Duncan's dominant low post play (and smarts) make this group a title contender. San Antonio is 17-9 under the total at home and a stellar 19-10 SU, 16-13 ATS on the road.

Bulls: In the East, it's really the Pistons and nobody else. But ex-Piston Ben Wallace is helping to get notice for this talented young team. In their rout of the Wizards, Luol Deng led the Bulls with a career-high-tying 32 points and added 11 rebounds, Kirk Hinrich narrowly missed a triple-double with 20 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, while Ben Wallace contributed eight points, 12 rebounds and five blocks.

The Bulls allow just 43% shooting by opponents, second best in the NBA and tops in the East. Chicago is terrific at home (27-7 SU, 18-11 ATS), but a very different team on the road (10-17 SU, 8-18 ATS). If they're serious about challenging in the East, they are going to have to learn how to win away from home.

Jazz: The West is so deep, the young Utah Jazz is a quiet team that could surprise in the playoffs. Coach Jerry Sloan has been there many times and knows how to teach defense. Notice that Utah is 14-7 SU, 14-5-2 against the spread as a dog!

Clippers: All right, so I had to throw in one long shot wild card team. They are the only team with a losing record in this group. The Clippers have been injury-riddled and inconsistent all season. But there is plenty of talent and players have been talking lately about focusing and starting to play up to their potential. Talk is cheap, of course. You have to get it done. At least their defense is improving, which is a start: LA is 10-2 under the total the last 12 games.

Rockets: This is a hard working, physical defensive team that no one likes to play. The Rockets (along with the Spurs) battle for the lead in PPG against (90.8 points per game) and also lead in field-goal percentage (42.4 percent). They've been winning despite playing without star center Yao Ming, who is expected back soon.

The Rockets have been stumbling on defense of late, though, and suffered a humbling 105-99 loss to the Hawks this weekend. Since consecutive strong defensive games to begin the month against the New Orleans Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves, six of the Rockets' past seven opponents have shot better than that 42.4 percent. Only three of the past seven have not scored at least 91 points.

"We've been lacking defensively the last four or five games," Rockets guard Rafer Alston said. They will be trying to get back some defensive intensity over the next few weeks, so perhaps this might be one team to look at going on a run under the total. Good luck as always....Al McMordie.

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