It's Still the NBA Least
The Eastern Conference of the National Basketball Association has been mocked all season, and rightfully so, but the talk always was that the two best teams, Indiana and Miami could play with anyone in the West.
Lately, though, both top teams in the East have slipped a little.
Miami has now lost seven of eleven, and their next two games are home to Portland and on the road at Indiana. Miami has had a rash of injures this season, but every team suffers them and no one's going to feel sorry for the Heat.
Indiana still leads the East by three games over Miami, but they're 5-6 in their last eleven games, coming after a great start where they looked like they were a championship contender. The Pacers need home court advantage if they're to beat the Heat, so they're lucky both teams are slumping at the same time.
Chicago is the only decent team the Pacers have beaten in a month. This past week, they came into New York and played lousy against the Knicks, allowing them to stay in the playoff picture despite their embarrassing 29-40 record.
If Indiana and Miami struggle in the playoffs, who can come out of the East?
Charlotte and Atlanta hold down the final two seeds, and they're both under under .500. Washington is in the sixth spot; even with John Wall, they're not quite ready yet. The Maple Leafs' annual collapse has obscured the fact in southern Ontario that Toronto is in third position, however unlikely that is, but the two teams who could get on a roll are Chicago and Brooklyn.
The Bulls have played great -- even without star Derrick Rose -- and right now are 39-31. Tom Thibodeau should be in the running for Coach of the Year. The Nets started poorly, but unlike their crosstown rival Knicks, they re-grouped and now stand at 36-31. Paul Pierce and Derron Williams have led the resurgence as Jason Kidd has settled in after a tough start as a rookie coach.
Don't bet against the Heat or Pacers, but if they stumble, do not count out the Bulls or the Nets.
Unfortunately, if either of them do sneak into the Finals, the West will eat them alive.