Bulls, Nets and Knicks still looking to avoid disappointment.
Having passed the mid-season point in the NBA, the first half of the campaign has demonstrated how the Indiana Pacers are determined to dethrone the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.
Indiana aiming for the top
Frank Vogel’s team have seen their season ended prematurely by the two-time champions for the last two years, and with home advantage clearly an important factor in the post-season, they are desperate to have all the variables in their favour.
The Pacers have a league-best 35-9 record, losing just once at home thus far, and have a three-game advantage over the Heat as we approach All-Star Weekend.
While they are overshadowed by a number of teams in terms of average points scored (98.7), with an average points against at 90.2 they have the best defense in the league and have looked relatively comfortable on the road against the best in the West.
The likes of Paul George and Roy Hibbert will have to guard against complacency as they rattle their way through the schedule, although with the support of Lance Stephenson, David West and George Hill, they look a formidable team having also added depth on the bench.
Heat falling off the pace
While the Miami Heat are still within touching distance, they will be wary of falling too far behind their rivals with suggestions that they have perhaps been coasting through the season thus far.
LeBron James and Co. tend to put a run together at this stage of the year, and having defeated the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday ahead of their meeting with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, they will hope that this is the foundation for them to build on moving forward.
James has been playing less minutes this year which has in turn seen his points, assists, rebounds and blocks all fall below the level he has set in previous years. However, ultimately he will be eyeing a third consecutive championship, and he will keen to see Dwyane Wade find some consistency and health with regards to his knees.
Pretenders and contenders
The Toronto Raptors are currently the ‘best of the rest’ along with the Atlanta Hawks, although the former appear to have some exciting pieces on their roster if they can keep them together.
Kyle Lowry is developing into an elite point guard as DeMar DeRozan continues to produce, while in Atlanta they have been successful in coping without the injured Al Horford.
However, in contrast it has been a season of disappointment thus far for the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks.
The Bulls have been hampered by Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee injury, as they traded Luol Deng in order to put themselves in a strong cap position moving forward, while the New York franchises have struggled to find consistency.
Both appear to have found some sort of form, particularly the Nets who had a winning trip to London form part of a productive January, while Carmelo Anthony looks ready to lead the Knicks into the post-season but with a low seeding.
Top Seed: The Indiana Pacers have been relentless in their bid for top seeding, and ultimately they look a good bet to secure it.
Playoffs contention: Back the Bulls, Nets and Knicks to all make the playoffs and provide some interesting first-round clashes, with the Washington Wizards being the team to watch in the post-season behind John Wall.
Surprise package: Toronto Raptors. With Lowry, DeRozan, Johnson and Valanciunas, the Raptors have delivered on their pre-season promise after changes in the front office. Speculation suggests that they are still looking at trades, but it will be interesting to see what this unit achieves if they stay together.
Worst team in the Conference: The Detroit Pistons and Knicks have looked desperate at times, but with a 8-36 record so far this season, the Milwaukee Bucks have this award locked. Both the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers looked promising at the start of the season but have faltered alarmingly, with several franchises keeping their options open ahead of a talented and deep Draft.