Only two teams have winning record after 23 games.
The headlines in the NBA have been dominated with how poor the Eastern Conference has been so far this season, but what’s the reason behind it and how can it change?
The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are the only two teams in the East to currently hold a winning record, with the conference as a whole littered with disappointing starts to the campaign.
Fanatix NBA experts Sumeet Paul and Scott Hazlewood discuss what has gone wrong this season and whether or not trade deals can change the situation.
Sumeet Paul: The Eastern Conference has been a mess generally speaking so far this season. Is it a case of Indiana and Miami just being that much better than everyone else or have their rivals disappointed?
Scott Hazlewood: While the Heat and Pacers deserve to be ranked the two best in the Conference about a quarter of the way through the regular season, given most experts had them there, overall, other teams have been poor.
The New York Knicks have been terrible, poor form, injuries and an identity issue as to what kind of team they are means their record is an ugly 7-16, and they’re ranked 12th in the East. Brooklyn is much the same, the big gamble they took in trading for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry relied on Deron Williams and Brook Lopez being healhty and neither of them have been.
Has any team actually surprised you in the East this year to date?
SP: The Boston Celtics. Losing Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce over the summer, and appointing a rookie coach in Brad Stevens…it looked like a disaster waiting to happen. However, they have performed well so far and at 11-14 they lead their division and sit fourth in the Conference. Add Rajon Rondo to the mix in January to compliment this new athletic and speedy roster, they could be a real threat moving forward.
While I expect them to make the play-offs, do you see a way back for either the Knicks or the Nets? Surely they have too much talent to miss out.
SH: I would say the Nets have the best chance, injuries have been the biggest factor for them. Williams and Lopez are the most important players on that team, not KG, Pierce or anybody else. Williams in the on-floor coach, which is crucial with having a first year coach in Jason Kidd holding the reigns.
Lopez can be a 20-10 guy on most nights, so if they can fire and the high-profile complimentary pieces around them pick it up they will be in the playoffs.
For the Knicks, if they make the post-season it will be a fluke. There are some serious issues going on behind the scenes at that club. Players are not happy or are just not playing as well as they could and the future ownership structure could change. All of that adds up to minds on other things other than running offensive sets or getting stops when they are playing.
Can you see any team making a move trade-wise to help them out of a rut?
SP: I can’t see any trades making the difference this season. DJ Augustin has added depth for the Chicago Bulls but his arrival will not influence their season. I think the Nets will want to get their ideal line-up settled and won’t be looking at the market, while the Knicks appear to be the most likely team to deal.
Speculation continues to question Iman Shumpert’s future in the Big Apple, but realistically I don’t envisage any move improving them enough to suddenly make them into a contender. Teams should be looking at getting their injured stars healthy before doing any business as Tyson Chandler will ultimately make a significant difference for Mike Woodson.
So to sum up, do you envisage any other team that aren’t the Pacers or the Heat reaching the NBA Finals? And will either of those two teams ensure the Larry O’Brien trophy stays in the East?
SH: Unless a major injury happens to a star from the Heat or the Pacers, say LeBron James or Paul George, no, no team other than those two will make it to the finals this season. But I don’t think a team from the East will win it this season, whoever gets to the Finals from the West will no doubt have gone through a tough journey, and as long as they are not mentally or physically injured, they will have had more tough games to prepare for the pressure cooker that is the Finals, when the Heat and Pacers are likely to waltz through the early rounds if they play to their respective potential.
SP: Talent in the West does look intimidating, and I agree that we’ll see a team come out of that conference to go on and lift the trophy. It also gives us an indication for the All-Star game in February, and I would certainly be backing the Western All-Stars to make it a fourth straight win over their Eastern rivals.