NBA: Eastern Conference Outlook
The Milwaukee Bucks are currently tied for 5th best team in the Eastern Conference. At 15-12 they are tied for 2nd within their division with the Chicago Bulls and just a half game behind the Central leading Indiana Pacers.
The drop-off in talent after the first nine teams in the east is so dramatic that this could be the playoff outlook in the conference for the rest of the season.
The Miami Heat and New York Knicks are the clear-cut favorites, but apart from them the seeding in the east is up in the air and will certainly change as the year progresses.
1. Miami (20-6)
2. New York (21-8)
3. Atlanta (17-9)
4. Indiana (16-12)
5. Milwaukee (15-12)
6. Chicago (15-12)
7. Brooklyn (14-14)
8. Boston (14-14)
9. Philadelphia (14-15)
Top Tier: The Heat are on cruise control as they pace themselves to hit the playoffs in stride. I didn't think the Knicks would be this good this early. Led by Carmelo Anthony, they are playing at a high level right now and will soon get PF Amar'e Stoudemire back in the lineup. Will this disrupt their play or will the be even better when he returns?
Battle for #3: There's not much of a difference between teams 3 - 9. The Bulls should be among the top 3 teams, but PG Derrick Rose has missed significant time and the Nets have greatly under-performed to this point in the season. The battle for the number 3 seed will last all season.
Bottle of the Barrel: The Raptors, Pistons, Bobcats, Cavaliers and Wizards all have single digit wins. The Wizards have only 3 wins and no one would be surprised if they won only 3 more all season. Orlando is 12-16 and only 2 games out of the 8th seed, but I don't think they have the talent to maintain a consistent pursuit at a playoff spot over the 82 game season. All of the teams are pretty bad.
Surprise Team: Atlanta Hawks. The traded away Joe Johnson and have basically broken up the core that reached the Eastern Conference Finals just a few years ago. Guys like PF Al Horford and PGs Jeff Teague and Louis Williams have really stepped up their game. It doesn't hurt that they have Orlando, Cleveland and Washington in their division.
Team Likely to Move Up: Chicago Bulls. Once they get Derrick Rose back their win total should start to climb. He is such a dynamic player and mismatch for opposing teams that the Bulls are Eastern Conference contenders when he's on the court and middle of the pack when he isn't. The question is: will he remain healthy enough to last the rest of the season when he comes back?