Column: Midseason review: Best in the Eastern Conference
With the All-Star break approaching, it is time to take a look at some of the best teams in what has been a disappointing year for competitiveness in the Eastern Conference. The following is a power ranking of teams in the East that are capable of competing for a title, so basically just Indiana and Miami.
1. Indiana Pacers: The Pacers have been off to a strong start this season and are the favorites to upset the Heat and win the conference. Indiana is the best team in the conference because of their well-rounded approach. Larry Bird has done an excellent job building this team and their team chemistry has been getting stronger by the game as they continue to believe they are the best team in the East. Budding superstar Paul George who is having the best year of his career highlights the Pacers. George leads the team in scoring with 22.7 points per game and has solidified his role as the team's go-to guy when they need a bucket. Another reason Indiana has made the leap into first place has been Lance Stephenson. Stephenson seems to have finally figured out how to tap into his great potential and consistently play solid basketball. Stephenson who has four triple-doubles this season to lead the team, is also statistically having the best year of his career. Stephenson is averaging 14.1 points per game along with 5.3 assists per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. Stephenson will play with a chip on his shoulder for the rest of the season after not making the All-Star Game, which will provide the edge the Pacers need. Finally, signing Andrew Bynum from free agency can improve the team in the playoffs. Indiana's biggest advantage over Miami has been their size and if Bynum can at least be effective on the defensive end, Indiana should be able to finally defeat Miami in the playoffs.
2. Miami Heat: The three-time defending Eastern Conference champions are starting to look a little vulnerable this season. The success of this team depends on the health of Dwyane Wade. Wade has already missed 13 games due to injury this season, which has started to become a trend in his career. Without Wade, Miami needs LeBron James to shoulder a much bigger load in order for them to win. James still has been putting up crazy numbers this year, but you have to wonder if he will show signs of being human by the time the playoffs roll around. James has been shooting an insane 57 percent from the field and is competing with Kevin Durant for another MVP award.
This season seems to be on a crash course for an epic Eastern Conference final between Miami and Indiana. Indiana plays an old-school style of basketball that gives Miami trouble. The Pacers understand that they have a huge size advantage in the post. However, Miami has the best player on the planet in James and the psychological advantage of knowing that they have defeated the Pacers in the last two conference finals. Home-court advantage could play a role in this series and Indiana currently has a 3.5 game lead over Miami.
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