Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
For argument’s sake, say Miami wins the East. Next: New York, Indy or …?
Steve Aschburner: I’ve been a skeptic on New York for a long time — never been a huge ‘Melo fan and I try to filter Knicks hype by half because of the media glut there. Mostly I’ve been proven wrong this season. But I’m not convinced yet, so I’m sticking with Indiana. The Pacers have a terrific locker room to go with a strong starting lineup, an emerging superstar in Paul George, David West‘s old-school game down low, a bench with helpful parts, a rim-protector in Roy Hibbert (frustrating as he can be) and a brashness from their coach, Frank Vogel. They also have an ace in the hole if Danny Granger‘s return goes well. Besides, Indiana gave Miami more of a scare last spring than the Knicks did.
Fran Blinebury: The chalk says the Knicks, the head says the Pacers. But I’m gonna crawl way out on a limb here, say that Derrick Rose comes back after the All-Star break and is feeling good by April. So by late May it’s the Bulls.
Jeff Caplan: Or is right … as in OR the Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose is coming back and the psychological boost alone has the potential to really juice the hardest working team in basketball. John Wall‘s very impressive return in Washington should really have Chicago jazzed for Rose’s chances to quickly get his game going and for the club to mesh after such a long layoff. Rose’s return has the power to transform and the Bulls are already holding down the No. 4 spot with the ability to quickly make a move up the standings after the All-Star break.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Or … Chicago. Not at the moment, but if the topic is projecting the second-best East team for the playoffs, since the question is based on the premise of the Heat winning the conference, it’s the Bulls with Derrick Rose. Indications are that he will be back in more than enough time to be rolling by the postseason. The Bulls are in the mix for No. 2 anyway. The Bulls with a good Rose puts them ahead of the other challengers.
John Schuhmann: I don’t know if they’ll finish second in the standings, but I think the team most likely to face the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals (unless they’re on the same side of the bracket) is Chicago. And I say that with a relatively conservative outlook on what they’ll get from Derrick Rose between now and May. I think the Bulls have the defense that neither New York or Brooklyn have and, with Rose (at somewhere less than 100 percent), the offense that Indiana doesn’t have.
Sekou Smith: As recently as three weeks ago I would have dismissed the idea of the Pacers being in the same space with the Knicks or Heat. But they’ve finally started to look like that team we all saw give the Heat fits in the playoffs last season. Frank Vogel has been coaching that way all season but his team didn’t catch up until recently. Now that they have, I think they could very well be that “second-best” team in the East. And they pose matchup issues for the Heat with their frontline and with a rangy athlete like All-Star swingman Paul George coming into his own. The Pacers are going to be a serious problem for anyone that sees them in the playoffs.