At the end of the 2013 (calendar) year, the Eastern Conference Finals seemed destined to be a rematch of last year's matchup between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.
Two and a half months later, the Heat (5/6) and Pacers (13/10) are clearly the favorites to represent the conference in the NBA Finals (based on odds from Sportsbook.com).
Two teams have the potential to make it more interesting than it appeared in December.
The Bulls and Joakim Noah, Mr. Triple-Double lately, have a ton of heart and could play spoiler in the second round of the playoffs. Based on standings through Sunday's games, the Bulls would be the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
While the Bulls have the fourth-best odds (25/1) to win the Eastern Conference, the team with the third-lowest odds (20/1) currently occupies the No. 6 seed, the Brooklyn Nets.
They have certainly come a long way since this moment:
Even though they are 3.5 games behind the Raptors, the Nets have been extremely good since the calendar turned to 2014. After a 10-21 start in 2013, the Nets have won 23 of 33 games since the start of 2014 without Jason Kidd spilling any more drinks on the court.
Here is this week's roundtable question for our experts: Fill in the blank: The Brooklyn Nets have a ____ percent chance of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.
Kevin Hanson: 15 percent
First off, I expect a Pacers-versus-Heat matchup just like the majority of the planet, but the Nets (and Bulls) have made it more interesting with a month to go in the regular season. Although they have turned their season around without him, the loss of Brook Lopez for the season hurts. Granted, Deron Williams is one of the better point guards in the league and Shaun Livingston has been an excellent story this season. But it's hard to get excited about guys like Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett helping this team make a deep playoff run. In fact, I think the Bulls have a greater chance of getting to the Conference Finals than the Nets.
John Trifone: 10 percent
The Nets have a 10-percent chance of reaching the Conference Finals. They are looking like they will be either the fifth or sixth seed in the East, so where they ultimately finish could play a role in their chances. If they finish as the fifth seed, they'll play at Chicago, which could be a one-and-done for them. I don't like their chances of winning two series if the first one starts in Chicago. If they finish sixth, I think they will get by Toronto, but I still only give them a puncher's chance of knocking off one of the two Titans in the East. They certainly are playing much better in the second half of the season, but there is still a pretty big gap between the top two and the rest of the East.
Sean Beazley: 0.00001 percent
Brooklyn's roster is filled with NBA veterans, but it's a three-team race in the East with the Pacers, Heat, and Bulls as the elite teams. I think the Nets will struggle to make it out of the 1st round.
Dan Yanotchko: 0 percent
The Brooklyn Nets have a zero-percent chance of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals this year. This year, it will be Miami vs. Indiana for the third straight time, as there is no one even close to those two teams in the East. The Nets started horribly this year, and have managed to right the ship at 33-31, so they are two games over .500. The problem is that the Nets are challenged offensively, as they only average 97.4 points per game, and they are ranked 29th overall in rebounds per game. The Nets will just be a warm-up for either Miami or Indiana depending on their seed.
Moving up only slightly from last week (16th), the Nets are currently the 14th team in our Week 21 NBA consensus power rankings.
- See our full 2013-14 NBA Power Rankings
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