Eastern Conference better, still has room to grow

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The NBA’s scale of justice is finally balanced. After a half-dozen years of being a lightweight, the Eastern Conference is pulling its weight, which is refreshingly and considerably more. If you made a reality show of the East, the working title would be The Biggest Gainer.

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There are 10 teams with a winning record. Last season, five finished above .500, and two losing squads snuck into the playoffs, including the 38-44 Brooklyn Nets. The last time all eight playoff teams had winning records in a full season was 2004-05 (although the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season accomplished the feat, too). Eight times in the last 10 seasons at least one losing team made the playoffs.

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But now, the East is celebrating in December, and not because of the holidays. Good times are popping up in Charlotte, Detroit and once again in Indiana. It took a team from the East to stop the Golden State Warriors’ 28-game win streak. Times are much better for the conference that everyone loves to kick around. Or are they?

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Sometimes, perception is different from reality and that’s certainly the case with the East suddenly being the heavy in the NBA. An examination of the state of the conference and its teams presents a slightly different picture, and a case can be made that only six teams are actually feeling an uptick. On a related note, it appears the majority of All-Star caliber players are still out West: Anthony Davis Jerseys, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins … shall we go on?

Here’s how the “new and improved” East stacks up so far. Teams that are roughly unchanged from a year ago are (=) while (+) and (-) are those who are rising and falling:

Cleveland Cavaliers (=): Last season was the incorporation of a new coach and a handful of new players. This season it’s the absence of Kyrie Irving. Both explain why the Cavs haven’t had the greatest of starts, but just like last season, we all have a sense where this team is going. Kevin Love looks more at ease, but does this change when Irving gets more touches? LeBron James will keep reminding his teammates of the bigger picture.

Cavaliers vs. Celtics

The Cavs beat the Celtics 89-77 behind LeBron James’ 24 points and seven rebounds.

Chicago Bulls (=): Nikola Mirotic is better, and perhaps so too is Doug McDermott. But the Bulls haven’t looked like they’re ready to conquer the East or change the perception that the conference belongs to Cleveland. is starting to yield ever so slightly to Jimmy Butler, and it’s about time. Let’s see if Joakim Noah can remember what he was like in 2013-14.

GameTime: Reggie Miller Talks Bulls

Reggie Miller joins GameTime to discuss whether or not Fred Hoiberg’s system fits the Bulls style of play.

Toronto Raptors (=): After opening the season with five straight wins, they’ve been fairly average since. DeMarre Carroll was supposed to raise the defensive awareness, and he has to a degree. Toronto was 23rd in Defensive Rating last season and has improved to 11th this season. However, Carroll being hurt now doesn’t help. Skinny Kyle Lowry and are still carrying the buckets. Wasn’t Terrence Ross supposed to be a bigger deal by now?

Arena Link: Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry joins GameTime via arena link after a 19-point performance in a victory over San Antonio.

(+): They extended Steve Clifford’s contract last week and that made sense. The Hornets are wiser and sharper 鈥?well, with the exception of Al Jefferson and the decision that led to his suspension 鈥?and could return to the playoffs. Jeremy Lamb is on the verge of a breakout. Newcomers Jeremy Lin and Nicolas Batum have re-started their careers.

Batum’s Triple-Double

Nicolas Batum notches a triple-double scoring 10 points, with 11 dimes, 11 assists and a steal to lead Charlotte over Miami.

Indiana Pacers (+): Yes, they’re better, but weren’t they supposed to be? Perhaps. It’s mostly due to Paul George returning to elite status so quickly after taking nearly a season off after his gruesome leg injury with Team USA. He’d be top-5 in MVP voting if the poll was taken today. Don’t forget C.J. Miles and his welcome 3-point shooting. Imagine where they’d be if Monta Ellis could shoot efficiently.

Inside Stuff: Paul George

Paul George of the Indiana Pacers talks about his love for the game of basketball.

Miami Heat Jerseys (+): Again, this is the case of an injured contender getting healthy and also producing the expected results, mainly due to Chris Bosh. Hassan Whiteside is better yet remains a work in progress, emphasis on progress. Imagine where Miami will be in the standings once Goran Dragic figures it out, assuming he will. In Phoenix, he was a top-5 point guard. In Miami, he’s in a fog.

Inside Stuff: Dwyane Wade

Kristen Ledlow sits down with Miami Heat Jerseys’s Dwyane Wade to talk about the evolution of his game.

(+): How good the Celtics will be once coach Brad Stevens gets a star or two? As it is, he has done as much as possible with this mildly talented crew, led by the irresistible Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics are about as good as they’re going to get until they cash in on one or two of their gazillion first-round picks.

Inside nfl jerseys from china Stuff: Isaiah Thomas

Steve Smith Jerseys sits down with Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas to talk about how he and his team are on the rise.

Jerseys (+): New coach Scott Skiles has Victor Oladipo coming off the bench and it’s working. He gave the ball to Evan Fournier and that’s working. Well, Skiles does have great honeymoons, so Orlando should enjoy this one. Meanwhile, there’s still work to be done with Aaron Gordon, a raw talent still waiting to erupt.

Bucks vs. Magic

Elfrid Payton has 22 points and 10 assists as the Orlando Magic Jerseys beat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-90 Friday night.

Detroit Pistons (+): is a certified starting NBA point guard and is a certified big man and both have high ceilings. The Pistons are clearly on their way, it’s just a matter of how quickly they get there. Coach Stan Van Gundy’s next big decision will be what to do with Brandon Jennings.

Drummond Grabs 20 Boards

Watch the highlights from Andre Drummond who grabs 20 rebounds to go with 18 points in the Pistons win over the Heat.

Atlanta Hawks (-): Their 60-win season had the whiff of suspicion and now we see why. The Hawks are well coached with a solid core but they’re just not the best team in the East and are already maxed out. It’s very possible that the team with the best record in the East a year ago might struggle to get out of the first round (assuming they make the playoffs).

Thunder vs. Hawks

Paul Millsap scores 26 points and grabs 11 rebounds and Jeff Teague adds 25 as the Hawks defeat the Thunder.

New York Knicks (=): There’s the typical New York over-amplification when it comes to interesting newcomers, and this is happening with rookie Kristaps Porzingis. But the rookie’s quick development is diverting the focus away from the gradual decline of Carmelo Anthony, whose shooting percentage and scoring are down as he no longer strikes fear into defenses.

Carmelo On Porzingis’ Development

Carmelo Anthony speaks on his development as a key cog in the Knicks’ offense.

Washington Wizards (-): Jerseys is down, is out and Marcin Gortat is pouting. Things are definitely not looking up for a team that won 46 games and finished fifth in the East. Now comes word that the Wizards might be looking to pull a deal to shake things up, but everyone knows they’re not doing anything to threaten their salary cap situation until next summer when Kevin Durant sniffs around.

Harden or Wall: More Disappointing Start?

People have been all over James Harden, but John Wall has been quietly bad this season as well.

Milwaukee Bucks (-): Seriously, if you were projecting which team in the East was due for a leap this season, wouldn’t Milwaukee have been the choice? Instead, the Bucks find themselves under .500 because of defensive lapses and an inability to finish games. Beating the Warriors was fun for a night. What comes next?

GameTime: Warriors Streak Snapped

Mike Fratello and Rick Fox break down the Bucks’ win over the previously unbeaten, champion Warriors.

Brooklyn Nets (-): Well, the crash is happening as expected. The only folks rooting for Brooklyn are Danny Ainge and the Celtics, who own the Nets’ No. 1 pick outright. Which means the Nets can’t even tank themselves into a better situation. Brook Lopez and are the only true assets on a team too stripped to pull off a major trade.

Lopez Scores And One

Brook Lopez takes the contact and hits the fadeaway jumper plus the foul.

(-): Has Jahlil Okafor lost this many games in college, high school, AAU and pee wee league combined? The look of sheer shock on his face says no. Fix this, Jerry Colangelo.

Inside Stuff: Jahlil Okafor

Dennis Scott sits down with Sixers Rookie Jahlil Okafor to talk about his adjustment to the NBA and his desire to be Rookie of the Year.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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