NBA Central Division is Tightest RaceBy James F.
The Central Division of the NBA’s Eastern Conference is the tightest one at the All-Star Break. The Indiana Pacers lead with a 32-21 record, followed by the Chicago Bulls at 1.5 games back and a 30-22 record. The Milwaukee Bucks are in third pace 5.0 games behind at 26-25. The Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliersare well off the pace in headed for the Draft Lottery.
With a little under 30 games left in the regular season after the teams get back from the All-Star Break, the outcome may be decided on whether Chicago’s superstar point guard Derrick Rose can make it back this season following his rehab of a torn ACL in his left knee. He suffered the injury in the first round of last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs and has not been able to play since.
The Bulls have done very well considering they have been without their star player all season long. Not too many would have thought they would be 30-22 at this point without him all year. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton deserve a lot of credit for keeping the Bulls in contention up to this point.
Rose is trying to get back as soon as he can, but lately he has been sounding like he is not comfortable with his surgically repaired knee. It sounds like he has his doubts about getting back this year at all.
The Pacers stand to be the biggest winners in that scenario. They have been especially tough at home going 21-5 in Indianapolis. Led by Paul George, David West, George Hill, and Roy Hibbert, the Pacers are a solid team that could give the defending champion Miami Heat some problems with their big men dominating the glass. Their first round opponent if things stay the same in the East would be the Atlanta Hawks who are in the sixth spot right now, although they trail the Bulls by only a half game.
The Bulls would play the Brooklyn Nets if the playoffs were to start now. But things could change a lot between now and the end of the season as only two games separate the third through sixth spots.
The Bucks are in the eighth spot right now with a four game lead over the ninth place Philadelphia 76ers. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis lead the Bucks with 18 points each per game. There have been rumors that Jennings wants out of Milwaukee at the end of the season. If the playoffs started now, the would face Miami in the first round and likely be trying to avoid being swept. But they only trail the seventh place Boston Celtics by 1.5 games. If they can catch them they would draw the New York Knicks in the first round instead. That would not be a picnic either, but it probably beats facing the Heat.