Bernucca: Can the Eastern Conference Even Field an All-Star team?

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AS14_NewOrleans_LogosheetAmid its myriad injuries, its dozen teams below .500 and its 44-98 record against the Western Conference, 159299855_Rondo_ASPortsthere is a looming question regarding the Eastern Conference:

Can the East even field an All-Star team?

A year ago, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler, Kyrie Irving, Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday were among the East’s All-Stars. You can make the argument – irrefutable in some cases, strong in others – that none of those players should be invited back this season.

And a handful of the usual suspects with All-Star resumes – Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Al Horford – won’t fill the void because they have been injured or awful.

Not even Rudy Gay – who at $17.9 million is the league’s highest-paid player who never has been an All-Star - can grab one of the spots now that he has been traded to the West.

So who will be filling the dozen spots? Lotsa Pacers, lotsa Heat and lotsa guys making their All-Star debuts.

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Tweet of the Night: David West says “blame the GM” after beating the Nets

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BN8WWNLCMAMI4i6It’s been an unexpected season of sorts for the Brooklyn Nets.

That is to say, they have been one of the worst teams in the entire league rather than one of the best as many expected them to be prior to the season. They were supposed to challenge the Miami Heat and match up very well against the Indiana Pacers. Both notions are seemingly laughable at this point. 

Knicks fans should recognize a real superstar: Indiana’s Paul George

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New York sports fans are very protectively delusional with players they consider stars or superstars. Just look at Mark Sanchez. Or 2013 Derek Jeter. The same thing seems to be happening with Carmelo Anthony, who New Yorkers remarkably revere as a megastar. In reality, Anthony is only average defensively and, so far this season, inefficient offensively. As we’ve seen throughout this season, Melo is certainly no Paul George.

Just consider this sequence over the last five minutes and nine seconds of Wednesday night’s nationally televised Knicks-Pacers game at Madison Square Garden:

PaulGeorgeSH1With just over nine seconds left and Indiana trailing 89-86 in a sluggish contest, George had the ball in his hands. He took a few dribbles and thought that Iman Shumpert, who was doing a nice job defensively on George for most of the game, would foul him early on. The Pacers had been shooting just 69 percent from the free throw line at that point, so fouling before a shot could be put up made sense.

“So I was trying to make a quick play before he could do that,” George said. The plan worked and Shumpert was called for a controversial foul with 5.2 seconds to go. George calmly buried the three free throws “even after being iced with a time out,” as Indiana head coach Frank Vogel pointed out.

After the Knicks called time out to draw up their final sequence, everyone knew who was getting the ball for New York. And it was George who drew the defensive assignment, playing great on-the-ball defense against Anthony in the final sequence. Anthony’s missed shot forced overtime at 89 all.

“To carry the offensive load the way he did and guard Carmelo Anthony basically for 48 minutes, I don’t know where he finds the energy but it’s special,” Vogel said after the game.

In overtime, the Knicks’ big time superstar faded away and wilted under the Garden’s bright lights. But George? George took over the game, leaving Anthony in the dust to wallow in the Knicks’ 3-8 start.

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Sprung: Pacers Strive on Strong Defense and Intensity – UPDATE

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David WestThe first thing you notice watching the undefeated Indiana Pacers is their intensity.

More than the other seven teams this writer has seen in person this season, Indiana plays hard and aggressive basketball for 48 minutes. Indiana remained unbeaten at 8-0 after Monday’s 95-79 home win over Memphis.

“We are just trying to play our style of basketball,” Pacers forward David West said after Indiana’s hard-fought 96-91 win over the Nets on Saturday in Brooklyn.

That tough, tenacious style includes going hard on every possession and playing the league’s best defense. Indiana has allowed just 84.5 points per game this season, the best mark in the NBA by 6.5 points.

The following chart shows the many ways that the Pacers have the NBA’s best defense:

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Sprung: Pacers strive on strong defense and intensity

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David WestThe first thing you notice watching the undefeated Indiana Pacers is their intensity.

More than the other seven teams this writer has seen in person this season, Indiana plays hard and aggressive basketball for 48 minutes. The Pacers did that again Saturday night – its fourth game in five nights- and came away with a hard-fought 96-91 win over the Nets at Barclays Center to go to 7-0 on the season.

“We are just trying to play our style of basketball,” Pacers forward David West said.

That style includes going hard on every possession and playing the league’s best defense. Indiana has allowed just 85.3 points per game this season, the best mark in the NBA by more than seven points.

The following chart shows the many ways that the Pacers have the NBA’s best defense:

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