By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
For a couple of seasons now, it's been fashionable to bash the Eastern Conference. And for numerous reasons -- from five consecutive Finals wins by the West, to a glut of glorious power forwards in said conference, to the top tier of teams in the Western Conference having more talent -- the East has deserved it.
And while the Eastern Conference still has some way to go toward catching the Western Conference, the Central Division is trying to bridge that gap.
Why would Click and Roll even bring this up and risk numerous e-mails telling us we're crazy to even suggest such a thing? (Of course, we welcome said e-mail. Drop us a line.)
Because, even those who cover the NBA have a difficult time assessing the value of some teams in the Central. Take a look at this gem from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
But just look at the Central Division. Five of the eight teams are three games above .500. At 28-11, Indiana has the second-best record in the NBA. They traveled through two-thirds of the Texas triangle, destroying Dallas and falling to San Antonio in overtime, snapping a seven-game winning streak. Despite the Pacers' brilliance, they cannot get comfortable.
That hot breath on the Pacers' collective necks? That would be the Pistons, who have reeled off eight consecutive wins, including a 115-102 (Wow, 115 points? From the Pistons? In one game?) win at home over the Mavericks on Sunday.
Because of this, one Detroit columnist feels it's time to embrace Pistons coach Larry Brown.
(Meanwhile, we'd love it if they'd let go of this topic. The three-point line is here to stay. Please, please get accustomed to it.)
New Orleans, which has played the whole season without Jamal Mashburn, stands seven games above .500 and in third place in the Central. Toronto, which made over its offense in the middle of the season, has managed to stay three games above .500. And then there are the Bucks, who were picked to be slightly better than the NBDL-leading Charleston Lowgators.
Yes, the Central has it's interlopers ... Chicago (new coach and a trade), Cleveland (young, young, young) and Atlanta (Still cashing those checks, gentlemen?), but so far you can put this division in "Better Than You Think" file.
SAM I AM
And the Wolves can thank their smallest starter for helping in this big surge.
It's tough to argue with Yaron. Cassell, a point guard, is shooting .501 (12th in the league, right behind Tim Duncan) from the field and .400 from the three-point line (17th in the league), both career highs. With 20.3 points per game, he leads Western point guards and is second among point guards in the West with 7.5 assists per game.
Yet, Cassell is nowhere to be found among Western guards in All-Star voting.
Cassell, who won two NBA titles with the Rockets in the '90s, has never been an All-Star. That should change this season. Just don't expect to see him in the Slam Dunk contest.
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