It probably is a little early for magic numbers and what-not, and we probably should’ve learned our lesson from the Colts about getting too excited too early but … it already is looking like the Eastern Conference is going to be a two-horse race.
Two horses and a pack of mules.
With Derrick Rose’s latest knee injury, you can strike the Bulls from the list of teams capable of challenging the Pacers and Heat, which leaves, um, zero teams on that particular list.
It’s a rotten break for Rose, and I suppose we should feel a bit of empathy for the Bulls, as well.
“It stinks, to use a clean word,” Frank Vogel said. “It’s not good for anything about this league. To see a player as dynamic as Derrick Rose go down for the season is not good for the NBA. We wish him a speedy recovery and are hoping for better news.”
In fact, Vogel isn’t ready to rule out the Bulls. The memory of last season, when the Pacers finished a scant 4½ games ahead of the Rose-less Bulls in the division, is fresh.
But there is a much different psychology at work. Last year, the Bulls had the carrot of Rose’s possible late-season return dangling from the stick to motivate them. This year, they know he’s gone, and thus so is all hope of accomplishing anything of consequence.
“Everyone wants to put a fork in them like they’re dead but people forget how good they were last year without Derrick Rose and how good they’ve been at times this year without Derrick Rose,” he said. “I think they’re going to have something to say about the Eastern Conference, as well.”
Understand, the coach isn’t about to kick the Bulls while they’re down. That’s my job. Here’s what the Bulls are going to say about the East: wait till next year.
It’s not inconceivable someone could emerge from the pack of mules, but the most obvious possibilities entering the season show little hope for optimism.
The Nets and Knicks are tied, which isn’t surprising. That they’re tied for last in the Atlantic Division is a big of an eyebrow-raiser. Jason Kidd may set the record for shortest head coaching career in NBA history if things don’t turn around, and quickly, in Brooklyn. As for the Knicks, well, we knew they were going to be a mess, and that they are.
‘I think there’s always a team or two or three that surprise and get into the mix,” Vogel said. “I don’t know if some of those teams are going to be able to keep up with what we’re shooting for, what Miami’s shooting for, but there’ll be some teams that have really successful seasons …
“The two New York teams struggling early is a little bit surprising but you have to look at the injuries those teams have faced. You lose a Tyson Chandler, it dramatically alters the makeup of your team. You play games without Brook Lopez, without Deron Williams, without Andrei Kirilenko, that’s going to dramatically impact the makeup of your team. I think they’re just dealing with injuries. Those teams will rise up and like we expected there’s a few teams that are impressive early. The Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Bobcats in particular are having strong seasons.”
The Hawks are the only other team in the East above .500 but are abjectly mediocre. The Bobcats are 7-7, but they are, after all, the Bobcats.
Is there anyone else on the horizon that offers the potential for even mild concern? In a word, no.
Unless the Nets get their act together, unless the Bulls summon up another full year of overachievement, the East will be in the hands of two teams.
The Pacers and Heat ultimately were going to be the only ones that mattered, anyway.
Oh, in case you were wondering, 62 to clinch the division, 67 to clinch the conference.