NBA season halfway complete, and the Eastern Conference playoff 'race' might be fun to watch

With the season now halfway in the books, there's three things that can be safely gleaned from a look at the NBA standings:

— The West is simply a whole lot better than the East.

— Indiana and Miami will be the East's top two seeds.

— The race for East seeds 3-8 should be entertaining. No, really.

Overlooked in all the talk about the struggles that teams in the Eastern Conference are having this season is that six other teams besides the Heat and the Pacers are actually going to go to the postseason from that side of the league anyway.

It's tough to argue Orlando and Milwaukee as playoff hopefuls. So eliminate them and that leaves 11 teams vying for six spots, a race that will likely go down to the wire and have some sub-.500 ones celebrating the chance to spend the third weekend of April in either Miami or Indianapolis.

Entering Monday, only four teams in the East were over .500, including a pair of 20-19 clubs in Atlanta and Toronto.

As of now, Washington, Chicago, Detroit and Brooklyn would be in the mix. Charlotte might have enough to hang around the race. Cleveland has an elite player in Kyrie Irving, so don't count the Cavs out yet.

And then there's the Atlantic teams. The Knicks are showing signs of life. Boston, not so much, but now the Celtics at least have Rajon Rondo back. And Philadelphia probably shouldn't be totally forgotten, given that the 76ers started 3-0 and recently won four straight on the road. Thing is, in all other games, the 76ers are 6-27.


Five things to watch this week:

MLK DAY: There's 10 games on the schedule Monday for the Martin Luther King holiday, including Miami at Atlanta (where the civil rights activist was born) and New Orleans at Memphis (where he died). There's also two great games to close the day, Portland at Houston and Indiana at Golden State.

THUNDER SCHEDULE: Not many candidates to choose from Tuesday anyway, but two of the teams already in the 30-win club this season go head to head when Portland visits Oklahoma City. A day later, the Thunder visit San Antonio. It's two chances in a 27-hour span or so for the Thunder to further scare the rest of the league about how good they are without Russell Westbrook.

HEY, BUD: The Spurs visit the Hawks on Friday, and rest assured, San Antonio knows Atlanta's offense. That's because former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer runs the same stuff in his first year as Atlanta's coach as has been run under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio for forever.

HURRY BACK, KOBE: Kobe Bryant scored one point in his first trip to Madison Square Garden. He's gotten better since. The Lakers visit the Knicks on Sunday and Bryant is injured, which means the New York fans will miss what's pretty much guaranteed to be an annual scoring show. Bryant has averaged 36.2 points in his last 10 trips to MSG, including outings of 40, 46 and 61 points.

FINALS REMATCH: Spurs at Heat, Sunday. No explanation necessary.


STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: Kevin Durant made this one easy. He took 28 shots and scored 54 points on Golden State on Friday. Only two players in the last decade have scored at least 54 points on 28 shots or less: Stephen Curry and Jermaine O'Neal.