Heat, Spurs making headlines

STEVE LOUNG, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

TORONTO -- There have been plenty of big storylines in the NBA this season with big winning streaks by the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, the sale of the New Orleans Hornets and the impressive play of rookie Blake Griffin to name a few.

However, the major tale of this season has been what everyone has been talking about ever since LeBron James made "The Decision" on July 8 -- the Miami Heat.

Miami's hot streak now has it where many expected them to be, atop the Southeast Division. They are rolling through the competition in the midst of a nine-game winning streak.

With all of the success happening on South Beach, it's pretty easy to forget that this was once a club sitting at 9-8 and had a players-only meeting called just before it went on its tear.

While the Heat were trying to figure themselves out, reporters had a field day with everything from Chris Bosh's struggles, whether James and Dwyane Wade can play on the same floor together to Pat Riley steeping in for Erik Spoelstra after "bump-gate."

If you're sick of all of the Heat coverage already, you better prepare yourself because there's certainly more to come.

LOOK TO THE EAST (IF PARITY'S YOUR THING)

There's a lot to be said about the potential eighth playoff seed in the Eastern Conference and the eight teams that are in the hunt for it.

Underwhelming, unimpressive, maybe even undeserving of a playoff spot because all the teams fighting for the final seed are below .500.

However, as bad as some of these teams are, the fact is they are all competitive and have a shot at the playoffs, with only four games separating No. 8 to 15, makes paying attention to the East interesting.

None of these eight teams appears like it can create very much separation from one another, so it's probably a good bet the competition for that last playoff spot will remain fierce.

So just ignore their records for now and have fun watching teams that would normally mail it in for the sake of better odds in the lottery, actually go out and play hard, because there's something for them to play for.

PLEASANTLY SURPRISED

Of all the teams in a current playoff spot right now, the most surprising would have to be the Indiana Pacers.

For the past four years, Indiana has been stuck in the doldrums without any signs of making forward progress.

This season, the situation has changed.

With the insertion of a bright young point guard prospect in Darren Collison and a Roy Hibbert breakout season to go along with the scoring talents of Danny Granger, you suddenly have a squad that is capable of beating any team in the league on any given night.

Case in point: Big wins against Denver, Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers have already highlighted the Pacers' calendar.

The team's 11-11 record indicates that it still needs to work on putting it all together consistently, but the Pacers are a youthful and exciting team to watch and should be a lock for the playoffs -- something that hasn't happened since 2006.

DISAPPOINTING DEER

The Milwaukee Bucks were one of the biggest surprises last season and a lot of people expected them to see repeated success.

After all, they kept their core of Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bogut and John Salmons intact and their bench got an upgrade from last season with the additions of Cory Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts.

Yet, the team has struggled this season and it's because the Bucks continue to find difficulty scoring -- even though they specifically went and added a player like Maggette to give them extra scoring punch.

This season, the team ranks last in the league in points per game and assists per game, only putting up 91.5 points and 17.6 assists per contest.

Most of those points and assists are coming from Jennings, who has been having a better season than his rookie campaign.

Jennings, however, needs some help, and that would normally be Bogut, if not for his health problems this season. He's already missed a little more than a quarter of Milwaukee's games due to various injuries and the team suffers when he isn't on the floor because he opens up new dimensions to the offence with his scoring and passing abilities out of the post.

Milwaukee is barely holding onto a playoff spot because of its excellent defence. However, if they aren't able to inject some life into their anemic offence soon, that postseason slot will be stripped away from them.

NO SPUR-PRISE

Last season, the San Antonio Spurs were predicted to finish first in the Western Conference and compete with the Lakers for the conference crown mainly because of the addition of Richard Jefferson.

That didn't exactly happen and Jefferson was largely ineffective, having one of the worst seasons of his career.

So then, is it a surprise that San Antonio is sitting pretty this season with the best record in the league? Not exactly.

It took a while for him to figure it out, but Jefferson looks completely comfortable with the team now -- something that was bound to happen sooner or later. The core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are still there and even though it is a little surprising to see how low Duncan's numbers are, there is nothing shocking about what Ginobili is doing.

The Argentinean has always been a capable scorer -- once going for 48 points in a game in 2005 -- so the fact that he's scoring a career-best 20 ppg in the most minutes he's ever played per game and the most shot attempts he's ever attempted really isn't a shocker.

With Ginobili's increased output, the team's overall scoring has increased as well. Right now, San Antonio is third in scoring at 107 per game and is fourth in assists with 23.8 per game. These outstanding offensive numbers combined with their traditionally stingy defence -- currently 10th at 97.3 points allowed per game -- is why you shouldn't be taken aback by what the Spurs have done through the first quarter of the season.


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