The way ESPN.com’s John Hollinger sees it, the Heat and Knicks are the top two teams in the East right now.
As for the No. 3? Well, the Nets could be a contender ... if they play better defense.
Hollinger has some great insights in an Insider piece he did prior to Thursday night’s Brooklyn-Boston game.
"The Nets give up 110.1 points per 100 possessions with Deron Williams on the court, which is awful, and 106.7 with Brook Lopez, which is nearly as awful. Lopez has played all but one of his 172 minutes this year with Williams, so it's not clear who's to blame, but both have proven themselves more than capable of lazy defense over the past few seasons.
Meanwhile, the figures for their bench are fantastic: 89.4 for Reggie Evans, 92.8 for Andray Blatche (!) and sizzling figures in fewer minutes for both Josh Childress and Jerry Stackhouse. The only outliers with bad numbers are the two guys who often play with the starters, MarShon Brooks and C.J. Watson.
Summarizing the situation, the Nets are plus-54 in second quarters -- the one most heavily trafficked by bench units -- and minus-28 in the other three.
This is sort of a good news/bad news situation for Brooklyn. On the one hand, it's encouraging that the Nets' second unit is giving them such solid minutes, when they seemed to be such a liability coming into the season.
On the other hand, this was a team built around the idea that its starting five would be good enough to make up for its other warts. And while it's true that Gerald Wallace has played only one game, he was at best the fourth name on the marquee. Instead, Williams has the worst plus-minus on the team and the bench guys are the ones pulling out games for them."