Philadelphia and Indiana are expectation exceeders. At least they have been this year. Neither team has a star player, however, and in an Eastern Conference plentiful in all-nba and all-star duos, trios, and quartets- well, it's an endearing quality.
Philly has the third-best SRS rating in the entire league and the best defense in the league. They play a team-oriented style of basketball and get major contributions from their bench, led by Louis Williams and Thaddeus Young, who showed me something last year in the playoffs when he went at LeBron James and Chris Bosh and occupied them with his offense. Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday form one of the better two-way perimeter duos in the league. Eight guys average 8.7 points per game or more- the definition of a balanced attack. Linsanity and Celtic Pride still trail the Sixers in the Atlantic.
The only thing I can't stand about Philly is that they took announcer Doug Collins and made him coach Doug Collins. He's a certifiably good coach, but I loved him courtside. Dude seemed to always predict the right out-of-bounds plays for every team. I'd bet a decent amount on Collins's squad defending out-of-bounds plays pretty well.
The Pacers have been less impressive, with a record of 18-12 and an average SRS rating. The same principle applies though. Like Philly, Indy uses youth and balance to succeed; seven players average nine points per game or higher, with Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert leading the way. The Pacers earned the league's respect by giving Chicago a good series last year, but their record and playoff standing in this Eastern Conference is attention-grabbing news.
Is this play sustainable for each team, especially in the playoffs? Well, in a condensed season, each team's core of fresh bodies certainly helps matters. These are the kinds of teams that can take wins off superior teams in the regular season who might not have the legs or are out of shape or have a star- whom they rely on heavily- injured. Regular season? Sure, especially Philly. Philly vs. New York for the Atlantic Division title should entertain the I-95/Turnpike crowd.
Playoffs? These teams have 2011 Denver Nuggets written all over them. A purist loves Philly's swing passes and closeouts and team play, but they don't have that star anchor to carry them, and like it or not, that fact plays. It always does. Because teams with a star or stars can play with chemistry and team play, too, and those teams will almost always take out the defiant, role-player studded, lovable underdogs because of matchups issues created by those stars.