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NBA Power Rankings: Pacers part of dwindling elite

The Pacers stay in the top two as the number of championship contenders shrink.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA lost another member of its elite brotherhood this past week as the Chicago Bulls will be without Derrick Rose for the season following knee surgery. With injury woes cropping up for Memphis and Golden State as well, it's become an unfortunate theme for the young season with injuries besting the chances of many would-be teams. Even though Marc Gasol and Andre Iguodala are expected to return, the Western Conference is as cutthroat as usual, leaving both teams in difficult position regarding their long term playoff positions.

In the polar opposite Eastern Conference, where just a week ago, the top seed appeared to be a crucial advantage for avoiding having to play two of the Miami, Indiana, Chicago trio, it suddenly appears that top seed is only advantageous when it comes to deciding whether Miami or Indiana will host a potential Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. But as we saw with Chicago, things can change instantaneously in the NBA, making even a foregone conclusion seem murky moving forward.

The NBA is often cited as the most predictable of the major sports, and with good reason, but even those expected outcomes rarely unfold in the manner they were expected to. The Eastern Conference hasn't seen a Conference Finals rematch since 2006 and have had the top two seeds meet just once since 2008. But at the same time, the Eastern Conference hasn't appeared this bad in a long time. Only three teams are above .500. The Pacers have opened a 6.5 game lead in the Central Division and the Atlantic Division is being led by a 6-7 Toronto team.

The league enters its fourth week, and already Indiana's nine game winning streak is only the third longest in the NBA. Hot starts are all the rage this season and Indiana has made the most of it with a franchise best 13-1 and 8-0 home start. While they may have gotten by on a relatively weak schedule, they're still doing what no other Pacers team has ever done. But Indiana's first real test will begin on Sunday: a Western road trip featuring six games against the five best NBA teams outside of Indiana. But it's not time to look ahead, the Pacers will still need to take care of business against Charlotte and Washington.

NBA power rankings 2013: Spurs hold onto No. 1 spot -
The Pacers stay locked in at #2 behind the streaking Spurs, but Jason Patt liked what Paul George showed in the OT win against the Knicks.

Injuries deal tough blow to trio of of title-contenders |
Despite the wins, John Schuuhman has a little concern that the Pacers trailed in the second half against their three Atlantic Division opponents last week. Of course, they've trailed in the second half to just about everyone they've played this year. Pacers are No. 2.

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Roy HIbbert is Marc Stein's first trimester Defensive Player of the Year, with good cause; he's had at least five blocks in seven games for the second ranked Pacers.

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Indiana is still 2nd, but Matt Dollinger puts Lance Stephenson in rarefied air as one of only five players averaging 10 points, five rebounds, and five assists. The others? James, Durant, Westbrook, and CP3. Not bad.

NBA Power Rankings: Make way for Blazers - Yahoo Sports
The Pacers stay atop of Marc J. Spears' rankings as he eyes the beginning of Indiana's road trip Sunday against the Clippers.

PBT NBA Power Rankings: Injuries start to shape the rankings | ProBasketballTalk
Indiana stays at #2, but Kurt Helin was less than impressed by their near-loss at Madison Square Garden, nearly dropping them. In his defense, needing a game winner to beat the Magic at home is a great sign for the Heat.

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The Pacers stay locked in at the top, seeing them as a team that knows they'll win regardless of the game's circumstances.