Knicks and Pacers

Brian Schmitz

Orlando Sentinel

Look for the Knicks, America's (and Asia's) Team, to be the biggest disappointment.

Lin-conceivable?

There's two problems: 1) You play with only one basketball, meaning 'Melo, Amare and J.R. Smith must pry it from Jeremy Lin's hands; 2) Nineteen of the Knicks' remaining 31 games are against clubs who currently are seeded.

The Knicks will face top defensive teams, including three against the Bulls.

More disappointments: No-depth Lakers, Magic after Dwight Howard trade, Michael Jordan as an exec.

The league's biggest surprise: Indiana. Larry Bird took the hard road to rebuild the Pacers. Others: AARP Spurs, Kyrie Irving as next Chris Paul.

bschmitz@tribune.com

Mavericks and Knicks

K.C. Johnson

Chicago Tribune

It's hard to call the defending NBA champions a surprise. But the Mavericks, after a slow start and clearly setting up for 2012 free agency, are hanging around for a possibly lengthy playoff run.

The ageless Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd are most dangerous come playoff time. And Rick Carlisle is a master at the big picture. The Spurs, who see that same picture, are a close second for biggest surprise.

The biggest disappointment has to be the Knicks. Even if they become a dangerous playoff team, that it took an undrafted sensation to get them there — and not Carmelo Anthony or Amare Stoudemire — says volumes. Jeremy Lin isn't a disappointment. Anthony and Stoudemire are thus far.

kcjohnson@tribune.com

76ers and Bucks

Baxter Holmes

Los Angeles Times

Surprise: Philadelphia. Name the superstar on the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division. Just try. Philadelphia's lone All-Star (Andre Iguodala) is its fourth-leading scorer, and its leading scorer (Lou Williams) comes off the bench. More surprising: The 76ers rank No. 1 in the NBA in defense. Miami and Chicago still run the East, but Philadelphia won't surrender easily.

Disappointment: Milwaukee. No roster has underachieved this much. With center Andrew Bogut and point guard Brandon Jennings, the Bucks were expected to leap from last season's 35-47 record to become a playoff contender. But Bogut has largely been absent, and Jennings' play has been, too.

bholmes@tribune.com

76ers and Hawks

Shandel Richardson

Sun Sentinel

With the Celtics and Knicks in their division, not many expected the 76ers atop the standings at All-Star break.

The Sixers have done it with little fanfare, the only headline-grabber being Andre Iguodala. If they can hold on to the No. 4 seed, they could be a dangerous opponent for the Bulls or Heat in the second round.

As for disappointment, how about the Hawks? They don't have the excuses like the Celtics (old age) and Knicks (injuries). Here's a team that beat the Heat in Miami, yet somehow loses to them a few weeks later without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Hawks are too talented to play with so much inconsistency.

sdrichardson@tribune.com