The Pacers have established themselves as the class of the Eastern Conference. And as the joke goes, that's akin to winning first prize at the Miss Ugly pageant.
An Eastern Conference team hasn't won an NBA title since 1998, the last of Michael Jordan's six championships with the Bulls.
The disparity between talent levels in the East and West has been pronounced this season. A sub-.500 record is not enough to knock a team out of postseason contention in the East, where LeBron James and the Cavaliers went into the weekend with a 19-30 record but were only 21/2 games out of a playoff spot.
That same 19-30 record would only be good enough for 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference, barely ahead of the Suns (18-33).
Despite the ridicule the East receives, Jermaine O'Neal thinks the Pacers (37-14) have what it takes to win a championship.
"We have the perimeter players, we have the outside-inside scorers to play with anybody - the West, the East, the Midwest, a different world, whatever," O'Neal said.
The Pacers have gone 12-6 against teams from the West, splitting the season series with the Timberwolves, Spurs, Lakers and Rockets. They lost at Portland and at Sacramento.
Indiana has only one more semi-long Western road trip: Golden State, the Clippers, Utah and Denver in the first week of March. The Kings and Trail Blazers travel to Indianapolis in mid March.
The Pacers already have secured the tiebreaker edge over the Pistons in the Central Division by taking a 3-0 lead in the season series. If their winning percentage remains near .700, they figure to be the No.1 seed in the East - if not the entire NBA. Sacramento and Minnesota are the only Western teams with winning percentages above .700.
"I feel that at the end of the day we're going to be the team that brings the championship back to the East," O'Neal said.
SIXERS SHAKEUP?: Patience is running thin in Philadelphia, where the 76ers have lost nine of 12.
The word around the league is that anyone on the roster is available, except Allen Iverson.
Plenty of teams have interest in center Samuel Dalembert, but Philadelphia would much rather move Aaron McKie or Eric Snow, a pair of experienced veterans under long-term contracts.
Snow and Dalembert are the only members of the 76ers to play in the first 50 games. Injuries sidelined Derrick Coleman for 20 games, Marc Jackson for 31, Iverson for 14 and Glenn Robinson for 18.
"I just think maybe getting D.C. or Marc back in the mix can certainly help us," coach Randy Ayers said. "There's been dialogue, but nothing is set in stone right now."
NET GAINS: You can't help but notice how New Jersey has responded to new coach Lawrence Frank. The Nets won their first six games under Frank (seven in a row overall) and have reasserted themselves as one of the best in the East.
The Nets ran a fluid offense under Byron Scott in which any player could get a shot at any time. Frank is more conscious of exploiting mismatches and riding the player with the hot hand.
"He's a young coach who has done a really good job of playing to the strength of the players," general manager Rod Thorn said. "He's done a good job in games of making adjustments and a good job of getting the players to believe in our program.
"If there is a mismatch on the court, we will find it. What Lawrence has tried to do is to utilize our strengths and negate the negatives."
HE SAID IT: Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, on the $275,000 cost of his one-game suspension: "No man, including David Stern, can do to me what FICA (Social Security taxes) hasn't already done."
- Information from the Associated Press and the Dallas Morning News was used in this report.