NBA: How Paul George's injury will shake up the Eastern Conference

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The Indiana Pacers shooting guard broke his leg on international duty with Team USA.

Paul George's freak injury suffered at a U.S. national team scrimmage will have an immediate effect on Team USA's chances, but an even greater one on the NBA's Eastern Conference.

George's team, the Indiana Pacers, made the Eastern Conference finals in each of the past two seasons and would have had a good opportunity to do the same in 2015. Now, with their star player likely miss the entire season, it is tough to see the Pacers advancing past the first round if they manage to make the playoffs at all.

Indiana already faced a challenge in matching their regular season mark from 2013-14 of 56 wins after losing Lance Stephenson in free agency.

With Stephenson gone and George injured the Pacers will be without their two leaders in assists from last season, and it is difficult to see where the playmaking will come from in a team that has struggled with its half-court offense in recent years.

George's injury is bad news for the Pacers and Team USA, but is a massive boost to a number of teams' playoff chances in the East.

The Chicago Bulls, who have been taken out of the title race in the past two seasons through injuries to their own star player, will now be a lock for a top-two seed if Derrick Rose can remain healthy.

The Pacers would have been a nightmare second-round match-up for the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers if George was available for next season. Now it is tough to see Indiana being able to compete with the four-time MVP with their lack of an elite perimeter defender and scorer.

Further down the Eastern Conference pecking order, teams like the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat will now be gunning for the number three seed. The Wizards in particular have made big improvements to their bench this summer and if their stars align perfectly they could find themselves in the NBA Finals next season.

It is not a stretch to imagine fringe playoff teams such as the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets climbing high enough to secure home-court advantage in the first round with the East more open than ever.

The Hawks are especially interesting. They have a roster set up to make a trade, and with another piece or two they could certainly make a deep playoff run.

Indiana remains a well-coached team with a solid post scorer in David West and a potential Defensive Player of the Year in Roy Hibbert. They could still make it to the postseason, but it is hard to see them going any further than the first round.

George, a top ten player in the league when healthy, is such an important a player to lose and his injury is yet another wild card in the wide-open Eastern Conference.