At the time of writing, Eastern Conference teams have played between 45 and 50 games; as the All Star Game approaches, we can take a look at how the Conference is shaping up.
Outside the top three teams, the League hasn’t exactly gone the way most predicted in pre-season. The Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks, as expected, sit at the foot of the standings as they look to rebuild. The Charlotte Hornets – after adding Dwight Howard in a strong off-season – and the Milwaukee Bucks – who have recently fired Jason Kidd – have disappointed, to say the least. The Washington Wizards can probably be thrown in here – though 6th with a 26-22 record, their general offensive play, which usually runs fluidly through John Wall, has underwhelmed.
On a more positive note, a young Indiana Pacers team has played aggressive, attacking basketball and the team – one which few expected to reach playoffs – has reached 5th. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers have shown great potential – with an all-star like Joel Embiid in their ranks, they are comfortably on course for the playoffs. A surprise tale is the Miami Heat – with no visible superstars, Erik Spoelstra deserves great credit for launching his team into the top four.
But what of the Eastern elite? The tradition top three has remained as such – but that’s not the full story.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ season has been defined by drama, poor defence and the tale of Kevin Love. Simply put, pure talent from the likes of Lebron James is keeping the Cavs afloat right now. After a seemingly productive off-season, there are doubts whether Cleveland can continue their Eastern playoff domination.
Just behind the leaders are the Toronto Raptors – a consistent team under Dwane Casey, one which is dominating on both ends of the floor. Casey certainly deserves credit for developing a seemingly decent team into an exciting one which asserts itself nightly. Two all-stars backed up by solid role players, who are themselves deputized by a talented young bench, have set the Raptors on course to be the realistic challenger to the Boston Celtics.
And what of the Celtics? The loss of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley – as well as Gordon Hayward, for the season – could have been detrimental, yet a mixture of Kyrie Irving, talented rookies and most prominently, excellent coaching from Brad Stevens, have held the team in green at the summit.
The Eastern Conference will surely be decided by the current two teams at the top – the Toronto Raptors look a very strong outfit, and with the Celtics faltering in recent times, may well catch up.
1) Toronto Raptors
2) Boston Celtics
3) Cleveland Cavaliers
4) Miami Heat