Trying to Figure Out the NBA Eastern Conference
We’ve eclipsed the midpoint of the season and one thing is abundantly clear: the NBA Eastern Conference is crazy. As in, don’t even try to figure out the power dynamics of the crazy conference. As in, the Philadelphia 76ers have a better record in 2017 than the Cleveland Cavaliers crazy.
Let’s start with those Cavaliers. The Cavs have lost five of their last seven games, and Lebron James recently called out his team for being “top heavy as sh**.” Not an incredible sign for the favorite in the East. They now only hold a three game lead in the conference, and don’t have a top five point differential in the league anymore.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely that the Cavaliers continue to struggle for too much longer. They’ll likely revert to the mean sometime soon and finish the East with home court advantage. Deeper in the east though, it just gets wackier.
The Atlanta Hawks looked to be ready to reload just weeks ago. Kyle Korver was traded to the Cavs, and Paul Millsap found himself the center of too many trade rumors to count. Now, they’ve won seven of 10 and are in the thick of the Eastern Conference race.
The Wizards have has a similar rejuvenation of their season. After a 9-14 start, they’ve completely turned their season around. John Wall is having his best season ever, Bradley Beal has been productive and healthy, and Otto Porter Jr. has been a breakout star.
Not to mention, the Wizards look unbeatable at home. They have the second most wins in the league when they play at home.
Further down in the standings sit the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. They respectively hold the 7 and 8 seeds which is, quite simply, not sustainable. Neither team has a positive win differential, and on paper they look much worse than the younger teams that sit below them. Nonetheless, they sit in playoff spots. Can the star power of Paul George and Jimmy Butler be enough to grab a playoff spot?
That brings us to the wackiest part of the Eastern Conference. Currently seeded 9-15 in the conference are the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets, Heat and Magic are the only disinteresting teams of that group. All three should be focused on nothing but tanking for the rest of the year. Of course, the Nets have no pick to tank for, but that only makes them less interesting of a team.
The other four teams add an element to the Eastern Conference that will make it riveting to watch down the stretch. The Detroit Pistons are in a pretty unique spot. They are stuck in somewhat of a limbo between contending for a playoff spot and needing to add pieces for the future. Andre Drummond is a solid piece to build around though, and they figure to be somewhat of a threat down the stretch.
The Bucks on the other hand are one of the most talented young teams in the league. It would be shocking if they can’t grab one of the last spots in the playoffs by the end of the year. The Greek Freak and Jabari Parker have both had ridiculous breakout years, and the Bucks look just about ready to make the jump.
And for Toronto and Cleveland, the Bucks have to be the last team they would want to face in the first round of the playoffs. Besides a lack of experience, the Bucks figure to be one of the most dangerous teams come May. Look for them to be a threat to any team.
The Knicks are another team that seems to be underachieving. Carmelo Anthony is aging, but is still a star. Derrick Rose is having a solid season. Kristaps Porzingis is breaking out in his second year in the league.
The Knicks haven’t quite seemed to put everything together though, and they have struggled to reach their potential. They are another team that would be a tough out in the playoffs. Though they are not as dangerous as Milwaukee, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose have both been there before. If they can find some synergy on the court, they too could threaten one of the final playoff spots.
The final team, and perhaps the most fascinating, in the East, is the Philadelphia 76ers. Not a year ago, they were the laughing stock of the league. They were historically bad. Even earlier this year they struggled immensely, especially with Joel Embiid off the court.
Recently though, the process has begin to show signs of life. Seven wins in 10 games has them closing in on some of the playoff teams. Even without Joel Embiid, they are showing an ability to contend and win games. And possibly as soon as February, they are going to have their number one draft pick back on the court.
Obviously the Sixers are not good enough yet to do any serious damage in the East. But who would have expected this? The laughingstock of the East no more, the Sixers have provided a much needed shakeup of the Eastern bottom dwellers. The second half of the season will no doubt be great as these teams duke it out, and the craziness is not likely to stop soon.