Recently, I wrote the pretenders versus contenders article for the Western Conference. I return to finish out the playoff field of 16 teams with the lesser of the two conferences. You’ll find that the Western Conference had more contenders than the Eastern Conference; the way it’s been for years. The top of the conference is strong, with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading the pack, but the bottom half is weaker than in recent years.
Cleveland Cavaliers- Contenders
It’s pretty safe to say that almost any team that has LeBron James on it will be a contender. This team is no different. Not only does it have James, it also has Kyrie Irving, a star point guard, and an injured-but-returning Kevin Love. Besides the big three, the Cavaliers might have the best depth in the NBA. Although Cleveland has been struggling of late, posting a 5-5 record over the past 10 games, this is not expected to be the case in the playoffs. When Kevin Love returns and LeBron pushes for a second straight title, no team or lead is safe against this squad.
Washington Wizards- Contenders
After a period during which they bewildered fans, the Wizards are finally playing the way they envisioned. The offense is one of the best in the league, led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, both averaging over twenty points per game. This team that sits in the second seed is the same team that started the season 2-8 in the first ten games. Obviously, they’ve been extremely hot recently. Right now, they’ve won four straight games, and are posing a threat to the Cavaliers of taking over the first seed in the Eastern Conference.
Since January 1, we’re 24-8.
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) March 11, 2017
Boston Celtics- Contenders
As I stated earlier, the top of the conference is very strong. This includes the Celtics. Isiah Thomas is currently having an MVP-esque season, and the Celtics are tied with Washington for the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Boston, unlike the Wizards, have proven that they are capable of performing at an elite level on both sides of the ball. Besides Thomas, the Celtics defense is extremely tough. When Marcus Smart comes in off of the bench, you know two things are going to happen. First, the defense on the opposing guards will become much more intense, and second, the game will become a lot more chippy. Marcus is known for his toughness and attitude, and when he is in, it definitely rubs off on some teammates. If I had to pick a team that could take down Cleveland in the playoffs, this Boston team would be it.
Isaiah Thomas is currently 1st in Celtics history in points per game.
1. Isaiah Thomas: 24.5
2. Larry Bird: 24.3
3. Paul Pierce: 21.8
— BostonCelticsForever (@BostonCelts4eva) March 11, 2017
Toronto Raptors- Pretenders
The recent additions of P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka really help the Raptors compete. They were considerably behind the rest of the top playoff teams talent-wise, but they have closed the gap now. With the injury to Kyle Lowry, I fully expect the Raptors to start falling in the standings, and most likely wind up in the fifth seed. I don’t see the Raptors competing with fully healthy teams such as Cleveland, Washington, and Boston.
The Raptors NEEEED Kyle Lowry. Tonite was evidence of that. The offense was stagnant and the bulldog wasn’t there to pick them up #RTZ
— Adam Iafrate (@CratesOfFrates) March 2, 2017
Atlanta Hawks- Contenders
Losing point guard Jeff Teague in the offseason has definitely hurt the Hawks this season. Nonetheless, they are contenders. Coach Mike Budenholzer has put together an extremely tough defensive team. Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard scare opposing point guards away from taking shots in the paint, and Thabo Sefolosha is an extremely gifted defender at the small forward position. If this team traded for some offensive firepower at the deadline, they would for sure be among the top teams of the Eastern Conference. They are less talked about than most contending teams, but as the old adage says, defense wins championships.
Indiana Pacers- Pretenders
Indiana’s roster looks good on paper, but for some reason, they haven’t lived up to expectations thus far. They rank in the bottom half of the NBA in both offensive rating and defensive rating, not a good sign for a playoff team. As outstanding as Paul George has been, the rest of the roster outside of Myles Turner has been lackluster. Jeff Teague is averaging just fifteen points per game, although his assist rate is pretty high compared to previous years. Myles Turner has been a nice surprise, and is the X-Factor of the Pacers. Without Turner playing the role that he is, the Pacers would likely be outside of the playoff picture looking in, even with Paul George. Outside of Glenn Robinson winning the boring dunk contest this year, Indiana fans haven’t had much to cheer for thus far, and they won’t have much to cheer for in the playoffs either.
GR3 has been a great asset this season for the Indiana Pacers. Bright future for this man. pic.twitter.com/V4fDcWjNsu
— NBA Genius (@GeniusOfTheNBA) March 6, 2017
Detroit Pistons – Pretenders
The Pistons are bad enough that they were shopping the best two players on the team at the trade deadline. They are another one of the many solid defensive teams in the Eastern Conference, but the offense is extremely inefficient and static. The highest scoring player on the team is small forward Tobias Harris, who averages a modest sixteen points per game. At 32-33, there is not much hope of scoring an upset in the playoffs. Last year, they were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it seems that they might possibly have the same destiny this year.
Milwaukee Bucks- Pretenders
If Jabari Parker weren’t out for the season with a torn ACL, I wouldn’t hesitate to label this team as a contender. With Parker and a little more chemistry, they would’ve been a top team in the Eastern Conference, and possibly a title contender. I strongly believe that Giannis Antetokounmpo can elevate this team to greatness, but he needs a co-star, and that’s what Jabari Parker was and that’s what he will be next year. The Bucks have a strong base, and they’ll be contenders in years to come, but with the Parker injury, they aren’t quite good enough this year.
Giannis – 21 points 8 rebounds 5 assists 5 steals pic.twitter.com/v1exlIec10
— NBA (@NBA) March 11, 2017
Is there a team that can beat the Eastern Conference and represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals? Will the Cavaliers run straight through the competition to another NBA title? We’ll find out soon enough.