The Eastern conference is weak to say the least with nine of of it’s fifteen teams with records below .500 halfway through the season. The balance of the league is incommensurable. The top five teams are feeding off their subordinates for easy wins. The bottom three playoff teams, will likely have losing records. Something that is not all too uncommon in the east. All said, the top teams in the conference are formidable regardless.
1st Eastern Conference
1st Atlantic Division
The Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard before the season. They fired their head coach Dwayne Casey, who had won coach of the year, in the off season, and hired Nick Pope, who has led them to the the leagues most wins halfway though the season at 30. The Raptors are one of several teams trying to inherit the east. They look to be the front-runner. They have struggled to get far in the playoffs, making it only to the second round last season. Now, with Lebron gone, and Kawhi come to roost, the Raptors may very well take the throne as the Eastern Conference Champs and reach the finals.
2nd Eastern Conference
1st Central Division
The Bucks led by Giannis Antetokounmpo have quietly become one of the best teams in the east. They too are vying to inherit the eastern conference after the exodus of Lebron James this summer. They started the season strong going 7-0. They have won 10 of their past 12 games. They are fighting to stay atop the conference, trading places with Raptors, reciprocating between 1st and 2nd. They have the best home record in the NBA at 19-4. They are one of a few teams that might have any chance to knock of the champion Warriors in the playoffs. Look for them to continue to be a force down the stretch.
3rd Eastern Conference
2nd Central Division
The Pacers are a solid team in the east. On paper, they don’t look like much. They have a lot of skilled youngsters in Oladipo, Sabonis, Bogdanovic, and Myles Turner. The have veteran leadership in Young and Collinson. Their defensive minded play under head coach Nate McMillan has been successful. Though part of this success to stem from playing in a weak conference, made evident by their 21-6 record against conference foes, meaning with a 27-13 record, they have only played 13 games out of 40 against western conference teams. The Pacers have struggled against the Raptors, and may not yet be good enough to take the East. They have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games though. Not only are they battling for the top spot in the east, just 2.5 games back from the Raptors, they are battling the Bucks for the central division. It is going to be tough, especially with a second half of the season, that sees more games on the schedule against a tougher west.
4th Eastern Conference
2nd Atlantic Division
The 76ers have been rebuilding for years and have benefited from several 1st and high lottery picks. Many thought this might be the year they put it together. They traded Dario Saric, Robert Convington, and Jerryd Bayless for Jimmy Butler. He has helped, but is now giving the 76ers the same behavoiral problems he displayed in Minnesota and Chicago. Dominate young center Joel Embiid, has had his healthiest year and Ben Simmons continues to look good. The 76ers are in the thick of the battle for the east, just 3 games behind the Raptors at the top spot, both for the conference and the division. One concern, is Markelle Fultz whose shoulder and shooting woes continue. The 76ers may be at the end of the road with him. They too may be benefitting from a weak conference at 18-11 against conference foes. And, with a 27-14 record, that means they have played 29 of 41 games against eastern conference teams.
5th Eastern Conference
3rd Atlantic Division
The Celtics have underachieved after their play last year, making the eastern conference finals against the Cavaliers. Many thought that with the return of injured Gordon Hayward, the Celtics would be the shoe-in to inherit the seat of the eastern champions. They started 6-4, had an eight game winning streak in November, and have won 6 out of their last 10. Still, they have yet to assert the dominance many thought they would, and perhaps are still capable of. Boston has a deep team, and we will see if they can make the push to take the top spot. We may see trades at the deadline to bulk up the roster. They will make the playoffs, the question is what seed? Right now they are sitting at #5. Without much competition below them, they aren’t likely to slip further. They are also battling for the Atlantic division, stuck behind Toronto and Philadelphia. They have ground to make up. It appears they have a good chance of doing so. Now, they have to prove it.
GRADE: B –
6th Eastern Conference
1st Southeast Division
If you needed more evidence of how weak the east is, the Heat sit in the 6th spot, a game under .500 which means, three playoff teams in the conference have more losses than wins. Heat GM Pat Riley tried to upgrade his team by trading for Jimmy Butler earlier in the season, but Minnesota kept asking for more, and Riley ended up hanging up the phone cursing out Minnesota GM Tom Thibodeau. They have Hassan Whiteside who has been averaging a double/double with 12.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. He has helped them to 4th in the NBA in Blocks with 2.8 per game. For the most part, the Heat have a hodgepodge of decent role players who can get some wins. Dwyane Wade is taking a farewell tour in his last year, before he retires, and leaves the Heat to rebuild, much like Nowitski and the Mavericks in the west. The difference being, the Heat do not have a star in the making to replace him with. What direction will they go in?
7th Eastern Conference
4th Atlantic Division
The Nets have actually started playing some good basketball. Expected to be at the bottom of the heap, they have found themselves in the mix for the playoffs come the halfway mark. They are gaining confidence and team chemistry is kicking. They are just two games under .500. If that is all they do this season, they have accomplished a lot. They have won 12 of their last 16 games. They won’t catch anyone above them in the Atlantic division, and probably can only hope to get as high as 6th in the East, but even they probably couldn’t imagine themselves where they are now at the beginning of the season.
8th Eastern Conference
2nd Southeast Division
Two games under .500, the Hornets are battling for a place in the playoffs and for the Southeast Division Championship. They haven’t made the playoffs in three years, and they lost in the first round when they did. The last two seasons, they couldn’t get to forty wins, finishing with thirty six in both. They have had one winning season in the five since they became the Hornets again. Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist won’t be enough to get out of the first round. The have an assortment of verterans and youth. They would like to rid themselves of Batum and Kaminisky, and find help, to bolster their late season run down the stretch. Things don’t look promising. They will have to keep up with the two teams ahead of them, and keep the Pistons at bay. Doable, but the Hornets haven’t been exactly succesfull as of late, so they better pick it up.
9th Eastern Conference
3rd Central Division
After trading for Blake Griffin and hiring coach of the year Dwayne Casey, the Pistons are not where they would like to be. Sitting at 17-21, they are 4 games under the .500 mark and 10.5 games back from the top of the east.. As bad as it looks, they still are only two games out of the playoff picture. In the past decade they have only made the playoffs once in the 2015-16 season. In that same time span, they only had a winning record one season as well (the same year). Things aren’t looking good for them as they continue to rebuild. It was a strange move to trade Tobias Harris and company for Griffin. He continues to be an ill fit. On paper, other than him and Drummond, they don’t have a whole lot, and that shows in their record. Until, they can get more help, they will stay where they are at. They could eek their way into the playoffs, but they have lost 7 of their last 10, so things aren’t looking good at all for them. They likely have the 3rd spot in the central division cemented, as they have no need fear the Bulls or Cavs beneath them, nor do they have a cold chance in hell to catch the Pacers and Bucks above them. They are stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for the icy runway in Detroit to thaw.
10th Eastern Conference
3rd Southeast Divsion
Orlando hasn’t had a Magical season since 2009 -10 when they made the Eastern Conference Finals. They have had one winning year since then, and haven’t made the playoffs in 8 years. Since then they have averaged only 26 wins per season. Yikes! They are near or last in most stats. The Magic have a good core in Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. In their 5th and 7th seasons with the team respectively, they Magic have failed to build a team around them, capable of winning. They are a couple of usable pieces in Fournier, Isaacs, and Ross.They drafted Mohamed Bamba, but the rest of the roster is a heap of young players with limited talent. They have many rebuilding years to go, waiting for the right draft picks, and development. There is nothing magical about it.
11th Eastern Conference
4th Southeast Division
The Wizards continue to try and build around John Wall and Bradley Beal. They are better than their record as it currently stands, but have struggled with a tough schedule and injuries. They traded Kelly Oubre Jr to the Suns for Trevor Ariza, and have a forward heavy roster. They have had winning records the last 5 years, and made the playoffs four of those years. . Last month they lost star John Wall for the rest of the season, after suffering injuries to his heel, and opting for surgery, to forestall risk of further damage. Another part of the problem is that they traded away Marcin Gortat and signed Dwight Howard who has been sidelined, much of the season, having played only 9 games. They had 16 win halfway two years ago and finished with 41 wins, but without Wall it will be difficult. Still, they are only 3.5 games back from eighth place, so we will see what happens.
12th Eastern Conference
5th Southeast Division
The Hawks are regretting drafting and trading Luka Doncic for Trae Young, but they are invested in their rookie now, and the development of their youth. I don’t expect them to win much this year, or for several to come. Hopefully, in the end Young works out for them. Right not they are last in the southeast division, and so far south in the standings, that their only real hope is getting a good lottery pick in the draft come summer. They went to the playoffs for 10 straight years between 2007-2008 and 2016-17. In the past two seasons, they have been in rebuild mode, firing their head coach, and trying to start a new era in Atlanta. I hope Hawk fans are patient, it is going to be awhile…a long while.
13th Eastern Conference
4th Central Division
The Bulls completely fell apart this year, and it cost head coach Fred Hoiberg his job just over two months into the season. They have a solid core of young players in Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr, Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, and Bobby Portis to build around. They jettisoned Justin Holiday and would like to do the same with Jabari Parker who is not what they hoped he would be for them, after picking him up from Milwaukee. They have gone a long way down, since the glory days of Jordan. They have lots of rebuilding and losing to do. Carry on.
New York Knicks:
14th Eastern Conference
5th Atlantic Division
The Knicks have entered a new era of rebuilding after hiring GM Scott Perry and Coach David Fizdale.. Fans were not excited with their drafting of Kevin Knox.They were able to nab Mario Hezonja from free agency. They missed out on Lebron James who stated publicly that he chose between New York and Los Angeles in the summer, and he isn’t wearing a Knicks jersey. Which is too bad for the the big apple, because he would have paired with Porzingis, and drawn stars to join him, making Madison Square Garden, a winning arena again. Something, that has happened in six years, since the Carmelo Anthony Years. But, Perry’s job will not come so easy, leaving the Knicks to play a paper house season developing youth while they wait for their star Kristaps Porzingis to heal from an ACL injury. The Knicks have some good future pieces in Tim Hardaway Jr, Frank Ntilikina, and perhaps Noah Vonleh who is having is best year in the NBA so far. They will have another pick in the lottery, perhaps the #1 after this season. This season isn’t about winning, it is about Perry figuring out what the hell he is going to do. Look for the top teams in the east to rack up wins on them like a pinball machine on a Saturday night.
15th Eastern Conference
5th Central Division
The bottom of the heap, the worst team in both the Eastern Conference and the entire NBA. Lebron James left for the Lakers after dragging them to the finals one last time. Even the self proclaimed GOAT couldn’t nearly muster what was needed to take on the Warriors. The Cavs fire head coach Tyronn Lue after a 0-6 start, less than a month into the season. Many wondered what kind of coach he would be without Lebron, and it didn’t take long to find out. The Cavs are putting their hope in oft injured big man Kevin Love and rookie Collin Sexton. They will trade the farm for assets and look for gold in the draft next summer. They will probably give up on Love in the process, maybe by the deadline, who knows. One thing is for sure, the city that was long used to losing before the days of Lebron, better get used to it again.