Throughout the 1st half of the season, up until the All-Star break, nobody even thought about anyone getting close to the Cavs. Now, the murmurs have started about if, how, and why there may be a little more competition in the East.
I was a firm believer that there was, and still is, a direct red carpet to the Finals. Although I think that the Cavs will be movin’ through the Playoffs, the recent month has been making people think twice about the ease that will be going through the Playoffs.
There is no question that the Western Conference will be tough for whichever team decides to make is through to the Finals, to face their Eastern Conference foe. But the East?? There was no question that the Cavs were the team to run the conference.
It’s no question that the Cavs have struggled this month. I mean they have gone 6-8 in the month of January. The rest is the top-tier teams in the East have been playing some of their best basketball. Raptors, Washington, and most importantly, Boston. The 1-4 seeds in the East right now are only 4.5 games out of 1st place. That does not leave much room for error post All-Star Game. Just to put this in perspective, 1-4 seeds in the Western Conference are 11 games difference. What does this show? The East is a lot closer than people think at this point in the season.
The team that has surprised everyone from the start has to be the Boston Celtics. Nobody, including the Celtics front office, thought that it and the rest of the team would be playing this well halfway through the season and competing within 3 games of the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Thomas has proven why he is an All-Star and can do nothing but score in the 4th, when the game is on the line. Time after time the underrated PG has shown that he can lead a team to victory night in and night out. Not to mention that great play of some role-playing guys like Marcus Smart, Joe Crowder, and Avery Bradley. Add in the free agent signing and great play recently of Al Horford, and you have yourself a solid group. The increased minutes of draftee and rookie Jaylen Brown has also brought an added mix of athleticism to the Boston Celtics that they haven’t had in recent years.
Now, for the Washington Wizards. Are you serious?! Hell, nobody in the league, analysts, or experts predicted this one. The Wizards are tied for 3rd in the East and NOBODY thought this one. John Wall and Bradley Beal have been playing exceptional basketball and have been on quite a streak leading up to the All-Star break. In my opinion, a lot of this has to do with the experience of head coach Scott Brooks. He led a great group of Thunder players to the NBA Finals and successful seasons before being fired, due to their tough losses in the Playoffs to Western Conference foes. Add in the great play right now of the Wizards with the lack of depth from top to bottom of the East, and you have a recipe for a team who gets hot at the right time to be playing as a top 3 seed in the East come Playoff time.
The recent LeBron statements are showing why the East is a little closer than people think. It is no question that they are adjusting to the recent acquisition of Kyle Korver and are looking to add more fire power. There are talks of some trades for Melo, private workouts with veteran PGs. All of this is ensuring that the Cavs have the most to go into the Playoffs, should they need the help prior to the Finals. My thoughts? There will be another move made by Cleveland to get a backup veteran PG and solidify the second unit. The other thing that I do believe is that Boston and the 3rd place team will make this route to the Finals a little more difficult than we all predicted earlier in the season.
With all of these teams within the hung, there is no telling who will be 2-5 seeds come the end of the regular season. This will be a large reason why the Cavs will need to get back on track and extend the lead in the East as much as they can. Should they slip up and not have home court advantage through the Eastern Conference Playoffs, this could spell trouble. Ty Lue and the gang need to make sure that they keep whatever difficulties they have, they are short lived and do not last very long. The other teams are much closer than anticipated.
There is not question that I think the Cavs will be the top team in the East. All I am saying is that the East is far closer than we all thought at the beginning of the year. If you ask me, the Celtics are gonna make sure that they do everything they can to disrupt the pre-season predictions that everyone made for the East and for the Playoffs. Look out, IT4 and the gang are on the rise and they don’t plan on descending any time soon.