At the end of August, an 82-0 prediction for the Cavaliers was actually considered reasonable. The excitement of LeBron James returning home paired with the addition of star power forward Kevin Love, had this city going absolutely crazy. Love was in the air, and it wasn’t even Valentines Day yet.
Truthfully, us fans thought that we were simply going to waltz our way to that first seed. Not so fast. Take a look at the current Eastern Conference standings as we head into the All-Star break.
The Cavaliers, dealing with plenty of adversity, sport the 5th slot in the conference. Even so, they’re just 4 games back from the Toronto Raptors at two, 1.5 game back of the Chicago Bulls at 3, and .5 games back of Washington at four.
Barring some sort of collapse, it seems nearly impossible to catch the Hawks at number one, playing such magical Spurs-like basketball night in and night out. Truly mastering the team game. Those Hawks will definitely be a tough test come playoff time.
We’ll start with the Wizards and work our way up:
The Wizards are 33-21, just a half game ahead of the Cavaliers. They average just under 100 points a night putting them at 18th in the league. Big wins this year against the Clippers, @ Rockets, Chicago, San Antonio.
The Wizards and Cavs have split their season series so far. Both teams winning on their home floors in rather dominate fashion. The first matchup in Washington was a 91-78 Wizards win. The second in Cleveland was a 113-87 route by the Cavs. The teams play against each other next Friday in Washington to kick off the second half of the season. The two teams finish off the year in Cleveland on April 21st, a game that could have mammoth playoff seeding implications.
Team In Review:
The Wizards are led by their backcourt duo of point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal, averaging 17.4 and 15.0 points a night. If you remember Marcin Gortat from the Cavs playoff grudge matches against the Orlando Magic, well now that thug in the middle is on Washington. He’s tough down low, averaging 8.1 rebounds a night and he’ll also score just under 12.
You can’t forget veteran Paul Pierce who, throughout his years in Boston, prides himself on being a Cavaliers killer. He instills a winning mindset in these guys, while also producing on his own. Pierce clearly still has it, averaging 12.5 points per game.
The Wizards play a quick, up-tempo type of basketball and threaten to blow you out of the gym if you’re lackadaisical for even just a couple minutes of game time. This as shown by their 10-0 run in a recent failed comeback attempted against the Raptors.
However, they are definitely beatable.
Next let’s focus on the Windy City Bulls. Chicago stumbled out the gate earlier on in the season due to injury prone players. As of Feb, 17, the Bulls are 34-20 and are at the top of the Central Division.
The Bulls and Cavaliers faced off in the Wine and Gold’s 2nd game of the season. A game in which Rose left early due to injury (Of course, right…?). The Cavaliers were able to play a tough overtime game against the hero ball playing Bulls lead by Kirk Hinrich. The Cavaliers won 114-108.
In the second contest, Cleveland dominated the Bulls much easier than the first time they met. The Cavaliers had a stranglehold of the game from start to finish and won by 14. Rose struggled from the field, and Butler wasn’t able to pick up the entire slack that was left behind from Rose. The Cavaliers were lead by James who had 26 to lead the Cavaliers to a 108-94 victory and take a two game lead on their division foe.
In their latest and 3rd game between the two, the Cavaliers were upended by the Bulls for the first time this season. Although many believe that the Cavaliers were already on vacation, due to the fact this was the last game before the All-Star game, nonetheless the Cavaliers were dominated in just about every facet of the game.
Team In Review:
The Bulls are lead in scoring by their up-and-coming shooting guard Jimmy Butler. Butler recently partook in the All-Star game on Sunday for the first time of his career. Derrick Rose, forever battling ailments, has shown short flashes of stardom that was once a regularity for the star point guard this season. Joakim Noah is still a force for the Bulls, however his numbers are not up where they were the past few years.
The Bulls play the toughest of any team in the Eastern Conference, and could draw comparisons between the Memphis Grizzlies of the Western Conference. The Chicago Bulls are able to grind out wins against many teams, although their scoring capacity is much higher than the Grizzlies.
However, with injury lurking on every turn, they are beatable.
Next is the team “Up North” the Toronto Raptors.
Dealing with results that have exceeded the expectations by many for the Toronto Raptors, the Raptors are sitting pretty in 2nd place of the Eastern Conference.
Earlier on the season, the Cavs met with the Raptors on November 22. A surprise off the bench, Louis Williams scored a career high 36 to lead the Raptors to a 110-93 victory over the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers next encounter with the Raptors was in Toronto, a game in which was dominated by Tristan Thompson, was an easy victory for the Wine and Gold. The Cavaliers were able to slow down the young guards from the Raptors, and were able to contain the young big men (Holding Jonas Valanciunas to only 7 points).
In the 3rd game of the season, the Cavaliers were down almost the entire game, but were able to climb back into the game with some “Hero Ball” from LeBron. James finished with 35 points, including a go ahead 3 with not much time remaining in the ball game.
The Cavaliers play the Raptors one more time on March 4th, a game in which will have obvious playoff implications.
Team In Review:
Having a “Rebirth” last year, the Raptors are led by a young back court, and an even younger front court. With All-Star Kyle Lowry in command, the Raptors play an with an upbeat tempo, and are known to go on extensive spurts of offensive firepower. Their youngest player on the starting line-up in Jonas Valanciunas, has held down the defensive end like an anchor for the Raptors in the last three years.
After coming back down to earth from their fantastic and unexpected fast start, the Raptors have gone back to playing average ball in the Eastern Conference. With the Cavaliers new additions, they should be able to battle down low with the bigs from Toronto.
Up next is the team nobody thought we’d be talking about – The Atlanta Hawks.
Nobody on Earth would have guessed at the All-Star break that the Atlanta Hawks would have the 1st seed, and those who “knew” they would have it, didn’t think they’d have 6 1/2 game lead on 2nd place. Their big conference lead is due to their 19 game winning streak and perfect record in the month of January. The Hawks are 43-11 at the All-Star break and don’t look to be stopped in their rampage of both conferences.
Although the Atlanta Hawks have just about steamrolled every opponent they’ve faced, the first time the Wine and Gold faced off against the Hawks, the Cavaliers absolutely dominated them in every facet of the game. The Cavaliers reserves even got in on the domination. A game in which every player got to see the floor, the Cavaliers sprayed the Hawks from downtown.
The Cavaliers next two appearances against the Hawks would not be favorable. The Cavaliers next game against Atlanta was a 127-98 loss, followed by another loss with the score of 109-101.
They play their final game of their season series on March 6th.
Team In Review:
Drawing many comparisons to the San Antonio Spurs, the Hawks are lead by no true All-Star. Last month’s player of the month award was headlined by every single Hawks starter, an honor which has never been claimed by an entire starting line up.
The Hawks are lead by middle aging stars, with 4 of their 5 starting players at least 28 years old (Korver, Carroll, Millsap, Horford). A team which is obviously not known to run the ball up and down the court, instead pass around until the perfect shot is there, which mirrors the San Antonio Spurs championship-style basketball. Even without playing a fast pace, teams are known to be caught slipping and finding themselves down by 10.
Although it’s hard not to look back on the past few years of the Atlanta Hawks postseason success. It has been very limited including multiple first round exits. This Hawks team has seen very little deep playoff experience. Come playoff time, most people would have to take a more experienced foe than the Hawks.
The Cavaliers struggled to get going at the start of the season, but have started to make longer strides in terms of teamwork and chemistry. The Cavaliers are a distant 10 games behind Atlanta and don’t appear to be able to reach them. However, the Cavs seem able to grab the 2nd spot in the East and face off against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs.
Based off the games remaining in their schedules and the recent power rankings. Predictions for the Eastern Conference at the end of the season are as followed.
- Atlanta Hawks
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Toronto Raptors
- Chicago Bulls
- Washington Wizards
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Boston Celtics
- Charlotte Hornets
- Miami Heat
- Detroit Pistons
- Brooklyn Nets
- Indiana Pacers
- Orlando Magic
- Philadelphia 76ers
- New York Knicks