Parity in East makes for exciting finish
By Andrew Deichert
Cavaliers stand atop East – Celtics, Wizards not far behind
LeBron James, along with fellow All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have propelled the defending champion Cavaliers to a first place 39-16 record heading into the All-Star Break.
However, Kevin Love’s Feb. 11 knee injury against the Denver Nuggets is a key concern. The Cavaliers announced three days later that Love underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and would be out for six weeks. The Celtics currently sit in second place at 37-20 and are only three games behind the Cavaliers.
The main source of success for Boston has come in the form of 5’9” point guard Isaiah Thomas. The two-time All-Star has dominated this year as he is currently second in the NBA in points per game with 29.8, only trailing Russell Westbrook (31.2).
The Wizards were not able to win many early games as the Cavaliers and Celtics did. The team started off a paltry 13-16 heading into Christmas.
Since then, the Wizards have gone 21-5 to vault into the third seed behind their star backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Middle of the pack
Three current teams – the Raptors, Hawks and Pacers are comfortably in playoff position as the four through six seeds in the conference.
The Hawks and Pacers have had quiet but solid seasons to this point behind their respective stars in Paul Millsap (Hawks) and Paul George (Pacers.)
The Raptors are not as dominant as they were last season, but their Feb. 14 trade acquisition of Serge Ibaka should improve their team coming out of the break.
Heat go streaking into All-Star Break
The Heat are on a roll as they have won 14 of their last 16 games. The team has climbed from the cellar of the Eastern Conference and now stands just two games out of playoff contention.
Contributions from the NBA’s leading rebounder Hassan Whiteside and starting point guard Goran Dragic have helped keep the Heat in the mix.
The battle for final two playoff spots
The Bulls and Pistons hold the seventh and eighth seeds in the East but there are five teams – Bucks, Hornets, Heat, Knicks and 76ers – within five games of those final positions.
Inconsistent play from all of these teams will make for an interesting finish in the conference. The Magic and Nets round out the East and appear to be completely out of playoff contention with an eye towards the 2017-18 season.