Now that all the fun of the All-Star weekend is behind us, it’s time to get back down to business.
From the outset, it’s become dauntingly obvious that a repeat of last year’s NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors is likely to reoccur this April. With the Warriors growing into a near impenetrable force, all eyes are on the Cavs in the East. With a record standing at 39-16 thus far, the likes of the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, and the Toronto Raptors aren’t too far behind. Breathing down the neck of the reigning champs, waiting on any slight slip-up with baited breath.
Who Are The Biggest Threats To The Cavs In The East
With the news emerging from Cleveland on Valentine’s Day that Kevin Love would miss up to six weeks after knee surgery, the impossible became slightly more plausible. The Cavs first seed regular season finish may be in jeopardy.
With the Cavaliers significantly weakened, now is as best chance as any for the competition to challenge the frontrunner. But what franchise are in the best position to lodge a legitimate challenge against the Cavaliers in the East?
Arguably the most potent threat to Cleveland in the conference, the Celtics boast a roster chocked full of talent and potential.
With Isaiah Thomas playing the best basketball of his career, the Celtics look set to claim the second seed, perching three games behind the Cavs. The 28-year-old point guard is having a career-high season in points per game, field goal percentage, free-throw percentage and a career joint-high assists per game, and doesn’t look like slowing down yet. Despite being an incredibly undersized guard at the slim heights of 5ft 9in, Thomas acts as a fruitfully successful pivot of the Celtics offense, averaging just shy of 30 points a game. As well as this, Thomas is beginning to forge a reputation as that guy you want in clutch situations. During a 5-game winning run through the 25th January to the 1st February, Thomas averaged 16 points a game in the 4th quarter alone. That’s right, you read that correctly. Sixteen.
As well as Thomas, the Celtics have an abundance of talent and depth at their disposal. And with a valuable first round pick in the 2017 Draft, they’re in the fortunate position to haggle some incredibly lucrative drafts. At this stage in time, another point guard like Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball is an asset they simply don’t need. Boston look set for the future and with depth across the whole court, the Cavaliers should be warily looking over their shoulder not just this season, but for seasons to come.
The Washington Wizards have emerged as one of the surprise packages of the season.
With one of the best backcourts in the entire Eastern Conference in Bradley Beal and John Wall, the Wizards have found their winning formula after a dismally average start to the season. Averaging over 45 points a game between them, the duo is currently enjoying career-high seasons in PPG. And, more noticeably, Wall is beginning to cement his reputation as a top tier point with each passing game. Wall acts as a brilliant advert for consistency, averaging a third successive double-double in points and rebounds on the season. With Wall and Beal, Washington has a brilliant backcourt to build around.
Another key component in the Wizards offense comes from an unsuspecting individual; Otto Porter Jr. The third-year forward is currently averaging a career-high 14.6 points per game, as well as several other sturdy numbers across the board. On top of this, Porter’s shooting with robust efficiency from the field. The former Georgetown 3 is currently leading the league in three-point percentage at a 46.5% clip. But Porter isn’t just relying on the magic maneuvers of Wall to open up free corner jumpers for him, his shots have been from all over the court, with most of his 3-pointers coming from nearer the key than the corner.
The only problem that arises with the Wizards resides with their second unit. With a distinct lack of enough palpable scorers, if injury comes calling to one of their starters, the Wizards would be immediately shortchanged. If they can utilize the draft and/or the impending free agency in the Summer beneficially, the Wizards will become real contenders.
Without trying to put a downer on the whole situation, Serge Ibaka won’t change the fortunes of the Raptors immediately. Although, the Raptors enjoyed a fruitfully successful past month in regard to trade, offloading the essential deadwood in Terrence Ross and Jared Sullinger, replacing them with shiny new pieces. So, the Raps time may be approaching quicker than first thought.
As well as Ibaka, the Raps boast a wealth of talent, including the formidable backcourt pairing of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan, who started the season with a Midas touch, suffered an injury setback earlier this season which severely impacted their form. This just goes to show that one just can’t perform without the other, and if the Raptors are unlucky enough to sustain an injury to one of these two guards, their chances are ultimately gone.
However, with Ibaka, Toronto now have an accomplished stretch-four as well as an efficient rim protector. With this trade, they now have quality in every position across the court. After acquiring P.J. Tucker at the deadline, the Raptors jigsaw is close to completion, these bold moves make a statement to the rest of the Conference. They’re no joke.
The Last Word
All in all, the race to meet the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals is starting to really heat up. It may even go down to which way the coin drops on the final night. Either way, the race for that elusive ECF spot is something you won’t want to miss.
Have your say on who the biggest threats are to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference by voting in the above poll.