As an avid Toronto Raptors fan, this season has been a welcome surprise. The Raptors have exceeded expectations and currently rest on top of the Eastern Conference, four games ahead of second-place Boston.
Though the top eight teams are pretty much set barring complete catastrophe, the seedings are still up for grabs.
The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers were tipped as favorites in the east before the season started. However, after the turmoil the Cavaliers have experienced this season, combined with Gordon Hayward’s horrific injury and Toronto’s unprecedented bench success, this has changed.
The Raptors and Celtics are the teams to beat, even with Cleveland’s LeBron factor. Both teams have, at times, played excellent basketball and deserve the favoritism. The Celtics' young core early on in the season looked fantastic and the Raptors' bench has looked like a top-eight seed all by themselves. However, the big questions surrounding both teams still remain: can Kyrie Irving lead a young team deep into the playoffs without LeBron? And, can the Toronto Raptors carry their regular-season success into a convincing postseason run?
Touted as the team to beat going into the season and still thought of that way by some, the Cavaliers' season could not have been predicted. An overhaul of the roster on trade deadline day after some lacklustre performances meant the Cavaliers are playing with a starkly different team than they entered the season with.
The injury to Kevin Love has hampered an efficient mesh and integration of the new players coming in but when a team has James at the helm, they always have a fighting chance and can never be overlooked. Assuming they finish in third, which looks like a tough ask with the Cavaliers currently sitting in fourth, they would face Boston in the second round. It’ll be a great series but I can see Cleveland coming out as victors. With LeBron playing some of his best basketball to date, he’s going to need to play like an MVP every single night to give his team a chance of progressing beyond the second round, but that's just what he does.
The rest of the Eastern Conference looks set in terms of who will make the postseason. But at the same time, it looks a complete mess in terms of who will end up in which seed. The Indiana Pacers have exceeded expectations and currently sit third, half a game ahead of Cleveland, while the Detroit Pistons and the Charlotte Hornets have under achieved, both sitting outside the playoffs with nothing short of a miracle needed to bring them back into the mix.
The young Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat have all had good seasons. All three currently sit within the playoffs, with Milwaukee probably having the best chance to go beyond the opening round with help from their superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Ben Simmons and the Sixers have played some incredible basketball this year considering he’s still a rookie but their inexperience could prove costly come the postseason. Miami, on the other hand, seem to be playing great basketball without having a superstar.
The Wizards, meanwhile, have a record of 38-30 at the time of writing and boast a dominant backcourt duo that has been hampered by injury this season. With John Wall expected to come back before the playoffs begin, the Wizards could be one to watch. They have a team that has the gifts of consistency and experience as most of their roster has been with the team in their recent playoff appearances. Along with Washington, Indiana also show a strong record against teams over .500 which could prove crucial come playoff time.
By far the most dangerous and controversial part of the article but also the most fun is the predictions, so let's speculate the risers and fallers come the postseason. If the standings stay nearly as they are, I can see Toronto meeting Cleveland in the conference finals yet again with Boston falling to Cleveland earlier and the Pacers losing to the Raptors in the other conference semi.
The challenge for the Wizards could be meeting Cleveland in the first round which, if LeBron has anything to do with it, would be quite the mission. Inexperience and youth in the cases of the Sixers and the Bucks, and a lack of a superstar in the Heat camp will constrain these teams to the opening round.
The Indiana Pacers are a team that are not being talked about enough considering their record, their record against above .500 teams and the rise of Victor Oladipo. If you’re a casual NBA fan and want to support a team that probably won’t falter in the opening round and is fun to watch, try the Pacers.
Who reaches the NBA Finals from the east? Comment below!