Eastern Conference Shakedown
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Eastern Conference Shakedown

The NBA's Eastern Conference has seen quite a resurgence this season, shaking off the negative connotation of being a complete dumpster fire, but what teams can be identified as true contenders when it comes time for the playoffs and making a run up against the Golden State Warriors?

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Eastern Conference Shakedown
via Behind the Bucks

Pretenders

First off, let us separate the real from the fake. Some teams in the conference have the ability to put together a solid regular season and cement themselves in the playoff race, but have no real shot of making anything substantial happen in the post-season. Let us identify them.

Indiana Pacers

via SI

Victor Oladipo might just be the best two way player in basketball outside of Kawhi Leonard, but one man can only take a team so far. Other key figures on this team include Myles Turner, who still has yet to figure out that jumpshot, and Domantas Sabonis, who has shown great improvement in his third season in the league. The Pacers also rely on Tyreke Evans to provide scoring off of the bench when Oladipo checks out, as he is putting up 11 PPG on 40% from the field and 40% from three, a dip from last year's numbers. The Pacers possess some depth throughout their roster but lack the star power necessary to compete with the top teams in the East. Victor Oladipo may be a star in Indiana but he alone is not cutting it against other Eastern Conference teams who boast two to three All-Stars on their roster. Look for the Pacers to possibly make some noise at the trade deadline to change this narrative.

Milwaukee Bucks

via Land Express

You read it here first. As of right now, Milwaukee is a pretender. The Bucks look great right now and it has been a joy to see new head coach Mike Budenholzer finally surround Giannis Antetokounmpo with shooters in order to space the floor, but they do not have the firepower to match the likes of the upper echelon teams in the Eastern Conference come playoff time. While Eric Bledsoe has seen a significant dip in his usage rates from previous years, his shooting percentages have seen an uptick as has guard Khris Middleton's. The Bucks are spacing the floor, shooting the three ball, giving Giannis room to operate at a level he has not previously had, and it is working. The only problem is the Bucks lack the depth needed to withstand a grueling eighty-two regular game season and a lengthy post-season run. Key bench guys such as Matthew Dellavedova, Pat Connaughton, and Ersan Ilaysova are not matching up favorably against other teams in the Eastern Conference who possess more depth down the roster. The Bucks are one or two keys role players away from being a championship contender.

Contenders

The heavyweights. The teams that are for real. Rosters that are made to compete and contend when it comes time for the playoffs. Those that have a legitimate shot at running the table all the way to the NBA Finals to lose to the Golden State Warriors in five games. Let us begin.

Toronto Raptors

via SI

The Raptors might just be the best team in basketball to begin the season. Kawhi Leonard has returned in a big way. Kyle Lowry remains a steady presence at the point. The Raptors still boast one of the deepest rosters in the league as well with key role players such as Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Jonas Valanciunas, and OG Anunoby providing valuable minutes off the bench. A deep and talented roster has allowed HC Nick Nurse to put together multiple different starting lineups, the most combinations in the league this year, allowing for diversification and much needed rest for the squad. With the guiding hand of Kawhi, a deep roster, and an innovative new head coach the Raptors look poised for the one seed in the East and since the owner of the Raptors has relocated to the Los Angeles Lakers, a path for this team to the Finals has seemingly and finally opened up.

Boston Celtics

via HH

Yet another team that boasts an incredibly deep and talented roster with the likes of Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Aron Baynes, and Marcus Morris off the bench, the Boston Celtics have the potential to challenge Toronto for the one seed in the East if they would like to. Stars such as Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford still anchor the starting lineup while HC Brad Stevens remains one of the best tactical minds in the league. The only pitfall of this year's Boston team is Gordon Hayward and his inability to fully return from his season-ending injury of last year. Hayward has struggled to regain his overall feel for the game and lacks the ability to adapt to the rhythm and pace on the court. While Hayward tries to regain his standing, the Celtics look to put cruise control on through the regular season and turn it up once the playoffs come around.

Philadelphia 76ers

via USA Today

Perhaps the most susceptible to an early round upset come playoff time, the Sixers do boast an All-Star trio of Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons in their starting five while lacking some quality depth further down the roster. Markelle Fultz has continued to struggle to return to his days of college glory while JJ Redick can only shoot the three ball so many times in a game. Coach Brett Brown often times looks clueless in trying to find a healthy way to stager minutes between his stars. The Sixers lack the shooting needed to space the floor around jumpshot allergic Simmons and seven foot Embiid so look for them to be active up until the deadline in trying to remedy this issue (i.e. Kyle Korver, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope).

written and edited by Jack Kurtz

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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