The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors may be the only real threats in the East for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they’re not ready to dethrone King James
Ho hum. It’s mid-January and the Cleveland Cavaliers are once again quietly sitting on top of the Eastern Conference.
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Never mind the fact that they don’t have the best record in the league. Never mind how LeBron James is not in the MVP discussion despite an average of 25.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game. Don’t even worry about some of the Cavs’ recent losses, including the 102-86 defeat against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 11.
All that matters is that the Cleveland Cavaliers are bracing for another long playoff run. If the Cavs do get to June again, that would give James seven-straight Finals appearances.
Does anybody in the East actually have a chance of stopping that streak in 2017? Probably not. But the Raptors and the Celtics appear to be the only two teams with a chance of at least pushing the Cavs to the edge.
The Raptors, who sat in second place with a 26-13 record on Jan. 14, are certainly hungry for revenge after losing against the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. With two proven stars, solid role players and a fan base that always shows up in full force, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Raptors in a seven-game thriller with the Cavs.
Still, this year’s Eastern Conference Finals will more likely feature the Celtics and the Cavs. Especially with Isaiah Thomas having a career year, as well as Al Horford becoming more comfortable with his new team, the Celtics may have the edge over the Raptors when it comes to challenging the Cavs.
As for the rest of the Eastern Conference teams, they can only hope to limp into the playoffs and make things somewhat interesting. Atlanta, Indiana, Milwaukee, Charlotte and Washington will probably be the teams which fill up the remaining playoff spots.
Of course, that list right there is not exactly a primetime lineup. But it will be great to finally see the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, on the big stage.
The only other team that can crash the playoff party is the Detroit Pistons, featuring Andre Drummond and sharpshooter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Especially if the Hawks continue to tank for some inexplicable reason, I would expect the Pistons to grab a playoff berth.
A month ago I would have been more optimistic about the Knicks. Now that franchise is a complete disaster again. The star point guard literally went missing one night, the star forward goes missing mentally just about every night, the coach has lost complete control, and the president is out of touch with reality. Sorry, Knicks’ fans. No playoffs in 2017. Try again next year.
Speaking of dysfunctional franchises, the Chicago Bulls also get to watch the playoffs from their couch when April comes around. Sure, the Bulls are sitting in the 8th slot in mid-January. But I can see this train derailing fast in the next couple of months.
Trust me, as a Sacramento Kings fan, I’ve seen what Rajon Rondo can do to a team. I’ve seen him squabble with coaches, I’ve seen him racking up the turnovers trying to be cute, I’ve seen him jog back on defense, and I’ve certainly seen his blinding jump shot. And trading him won’t be easy.
While the Bulls still have other solid players, I don’t see them going anywhere as long as they’re surrounded by distractions.
For better or worse, the Eastern Conference will certainly have its share of drama this spring. In the end, however, it will probably be the same old story – featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and King James.