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Underestimating The NBA Eastern Conference Again

The annual woe-is-me calls are emanating from your favorite NBA analysts, if only my team was in the NBA East.  First, get over it.  Second, injuries screwed up the Eastern Conference this season, but once the teams began to adjust, there was nothing to apologize for.  Outside of the Atlanta Hawks inability to deal with losing All-Star center Al Horford for the season, injuries to the Knicks and Detroit’s inability to find anything resembling team chemistry, there’s been nothing wrong with the top eight teams in the East.

Sorry, Minnesota, but you can’t be under .500 in your own conference, division and lose critical games to Eastern Conference teams during your recent home stand and expect any sympathy and one team in the West that deserves to be playoff team is going to miss out – that’s life, it isn’t always fair.

The top 4 in the West are tough, as tough as the top 2 in the East, but since those other soon to be Eastern Conference playoff teams (minus the eighth seed) made their mid-season adjustments, they have just as just as good , if not better than, the next 5 in the West.

Brooklyn Nets 32-30, 6th place, current run 22-9

The Nets lost Brook Lopez early on and injuries to Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko hurt their start badly, but in 2014, they are winning 71 percent of their games and that’s pretty much what was expected if the season hadn’t started out so poorly.  The Nets are 9th best in points allowed this season and 14-11 versus the West.  They won’t win 50 games and it might be too late for them to win the Atlantic Division, but any team that disrespects this group of proven All-Stars does so at their own peril.

Chicago Bulls 35-28, 4th place, current run 26-12

Head Coach Tom Thibodeau has a lot of respect around the league and his team’s number 1 ranked defense should put a scare into any playoff contender no matter what their record says.  The Bulls lost Derrick Rose for the season after 10 games and traded their leading scorer Luol Deng for luxury tax relief at the beginning of January, but instead of falling apart, they pulled together and got better.  Since December 19, the Bulls have won 68.4 percent of their games and that’s nothing to gripe about.

Toronto Raptors 35-27, 3rd place, current run 28-14

Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri’s mantra this season was he would let the players determine what he would do next.  A 6-12 start that meant Rudy Gay was gone and he’d try something else.  It worked.  Since the 4 players the Raptors got back from the Kings arrived, Toronto has won 66.7 percent of their games and that’s at a rate no one saw coming.  The winning isn’t by accident, Head Coach Dwane Casey’s players are giving up the 4th fewest points allowed in the NBA and they have a winning record against the Western Conference.  The Raptors had the talent to be a playoff team in October, but the chemistry just wasn’t there, now the chemistry has everyone scratching their heads and wondering if this could become the best season in the franchise’s history.

Charlotte Bobcats 30-34, 7th place, current run 15-11

The Bobcats weren’t supposed to be here.  The signing of Al Jefferson aside, they were too young and inexperienced to win this season.  Apparently someone forgot to tell Kemba Walker as the Bobcats prized point guard is finally starting to show those clutch leadership skills that made him famous in college.  In a recurring Eastern Conference theme, the Bobcats allow the 5th fewest points in the league.  They might be offensively challenged, but good luck trying to score on this group.  Charlotte has won 57.6 percent of their games since January 11th and that’s good enough to challenge for a playoff spot in either conference.

Washington Wizards 33-30, 5th place, current run 31-23

After a 2-7 start, the Wizards have hung around the .500 mark for most of the season only to finally break through and stay above it recently.  Winning 57 percent of their games after the first 9 is a reasonable level for a playoff team.  Kind of reminds one of a decent 8th place team in the West.  The Wizards are 12th for points allowed.

Atlanta Hawks 27-35, 8th place, current run 2-14

The Hawks were 4 games above .500 just a few days after Horford was lost for the season at the end of December and by some miracle, they were still 4 games above .500 on February 1st.  However, backup center Pero Antic missed over 6 weeks after January 23rd and their other center Gustavo Ayon was lost for the season on February 19th.  The collapse of the Hawks is understandable, they were expected to be a .500 club with everyone available.  The inability of the Pistons, Knicks or Cavaliers to take advantage of the situation is the bigger mystery here.

If you were wondering if the East had the weakest final 6 playoff seeds in living memory, you need to check the record books a little closer:

2009 Atlanta 4th, 47 wins
2008 Cleveland 4th, 45 wins
2007 Toronto 3rd, 47 wins
2006 Denver 3rd, 44 wins
2005 Boston 3rd, 45 wins
2004 Miami 4th, 42 wins

Those records didn’t ruin the NBA playoffs and similar finishes in the East this year won’t ruin these playoffs either.

The current Eastern Conference playoff seeds 3-7 hold down the number 1, 4, 5, 9 and 12 spots for the fewest points allowed in the NBA.  They don’t have the offensive flash of their Western Conference counterparts, but isn’t the analogy, scoring can win in the regular season, but defense wins in the playoffs.  Play on.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

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