NBA Eastern Conference Midseason Review

As we fly by the NBA’s midseason point, we wanted to check the pulse on each team in the league. Today, we start with  the Eastern Conference. Click here to see the Western Conference.

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics – After a slow start, the C’s are finally rolling like we all expected. Boston is now locked into the 3 seed in the East, and I don’t see that changing the rest of the year. The top reason for their success? Look no further than Isaiah Thomas. The last pick in the 2011 draft is now averaging just under 29(!) points per game. He is getting buckets whenever he wants and has become the crunchtime option they desperately needed. Throw in a finally healthy Al Horford and Brad Stephens ability to get the most out of the roles players, and you have a team that can potentially make a run to the Conference Finals in the East. – Nick Bair

Brooklyn Nets – I’m not sure what you can say about this Brooklyn team hasn’t already been said about the Cleveland Browns. At least with the Browns they have a whole stockpile of draft picks whereas the Nets by my calculations will not have their own first round pick until Jay-Z is eligible for social security. Sean Kilpatrick has been a nice surprise for the Nets, but I’m not even sure Kilpatrick would be a rotation player on a playoff team. – Randy Haines

New York Knicks – The Knicks just can’t help themselves from being the Knicks. Before the season started, the signings of Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose seemed dubious at best. Well, the Knicks have gotten exactly what you’d expect. Noah has been oft injured and looks like he is 31 going on 61 years old. His contract is already an albatross, especially with the opportunity cost of giving up Robin Lopez, who is younger, healthier, and does the same thing. Rose has been his own kind of screw up. First, he dominates the ball and doesn’t facilitate offensive studs KP and Melo. If that wasn’t bad enough, he straight up disappeared before a game. Only the Knicks can find ways like this to make news. Meanwhile, Melo looks discouraged as the Knicks keep slumping and could be looking for a trade by February. But hey, at least you still have the Latvian Gangbanger for the foreseeable future. – NB

Philadelphia 76ers – Trust. The. ******. Process. Joel Embiid is an absolute monster and deserves to be an All Star this season. Everything about Embiid is just amazing. His game along with his on and off court personality, he really is a joy to watch. The rest of the Sixers are quietly solid, Robert Covington does a lot of different things, Dario Saric still has a way to go, but has shown flashes and Sergio Rodriguez is back in the league doing real things for this team. All that and we still haven’t seen number one overall pick Ben Simmons yet. The downside? RIP to Jahlil Okafor’s trade value and possibly his career. – RH

Toronto Raptors – The Drakes are sitting comfortably at second in the East, two games behind Cleveland and two games ahead of the Celtics as of January 23rd. They would be in an even better position if not for a recent three game losing streak, most recently to the hot mess Phoenix Suns. Regardless, it’s always hard to take too much away from middle of the season performances, even to bad teams. Toronto should be fine barring a complete collapse in the back half of the season and are likely to fight it out with the Celtics for the number two overall seed. With DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, they have two stars who can likely carry them to the Eastern Conference Championship, but they still aren’t a team built to overcome LeBron, Kyrie, and Love. Outside of adding a piece before the trade deadline, Canada’s darling is going to have to settle for close-but-not-quite. – Jordan Curet

Central Division

Chicago Bulls – The good news: Jimmy Butler is an absolute stud. He has been carrying this team and is well deserving of starting in the All Star game for the Eastern Conference. The bad news: The team around him has been mediocre at best. Dwyane Wade started hot, but has cooled off a bit and the Rajon Rondo signing has been a complete failure. Now the Bulls have to decide if they want to blow it all up and trade Butler (I wouldn’t recommend it), or try to get incrementally better. There are also some rumors that Wade could be talking Chris Bosh into a possible comeback for the Bulls. If Bosh is fully healthy, that would be a game changer. Otherwise, the Bulls will either miss the playoffs or lose in the first round. – NB

Cleveland Cavaliers – Little to no drama this season for a LeBron led team means that the Cavaliers are not only playing great basketball but have retained the team chemistry they found late last year. This is far and away the best team in the East, especially when Kyrie and LeBron are both cookin’. Although they did recently drop games to both the Spurs and the Warriors, they’ll only have to face one or the other in the playoffs and over seven games Cleveland will have their opportunities. The addition of Kyle Korver from the Hawks was a great move, one that will more than make up for JR Smith’s absence. It might also be the biggest trade this season. The most glaring potential issue for the Cavs is their middling defensive stats, but everyone knows by now that this team reserves an extra gear for the postseason. Given that, we may just want to fast forward to the Championship. – JC

Detroit Pistons – The Pistons are a weird team that can look really good one night and just awful the next. Getting Reggie Jackson back has helped stabilize their offense, but they will still be lucky to get higher than the eighth seed the way things are currently going. On the brightside, Andre Drummond’s free throw percentage is up to 43%!! Real improvement after shooting below 40% each of the last two seasons. I also cannot decide how much of that last sentence was sarcasm and how much was actual excitement for the big guy. In other Pistons news, the Boban contract was a complete and total bust which I think everyone including the Pistons saw coming. – RH

Indiana Pacers – Indiana got off to a really slow start and disappointed people such as myself who thought they could crack the top four in the East this year. They have started to play better lately recently winning 7 of 8 in early January. The pieces they added in the offseason still do not quite fit, Paul George doesn’t really seem happy and Monta Ellis is really trying to become the least efficient player in the league this season. George, Jeff Teague and the emerging Myles Turner will be enough to get this team to the playoffs, but the preseason hope appears to be a distant memory. – RH

Milwaukee Bucks – The Young Bucks, everybody! Despite a recent five game losing streak, mostly to bad teams, this is an exciting roster. Giannis Antetokounmpo aka the Greek Freak is the talk of the league and has deservedly been rewarded with a starting spot in the All Star game. His length, athleticism and ability to play point guard will always create headaches for opposing teams. More importantly, their games against the Cavaliers this season has given us a peek into the near future where the East is actually up for grabs by some new faces. In addition to Giannis, Jabari Parker and Malcolm Brogdon have represented the ACC well with their outstanding play this season. The trick now is for them to string together a few wins and not play down to the level of their lesser opponents, an easy trap for young teams. Assuming they do and that they make the playoffs (currently two games back from the eight seed), this will be a first round nightmare for one of the top four teams. – JC

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks – Here’s a weird coincidence: since rumors broke January 5th about Kyle Korver being traded (which then occurred January 7th), the Hawks have won seven of nine and now sit fourth overall in the East. It would be irresponsible to not point out Atlanta also won the four games immediately before the rumors as well, but their form clearly has not suffered losing their sharpshooter. One reason? The play of Tim Hardaway Jr. who for the month of January is shooting over 50% overall and 46% from three, averaging fifteen points and nearly three boards a game. That’s a nice piece for the Hawks going forward if he can sustain something near that level. Despite the good feelings, any of the Cavs, Celtics, or Toronto can handle Atlanta in the playoffs and Paul Millsap isn’t getting any younger. Seems like whatever small window they may have had has passed. And throwing a lot of money at Dwight Howard, even with his serviceable play, make it harder to build going forward. – JC

Charlotte Hornets – Charlotte is in an interesting position when viewed from a wide lens. This season, they have a competitive basketball roster and are currently sixth in the East, likely headed for one of the bottom four playoff seeds. Their defensive rating is nearly top five in the league but remain a middle-of-the-pack offense. In the long run, though, they are a team without a superstar, despite Kemba Walker showing some of that ability in small spurts. By continuing to make the playoffs and stay competitive without tanking, the Hornets will find a superstar hard to come by. They don’t reside in a destination city and their roster fails to elicit the kind of excitement a superstar free agent looking for a title run desires. From that perspective, it’s hard to see what the long term plan is, given Charlotte is going to be road kill for one of the top four seeds in the East. – JC  

Miami Heat – For Pat Riley, it’s time for tank mode. The Heat have fallen on some hard times this season, but I don’t expect them to be bad for very long. The Winslow injury is a real set back, but the Heat can make some noise at the trade deadline. I really think they will trade Dragic for either another good piece or draft picks. Throw that in with the possible Top 5 pick and Miami will have this year in a loaded draft (and young studs in Whiteside and Winslow), and the Heat could be back contending in no time. I’m sure Riley has a plan, but our old friend Dion Waiters might have his own plan as well… – NB

Orlando Magic – Are the Magic the most irrelevant team in the league? I can barely remember one game they have played all season. They aren’t good enough to fight for a playoff spot, but they also aren’t bad enough to give themselves a good chance at top lottery pick. They just stay stuck in no man’s land. Despite adding Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, their defense isn’t all that great. And their offense isn’t exactly revolutionizing the game either. It wouldn’t surprise me if they traded Ibaka before the deadline, they have to do something right? – NB

Washington Wizards – I have to be completely honest with the readers, I gave up on the Wizards in early December after they got off to a horrendous start and it appeared as if they only had 6 actual NBA players on the roster. Fast forward a month and a half and I have bought back in! Now they still probably only have 6 NBA players on the roster, but they are 6 really good players who play well with each other. John Wall is playing at an MVP level and there’s an argument to be made that he is now a top three point guard in the league. As I am typing this Otto Porter currently leads the entire league in 3 point shooting percentage and the hashtag #futuremax was actually used in reference to Otto this past week. I am not entirely sure how all of this has happened, but I do know that Wall’s play has a lot to do with it. A top four seed in the East is in play for the Wizards as long as their real NBA players stay healthy. – RH

-Nick Bair, Jordan Curet & Randy Haines

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