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They do have one all-star in Goran Dragic, who recently replaced an injured John Wall for the 2018 team. Still, the Heat have gone 30-26 without a legitimate star player like Giannis or Damian Lilliard. A team filled with role players like Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynk, and Wayne Ellington (who will be in 3 point contest, shooting 40% beyond the arc) have still managed to be within reach of the third seed Cavs with the great coaching of Erik Spoelstra. They also are fourth in defensive rating. With the addition of Heat legend Dwayne Wade at the deadline, it can certainly help the team get back to their hot streak from weeks ago.
Probably the biggest surprise from having Victor Oladipo breakout into an all-star this year to Domantas Sabonis coming as a surprise contributor to the team, the Pacers have exceeded expectations. In fairness, they have good veterans like Darren Collison, Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdonavic, and Lance Stephenson. Myles Turner hasn’t had great growth compared to his last two years, but is still a reliable player and still has the potential to be a star big man. Even if the Pacers weren’t expected to be in the playoff race, they look pretty solid considering the backlash they got from the Paul George trade and have arguably been better than last years team with PG. They are 31-25 now, but a key injury to Darren Collison can set them back a bit. Still, Oladipo has done an amazing job carrying this team to a solid record and a shot at the playoffs.
The Raptors were probably expected to be a top 3 team in the East, but many didn’t expect them to be the top seed one week before the all star break and have a new identity compared to last years team. They moved away from the ISO-based offense and have become more pass oriented. They have won five straight games, all over 10+ points, including a 111-91 win over the Celtics taking over as the number one seed in the East.
They are top 5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and have a good group of role players supporting Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. But DeRozan been the big key to the teams success, shooting the best FG% of his career and shooting a career best from three (34%). Add in his improvement on defense and playmaking, his improved play has made this Raptors team earn some respect from critics. He has played like a top 3 SG for sure and if keeps this up, the Raptors can really be threats with the Celtics and Cavaliers in the East come playoff time.
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You can never count them out, and we have seen so many times where Lebron has proved the critics wrong and carried the team on his back. Still, we can’t ignore that the East might’ve gotten better with the Celtics and Raptors being considerably better than the Cavs most of the year. But right now, the situation has gotten hectic. Following a blowout against Houston at home and another blowout against a bottom feeder Magic squad, the Cavs are only six wins ahead of the 8th seeded Sixers. Now this past Thursday, they traded Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, their own 2018 first and Jae Crowder for Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, and George Hill. The other surprise was trading Dwayne Wade for a second round pick back to Miami, completely changing the roster in just a few months. They are 5th in offensive rating, but the team is second to last in defensive rating, which has been an issue, even from last year.
They have changed this roster and rightfully so, considering the drama with Thomas and others on the roster was real. They got younger, athletic, talented role players in Hood and Clarkson, and still kept that Brooklyn pick. Also, the last three games have been promising, at least winning by a James game winner against the Wolves, blowing out the Hawks on Friday night, and a blowout win against the second seeded Celtics in Paul Pierce’s jersey retirement. You cannot count out Lebron and his ability to lead a team, but the team needs to solve their defensive woes, even with Thomas gone and hope they can play with more energy like they have last three games.
After winning eight straight, the last four games the Thunder have gone 2-5 in their last seven, due to the fact they lost their best defender in Andre Roberson for the year. They did beat Golden State by a 20 points, which is a big confidence booster, and took down the Memphis Grizzlies in their last game.
The loss of Roberson is indeed a big one, being an All-NBA defender, and is a net positive (99.2 percent defensive rating) for this team with his superior defense, despite his offensive weaknesses. They have been inconsistent all year and with all the talent they acquired in the offseason, you expected them to be better. They still can compete for the third seed and be a threat in the West, but their inconsistent play on offense needs to be fixed and team needs to add some depth by signing a Free Agent that has cleared waivers.
You could argue they weren’t the hottest team coming into the year, but many would’ve said they were going to be in the race for the 8th seed. Other than Kemba Walker and Dwight Howard, there haven’t been many bright spots for this team. Nicolas Batum is a shell of his former self from two years ago, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Frank Kaminsky have failed to take leaps, and rookie Malik Monk hasn’t shown too much as a rookie. It has been disappointing for Kemba, who really is one of the most underappreciated players in the game, and recent rumors have also surfaced in the last couple of weeks, of Kemba being rumored to be in trade talks as well. They held on to Kemba for the time being, but it will be interesting to know what will happen in the future for the franchise.
Ryan Beltran can be reached at email@example.com