NBA Eastern Conference Surprises

Spread the love

The NBA is past its halfway mark, with each team having played at least 42 games. At this point you can start to believe that teams are what their record shows. The body of work is large enough that opinions can be solidified. One of the biggest stories so far this season has been the Eastern Conference surprises, both good and bad. Teams like Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Miami, and Philadelphia are all about where one would expect them, fighting near the top of the standings. The rest of the conference does not look as predicted both with teams that are fighting for playoff spots and those who are not living up to expectations.

NBA Eastern Conference Surprises

NBA All-Star weekend is just a month away. The season is reaching the point where playoff positioning becomes more and more the focus each game. One of the bigger Eastern Conference surprises so far is just how deep this half of the NBA has become. For a large portion of the last 20 years, the East has always been a step below the West in terms of competition. That is no longer the case. There are currently 11 teams in the East with a .500 of better record. This will make the push towards the playoffs very intriguing, with just four games separating fifth through 11th in the standings.

Positive Returns

Despite the Nets, Bucks, Heat and Sixers all playing well, the leaders in the East are the Chicago Bulls. There were expectations for this franchise to take a step forward this season, but no one saw them playing at this high of a level. The additions of DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball have buoyed this team to the top of the standings. DeRozan is averaging his second highest points per game in his career and has made a habit of hitting clutch shots late in games. Ball is flourishing in his first season in the Windy City. He is playing like and NBA All-Defensive team member and has raised his shooting percentages from the floor and behind the arc. Zach LaVine is also playing at an All-Star level. This year he just happens to be doing it on a winning team.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are most notable other Eastern Conference surprise. This young team started the season hot and have shown staying power despite losing key guys to injuries. The inside-out duo of Darius Garland and Evan Mobley is growing into a force to be reckoned with. Garland is one of the many young start guards currently shining in the league. Mobley seems to improve with every outing. He has the length, size, and skill that make him a unique prospect moving forward. Kevin Love, Jarrett Allen, and Lauri Markkanen help the rookie anchor the frontcourt. Their biggest question is whether the losses of Ricky Rubio and Collin Sexton to injury will put too much of a burden on Garland.

Not Where They Thought

On the other end of the spectrum sits the Atlanta Hawks. Last summer they were upsetting the 76ers in the second round before battling eventual champion Milwaukee in the conference finals. They have fallen back to earth this season, sitting in 12th in the East and four games back of the last playoff spot. They beat the Bucks on Monday to end a dreadful 10 game home losing streak. Poor defense has been their main issue. They sit 25th or lower in the league in opponents’ points per game, field goal, and three-point percentage. Seven games under .500 after 42 contests is not where this team thought it would be.

The New York Knicks and Boston Celtics are also both outside the playoff picture in the East as things stand. They are not losing at the same rate as the Hawks, but neither of them can seem to build any sustained momentum. The Knicks are a half game behind the Celtics for the last play-in spot, but only two games behind seventh place Charlotte in congested East. There is still a long way to go, but for three teams that were among the top six seed last summer, the pressure to rack up wins is mounting.

Main Image: Embed from Getty Images