The East: Up for Grabs

We all know that the the Warriors will almost definitely represent the West in the NBA Finals in June (and probably win.) But who will oppose the mighty Warriors? I rank my top 5 competitors for the East crown.

5. Boston Celtics: Boston is certainly a team on the rise. Led by All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, the Celts have a record of 38-26, tied for third in the East. Thomas has had a good season, averaging 21.4 points and 6.6 assists a game. Thomas, who was traded to Boston from Phoenix last year, was a vital part in their unlikely run to the playoffs. He is getting help from power forward Jared Sullinger and centers Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller. Plus, their head coach is Brad Stevens, who took Butler University-that’s not a typo-to the NCAA title game. Now the test is whether they can beat Miami or Chicago in the first round. CELTICS TO WATCH:

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Marcus Smart

 

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Isaiah Thomas

 

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Jared Sullinger

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Kelly Olynyk

4. Atlanta Hawks: At 35-28, the Hawks probably shouldn’t be on this list. But in an East that only has 2 teams above .600, anything can happen. Atlanta is led by power forward Paul Millsap, who received his 3rd straight All-Star nod, forward-center Al Horford, and point guard Jeff Teague. The bench is led by reserve point guard Dennis Schroder and guard-forward Kent Baezmore. Atlanta has had an up-and-down year, aside from two lengthy win streaks. But with the reigning Coach of the Year in Mike Budenholzer, anything can happen. Expect Atlanta to be the 4 or 5 seed. . HAWKS TO WATCH:

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Jeff Teague

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Paul Millsap

 

 

 

 

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Al Horford

 

 

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Kent Baezmore

 

3. Miami Heat: Miami made the Finals 4 years in a row. Then LeBron left, and Miami missed the playoffs. This year, led by All-Stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and point guard Goran Dragic, has surged in 2015-16. At 37-26, Miami is just a few wins away from matching last year’s total of 37-45. Coach Erik Spoelstra, who is in his 8th year as head coach, has led the team to the playoffs in all but one of seven years. Another rising star to watch is center Hassan Whiteside. The bench is lead by shooting guard Gerald Green and vet A’mare Stoudamire. Miami might not have LeBron anymore, but they have lots of talent. Expect them to win the Southeast.

HEAT TO WATCH:

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Dwyane Wade

 

 

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Chris Bosh

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Goran Dragic

 

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Hassan Whiteside

2. Toronto Raptors: Toronto has emerged as a powerhouse in the East. Although their lead in the Atlantic Division has been slimmer than we thought, the Raptors have been playing fantastic. Led by the dynamic backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Toronto has jumped out to a 41-20 record, good for second in the East. Other significant players on Toronto’s roster are swingman Terrance Ross, small forward DeMarre Carroll, and center Jonas Valanciunas.. In franchise history, Toronto has won only one playoff series. In the last two years, Toronto was a good team, but they only won the Atlantic due to the fact that the rest of the division was bad. Now, I expect them to reach the Conference Finals.

RAPTORS TO WATCH:

 

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Kyle Lowry

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DeMar DeRozan

DeMarre Carroll

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Jonas Valanciunas

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Terrence Ross

 

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Despite the firing of head coach David Blatt, who got them to last year’s finals, Cleveland is my pick to represent the East in June. Coached by former player Tyronn Lue, the Cavs boast plenty experience on the hardwood. Led by superstar LeBron James, Cleveland has jumped out to a conference-leading 44-18 mark.  Aside from James, other major talent Cleveland possesses is point guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love. The bench is led by swingmen J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, who receive additional help from point guard Matthew Dellavadova. Cleveland may not make many big headlines, but they play well when the time comes.

CAVALIERS TO WATCH:

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LeBron James

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Kyrie Irving

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Kevin Love

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J.R. Smith

 

 

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