Where the Eastern Conference stands after the All-Star break

Adrian Dy on Feb 21, 2018 12:06 PM
Where the Eastern Conference stands after the All-Star break
TORONTO, CANADA - FEBRUARY 6: The Toronto Raptors huddle before the game against the Boston Celtics on February 6, 2018 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)

With roughly a third of the regular season left to play in the NBA, here's where the Eastern Conference teams stand at the All-Star break.

GOING TO THE LOTTERY

#10 Charlotte Hornets
24-33 WL record (4-6 in last 10 games), 5.5 games back of #8

#11 New York Knicks
23-36 WL record (2-8 in last 10 games), 7.5 games back of #8

#12 Chicago Bulls
20-37 WL record (2-8 in last 10 games), 9.5 games back of #8

#13 Brooklyn Nets
19-40 WL record (1-9 in last 10 games), 11.5 games back of #8

The Nets of course, don't own their 2018 first-round pick. That's going to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were able to improve their roster at the trade deadline while hanging on to that asset.

Right now the pick is slotted in at #7, but there's just one game separating them and the two last-place teams, the Phoenix Suns and the Hawks. Of course, unlike those teams, Brooklyn is not incentivized to lose games and improve their draft position, and so where this selection winds up could still fluctuate wildly.

#14 Orlando Magic
18-39 WL record (4-6 in last 10 games), 11.5 games back of #8

#15 Atlanta Hawks
18-41 WL record (4-6 in last 10 games), 12.5 games back of #8

ON THE CUSP OF THE PLAYOFFS

#9 Detroit Pistons
28-29 WL record (6-4 in last 10 games), 1.5 games back of #8

The Pistons got a big boost from the Blake Griffin trade, helping them win the latter four games of a 5-0 stretch. After that though, they lost three in a row, including to trade partners the Clippers, before entering the break with a win over the Hawks.

The biggest variable for the Pistons is point guard Reggie Jackson, who hasn't played since December 27 (PHL time) due to a right ankle sprain. He's projected to return in March, and how he fits in with Griffin and All-Star Andre Drummond will likely decide whether or not the Pistons go to the postseason.

PRECARIOUS POSITION

#8 Miami Heat
30-28 WL record (3-7 in last 10 games), 1.5 game cushion over #9

#7 Philadelphia 76ers
30-25 WL record (6-4 in last 10 games), 3 game cushion over #9

Two teams going in opposite directions right now. Miami had a red-hot January, winning 10 games out of 15, but have just one victory in February, versus 6 losses. In contrast, Philly has overcome a stretch where they were 3-5 spanning the last two months, and won five straight entering the break. And oh yes, the two teams played each other twice in February, with the 76ers winning both match-ups.

It'll be interesting to see how Miami continues to use Dwyane Wade, whom they acquired at the trade deadline. In three games back in South Beach, Wade is averaging 7.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.0 blocks in 22 minutes. However, he's also norming a whopping 4.0 turnovers.

For the 76ers, it'll obviously be on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to carry the load, but improved play from Robert Covington would be a great boost. His three-point shooting has decreased each month, from 46.7 percent in November, to now just 27.9 percent in February.

LOOKING FOR HOMECOURT

#6 Milwaukee Bucks
32-25 WL record (7-3 in last 10 games), 4 game cushion over #9

#5 Indiana Pacers
33-25 WL record (7-3 in last 10 games), 4.5 game cushion over #9

#4 Washington Wizards
33-24 WL record (7-3 in last 10 games), 5 game cushion over #9

These three squads are Playoffs-bound, but the question is which of them will snag #4 and get home court advantage in round one.

Right now, the team with the most upside has to be the Washington Wizards, who have so far done well without superstar John Wall, going 7-2 while he recovers from knee surgery. If they can continue to weather the storm until he returns in mid-to-late March, they should lock up #4.

HERE THEY COME...

#3 Cleveland Cavaliers
34-22 WL record (7-3 in last 10 games), 6.5 games back of #1

No doubt, it's a small sample size, one game sans traded pieces but before the new acquisitions were medically cleared, and then two with their four new players, but the Cavs were rolling entering the break, and LeBron James looks locked in anew.

We'll need more games to see if James indeed has better chemistry with Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., and George Hill, and one more factor to consider is the impending return of Kevin Love from his broken hand, which will obviously necessitate changes to the amount of shots everyone gets. Right now though, the King seems to have the necessary type of players that he needs to return to the Finals anew.

REGRESSING TO THE MEAN?

#2 Boston Celtics
40-19 WL record (5-5 in last 10 games), 2 games back of #1

Boston has slipped from the top spot of the East in recent games, their defense suddenly giving up a ton of points to opponents. After a stretch of seven straight wins early in January, they're now just 6-9 in their last 15 outings.

We'll need to see if the rest over the All-Star break gives them a boost, or if this is just the Celtics coming back down to Earth. Remember, in the aftermath of the Gordon Hayward injury, nobody expected them to play this well. That they did, and are now seeing a mini-slump, might just mean we need to adjust our expectations anew of how good this Boston team is.

TORONTO ON TOP

#1 Toronto Raptors
41-16 WL record (9-1 in last 10 games)

Not only does Toronto have the best record in the East, they have the best home record too, dropping just four of their 28 games in Canada. In contrast, West #1 Houston Rockets have four losses, while defending champs Golden State Warriors have seven.

Toronto's biggest boon, aside from DeMar DeRozan finally embracing the three-pointer, has been their bench. Right now, the five-man group of CJ Miles, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright is their second-most used lineup, and it's +34.6. Their best quintet is the previously mentioned one, but with DeRozan in place of Miles (+82.5).

There are still questions about how Toronto will look come the postseason. Over the past few years, DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have struggled mightily with their shot in the playoffs. Should they get there though with the #1 seed in the East, things might turn out differently. They have two more games each against Boston and Cleveland, and so the opportunity to get home court through the Eastern Conference Finals is definitely in play.

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