Based on last year’s finals and the roster moves made by the Warriors over the summer, it’s pretty clear who the best team in each conference is. The Warriors have four of the top fifteen players in the NBA, and the Cavs have LeBron James. But what about the best teams outside of those two powerhouses in their respective conference, and do they have the potential to knock off either team?
Today, I will be looking at what team in the East has the best chance at meeting the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals this year, and later this week I will take a look at the West.
Last year, the Cavs actually got a decent test from the Toronto Raptors, who managed to push the eventual champs to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Thus far, the Raptors look like they are the team to beat in the East besides the Cavs.
There was some potential for the Celtics to finally make a postseason run, but barring a blockbuster deal, Boston’s rebounding and rim protection woes stand in the way of them having a real chance. Boston also hasn’t managed to get out of the first round in the Brad Stevens era, so I’m not sold on the Celts as the second best team in the East. It is early, however, and they have been without big ticket free agent Al Horford for most of the early going.
The Atlanta Hawks are also a team that has been playing very well so far. Dwight Howard is having a big bounce back year through the team’s first nine games. Dennis Schroeder has done a nice job at starting point guard, and recently re-signed guard Kent Bazemore has made some highlight plays for the Hawks. Despite this, there is an obvious ceiling on Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks. They don’t have a go-to scorer who can get points when the offense bogs down, which is critical to have in the playoffs. Paul Millsap is good, but he is no Kevin Durant or LeBron James when it comes to one on one scoring. The Hawks typically find success in the regular season due to team’s defenses not having much time to prepare for their attack. Come playoff time, like last year and the year before, the Hawks probably won’t have the firepower to overcome the Cavs or Raptors.
This being said, the Raptors still are the second best team in the East. Expect them to make a reappearance in the Eastern Conference Finals as the two seed. DeMar Derozan is leading the NBA in scoring with 34 points per game, Valanciunas is the backbone of a strong frontcourt, and Kyle Lowry is a great floor general. They added depth with Jared Sullinger to an already deep bench that includes Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross and Norman Powell.
I don’t know if they have what it takes to beat the Cavs, but Toronto is still the second best team in the East.
Collegian blogger John Scriffiny can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JScriff. Read more of his content here. Leave a comment!