By: Grant Pomatto
It was often mentioned that the Western Conference was the tougher conference. However, this year that is not the case, especially with the start and the continuing winning of the Golden State Warriors, who are obviously the best team in the conference and also the entire league. This year we focus on the Eastern Conference. This year the east has 10 teams with winning records and only 2 games are separating the conference’s top 10 teams (Cleveland no. 1 and Detroit no. 10). However, even though the Cavaliers are on the top of the conference right now, only one game separates them with the Hornets for 1st place on top of the east. Cleveland doesn’t look as invincible as they did last posting just a 14-7 record leaving the question, are they still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. I believe they are but here are the two teams that I think could give them a run for the top team in the east.
The Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They have a defensive rating (points given up per 100 possessions) of 97.1 which is fourth best in the league. However, they have struggled to stop teams in the fourth quarter with a defensive rating of 102.2. even though it is a slight jump up, the Bulls are the 17th ranked 4th quarter defense in the league. The Chicago Bulls and their fan base don’t need to panic yet, but I would say start to be a little nervous. Although there is plenty of time to fix this small situation, the other part of their game is what you say, not up to par. With the offense not being where it was the past few years (ranking 26th in the NBA this year) the Bulls now rely heavily on their defensive abilities to stop the ball. Yes, defense does win championships, but so do points, You can’s win a championship without both of these two things coinciding with each other. The Bulls will have to rely heavily on their new superstar Jimmy Butler to create for the offense and for both Butler and Pau Gasol carry most of the offensive load also looking for contributions from time to time from Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Rose.
If the two teams were to play a series right now: I don’t think it would even be close to a good matchup for the Bulls. The Cavaliers would win in every aspect of the game. They also have better players than the Bulls at every position. King James and Co. would win the series in 6 (4-2 series win) and move their way into the conference finals against the Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers
After a rough start, the Pacers have been elite on both ends of the court. Many critics wrote them off after parting ways with Roy Hibbert and David West. But, without a doubt their best player in Paul George, after coming back from that grueling knee injury, is playing his best basketball in his life is averaging 27.9 ppg and 8.2 rpg. With a great team surrounding him with the likes of George Hill, Monta Ellis, Lavoy Allen, C.J. Miles, and Rodney Stuckney, this Pacers lineup has so many different ways they can match up against a team. The Indiana Pacers could be the best well rounded team in the conference, giving a lot of credit to their depth which is why they are such a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I think they are the best team to give the Cavaliers a run for their money and a battle for the top of their conference.
If the two teams were to play in a series right now: Even with the growing team around MVP candidate Paul George, I think the Cavaliers still have too much firepower to match up against any team in the Eastern Conference. In a series of 7 I would have the Cavaliers over the Pacers (4-3 series victory). But who knows, the Pacers could get even better than they are now and prove me wrong.
The Eastern Conference has made a dramatic improvement from where the teams stacked up last year. Without a question last year, we all knew who was going to represent the Eastern Conference. I feel that this year won’t be any different. I feel the Cavaliers are still the best team in the Eastern Conference but the gap is closing in on them with the teams like Charlotte, Chicago, and Indiana (all within 1.5 games of 1st place in the conference). All three of these teams could see themselves at the top of the conference next year and I think they will, implying that the Cleveland Cavaliers short reign on top could be over after this season meaning we could be looking at another “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach” ordeal. But, let’s just see how the dice role and let the chips fall where they may because nobody knows what really is going to happen until it happens.