Midseason Report: Weak-stern Conference edition.

What’s up baby birds, poppa’s back!!

Sorry about the cheesy title, I’ll admit I’m a little rusty..

I know I haven’t written anything in a while but I figured what better time for an NBA article than the (roughly) midway point in the year. They’ve played enough basketball now that it is safe to make judgments on teams…so here’s one thing we “know” and one thing we still want to find out about each of the Eastern Conference teams.

Enjoy…follow me @chris_barbee19 if you have any input!!

 

1. Indiana Pacers

We know… They are the only contender in the East outside of Miami

But…Has Miami adapted to stop Hibbert?

Hibbert dominated Miami in last year’s playoff there is no doubt about that. But that same performance is not guaranteed again this year, not by a long shot. Miami has shown an incredible ability to make adjustments (just look at the overall evolution of Lebron and Chris Bosh’s games since joining the Heat) and Hibbert’s size/strength might represent another adaptation. Hibbert had 24/5 on 15 shots in their first meeting (efficient scoring night, low rebounding) and then 6/2 with five fouls when they met a week later. I’m sure you can guess which game Indiana won. What version of Hibbert will we see in the playoffs? And is it possible that Greg Oden stays healthy and gives them good minutes in the inevitable Conference Finals matchup?

 

2. Miami Heat

We know… They are in cruise control

But…As a team, do they have enough gas in the tank for a three peat?

It is blatantly obvious they are saving Dwyane Wade for the playoffs[1] but without him can Lebron stay healthy enough for another championship run? He has played roughly 1 million basketball games over the past three years with regular season, playoffs and the Olympics included. That is a hell of a physical beating. In addition to that, the mental grind of having a target on your back EVERY night must be considered when you look at this team’s chances to repeat. It’s been ten years since a team won three in a row. That isn’t a coincidence, it’s an incredibly difficult thing to accomplish.

 

3. Toronto Raptors

We know… They are better off without Rudy Gay

But…Is that what they really want?

As an outsider, the Rudy Gay trade was supposed to kill two birds with one stone. It not only released the Raptors from his 20-million dollar contract but also helped them tank in a “fair” way and bolster their chances for a high draft pick. However, only one of those things happened which means the Raptors front office has a decision to make. Option 1: Continue with an entertaining group of players, further push this “Drake goes to our games!!!!” thing, and go to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Option 2: Make another trade (Kyle Lowry is the obvious candidate) and reattempt to bottom out. The former may give their fan base a much needed boost while the latter could possibly result in a top draft pick. We will know which they chose as the trade deadline nears.

 

4. Atlanta Hawks

We know…Jeff Teague and Paul Millsaps is enough to win games in the East.

But…do they really want to repeat the Josh Smith, Joe Johnson era?

Teague is a good young talent, Millsaps is a first time All-Star, and Horford, although out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, is one of the best at his position. But that is not a good enough core to actually contend for titles. They are back in the level of hell where teams compete every night, earn the 4th or 5th seed, then get bounced before the ECF every year. It’s the same level of hell Dante visits in chapter four of Dante’s Inferno[2].

 

5. Chicago Bulls

We know…They refuse to give up

But….Is something behind the scenes about to boil over?

Bottomline, the Luol Deng trade rubbed people the wrong way. Coach Thibs, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng himself have, in one way or another, shown negativity towards management. The idea of giving up on a season is about 10,000 miles outside of this team’s philosophy and, after losing D-Rose and trading Luol, management basically asked the team to do this. If any other trades occur I think someone is going to blow a gasket.

 

6. Washington Wizards

We know…John Wall is their guy and it’s playoffs or bust.

But…can their recent draft picks lift them to the next level?

Bradley Beal, Jan Vesely, and Otto Porter are the team’s last three lottery picks. Beal has come along nicely and was recently invited to the Team USA Olympic pool but the other two have been close to useless. Porter, the third overall pick last year, plays less than 10 minutes per game and Vesely, despite recently showing off some previously unseen athleticism, still gets less PT than Trevor Booker. In the decrepit fart that is The East, they will make the playoffs, but if they want to win a series any time soon, these things must change.

 

7. Brooklyn Nets

We know…This is the Jekyll and Hyde team of the East

But…come playoff time, will they be a legitimate threat?

They were a punch line for 30 games before their current 10-3 stretch (which included wins against OKC, Miami, and Golden State). So let’s rewind back to the beginning of the season. People thought this was a possible championship caliber team but turned on them when immediate, although predictable, problems arose. Is it possible the first stretch of games was just veterans learning to play together while a rookie coach was overwhelmed with his new job? Maybe they CAN be the force they were supposed to be. With only four games between them and a top four seed (with Toronto possibly looking to tank) this is the sleeper team to watch in the East. What if Indiana or the Heat have some big injury? If you look at their roster and ignore the beginning of the season, is it completely crazy to see imagine this team in the Eastern Conference Finals?

 

8. Charlotte Bobcats

We know…they technically have a professional basketball team.

But…does anyone actually watch them?

I’m going to be honest, I’ve watched exactly zero minutes of Charlotte basketball this year. All I know is Al Jefferson has been solid, MKG has evolved into a premier defensive wing, and everyone else’s growth has stagnated. I will throw up on my laptop if they make the playoffs and Detroit doesn’t.

9. New York Knicks

We know…This is not the 50-win team from last year.

But…can they salvage it enough to convince Melo to stay?

Other than Carmelo they have nobody to build with. J.R. Smith is more likely to untie someone’s shoes than help his team win. Tyson Chandler is good but brittle. Bargnani has always been a one-dimensional offensive player who is closer to being zero-dimensional than two. And the fact they have no first round picks this year means they’ve essentially handcuffed themselves to a boat and put a bullet through the floor. But since NY can offer one more year to Carmelo than any other team this offseason, there’s still a chance Melo returns. Does he want rings or money? This decision will define his legacy.

 

10. Detroit Pistons

We know…They are a complete mess right now

But…will they EVER mesh?

Josh Smith is putting together the worst shooting season in history, Greg Monroe has stopped growing as a player, KCP hasn’t moved the needle at any point this year, and Coach Cheeks has no clue how to make it better. Da fuck happened?! Can we fire Joe Dumars already…

 

11. Cleveland Cavaliers

We know…They want to win NOW!

But…can they?

Did Dan Gilbert think Luol Deng was going to catapult the Cavs into immediate contender talk? Cause they’re 4-6 so far and the trade has already fallen out of people’s memories. Of course ten games is too small of a sample size to make any definitive claims but, realistically, even if Deng plays out of his mind, this team isn’t even close to being an upper echelon team. There are too many questions in the front court, the whole Waiters drama can’t be good for his development, Anthony Bennett might be the worst 1st overall pick in history, and most importantly, their franchise player DOESN’T PLAY DEFENSE!!! That’s a big problem if Irving is going to be their guy.

 

12. Philadelphia 76ers

13. Boston Celtics

14. Orlando Magic

15. Milwaukee Bucks

We know…they will fight for worst team in East

But…what do they have to look forward to next year?

Philly has ROTY favorite MCW, a returning lottery pick in Nerlens Noel and three legitimate trade pieces with Evan Turner, Thad Young and Spencer Hawes who could move at the deadline. Rondo just returned for Boston and Brad Stevens has transitioned nicely into the pros (despite their record) and they have a slew of first round picks from the Garnett/Pierce/Rivers trade coming their way. Orlando has four guys in their rotation under 24 years of age and all of them have genuine upside. Milwaukee has…..the highest odds of getting the first overall pick, I guess?


[1] Can you blame them? If he played 0 games this season they would still finish second in the East by a long shot.

[2] Ok so I’ve never read Dante’s Inferno but a friend once described it to me so it’s basically the same.

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