In the NBA Eastern Conference, there are three teams…and then everyone else. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the only team in the league with 60 wins, Boston (the defending champs, by the way) are taking everyone’s best shot and sitting in second place, while the Magic have one of the most dynamic teams, and players, we’ve seen in a while.
With just under two weeks left in the season, the playoff picture is becoming clearer and it seems as if the Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals will be one of these three.
I am no prognosticator, so no predictions will be made here. However, it is important to delve deeper into the status of these squads, with this assumption that they will battle each other to the very end.
The Cavs have arguably the best player in the NBA right now. We all know LeBron’s value to his team and his role in resurrecting the franchise. We endlessly debate the pressure placed on him in his comparisons to Michael Jordan and his quest for his first championship ring.
For the first time, he’s been given valuable help in Mo Williams, but perhaps the biggest change between last year’s campaign and this one happened this past summer.
I’m not saying that he didn’t have the capacity to do so prior, but that his experience of witnessing the willpower, hard work, and drive to win in peers like Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, and Dwyane Wade taught him to be better.
All his life, he was "the guy." When he got to the NBA, he was "the guy." When he got to Beijing, he became "one of the guys."
He saw the drive in his teammates and learned that he could not only be great in the league…he could become the greatest player of his generation. We are seeing the fruits of this realization…to the tune of a 60-win season. Cleveland is in the driver’s seat.
Boston has been taking hits all year. Ray Allen and, more recently, Kevin Garnett have battled injuries.
At some points during the season, they seemed in postseason form, easily dispatching contenders and proclaiming their dominance. At other points, they seemed lost, a patchwork team of past-their-prime veterans.
The Celtics are an enigma heading into the playoffs.
Too many questions are being asked to have any solid confidence. Will KG be okay? Which team will show up on any given night? After winning it all last year, do they still have that chip on their shoulder? Doc Rivers’ squad has the goods…we’ll see if they follow through.
The wild card of the east…the Orlando Magic.
The team plays solid inside-out basketball, feeding Dwight Howard and then seeing one of two results: him dunking the ball or a pass out to the wing where any one of the other Magic players takes a wide open three-pointer.
The Magic lead the NBA in three-point field goals and Dwight Howard leads the league in dunks. This is a direct result of the team being the best at what it does.
The defense can be shoddy against slashing guards (see Dwyane Wade), but if Howard decides he wants to rule the paint…he will.
Three teams are vying for the east crown. Each has the tools to do so. Each has the obstacles of the NBA playoffs…It’s where amazing happens (or so I’ve been told).