The Eastern Conference standings more closely resemble a wild card race than the typical separation seen in most seasons. All but five of the 15 conference teams have records at or above .500 entering play Tuesday, a stunning development given the Western Conference’s dominance in the past 15 years.
As expected, the Cavaliers are at the top, though they lead the pack by just two games while dealing with inconsistency and point guard Kyrie Irving‘s absence. Irving returned to action last week and it’s generally assumed that Cleveland will pull away from the cluster of winning teams and grab the top seed in the playoffs.
Beyond the defending conference champions, it’s a game of musical chairs where a team could be in a comfortable spot one week and drop to the bottom half of the standings the next. The teams from No. 2 through No. 10 have at least 12 losses but no more than 14.
Even the team currently in the No. 12 spot, the Knicks, have realistic ambitions of getting into the playoffs this season. The Hawks, who led the conference during the regular season last year, got off to a mediocre start but have won six of their last seven games. The Raptors once again top the Atlantic Division but have the Celtics nipping at their heels.
Veteran, playoff-tested teams like the Bulls and Heat are still in the mix but look more vulnerable than they have in recent seasons.
This leads us to our question of the day: Assuming the Cavaliers will take the top spot in the East, which conference team will emerge as the No. 2 seed in the playoffs?
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