While oddsmakers – and most NBA fans – still expect to see a rematch of last season’s NBA Finals this June, there’s no guarantee that the Warriors and Cavaliers will come out of their respective conferences once again. The Cavs, in particular, looked ordinary in January, finishing one game below .500 for the month, with a 7-8 record.
Last spring, it was the Raptors who battled the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, pushing LeBron James and company to six games before eventually losing the series. And for most of the first half of this season, Toronto appeared to be Cleveland’s top challenger in the conference once again.
However, the Raptors’ January struggles (8-9) mirrored the Cavs’, and Toronto has already compiled an 0-3 record this year against the defending champions. Injuries to Patrick Patterson and DeMar DeRozan have played a part in the Raptors’ swoon, but there’s still reason to question whether they’ll be the biggest threat out of the East to the Cavs in the postseason.
Led by Eastern Conference Player of the Month Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics have moved into second place in the East, pulling within just two and a half games of the Cavs. The Wizards have also surged in recent weeks — the team is 26-12 since its 2-8 start, and has matched the Celtics’ current five-game winning streak.
Behind those top four teams in the standings, the Hawks have continued to play well even after trading Kyle Korver, and the Pacers have looked very impressive at times, including on their current four-game winning streak.
The Cavs may ultimately make it out of the East once again, but these clubs – and others – will look to give the champs all they can handle in the series leading up to the Finals. Teams like the Raptors and Celtics also have plenty of assets available to potentially fortify their rosters in the coming weeks, making them even more dangerous.
What do you think? Which of the Eastern Conference contenders has the best chance to knock off the Cavs this spring?
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