With LeBron James out of the East for the first time since 2003, confidence is on the rise around the conference. Jaylen Brown essentially guaranteed that the Celtics will make it to the NBA Finals, while Brook Lopez has said the Bucks love their chances to come out of the East.
Wizards point guard John Wall joined the chorus this week, telling Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports that he feels like “we’re all equal” in the East. While the Wizards haven’t made it to the NBA Finals in recent years, neither have the Celtics, Raptors, Sixers, Pacers, or any other non-LeBron Eastern team, Wall points out.
“Y’all might have been to the Eastern Conference finals, where we haven’t been to, but none of y’all were going to the Finals. It was one guy going to the Finals,” Wall said. “Ain’t nobody separated from nothing. I know one guy that separated himself from the Eastern Conference every year and that was LeBron James and the Cavs. Other than that … if you lose in the second round, or the conference finals, you still didn’t get to your ultimate goal.”
Wall went on to say that “on paper” a handful of Eastern teams look strong, but he observed that there are still questions about how the Celtics will mesh with Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving returning, or how Kawhi Leonard will look with the Raptors. In Wall’s view, the top four or five teams in the East are all bunched together, and he’s willing to put the Wizards “right there” in that group.
This kind of talk is nothing new from the Wizards. Heading into the 2017/18 season, Bradley Beal called Washington the team to beat in the East, despite the fact that the club had been eliminated by Boston in the second round of the 2017 playoffs — multiple Wizards that year claimed publicly that they would’ve beaten the Cavaliers in the postseason if given the chance. This past spring, after losing as the No. 8 seed to the top-seeded Raptors, Markieff Morris told reporters that “sometimes the better teams don’t win.”
So far, the Wizards have done little to back up their big talk, and oddsmakers aren’t convinced they’ll do so this year either — the Wizards’ early over/under of 44.5 wins ranks sixth in the East, behind Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Indiana, and Milwaukee. Still, perhaps with LeBron out of the conference, this is the year that Washington makes its run.
What do you think? Are the Wizards a top-four team in the East? Will they claim home court advantage for the first round and/or win a first-round series in the spring?
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