At the quarter-point of the season, TSN's Carlan Gay and I went through the entire Eastern Conference and separated each team into tiers. Guess what? The Eastern Conference has basically been flipped on its head in the months since.
The Nets had the best record at the time and are now likely going to have to win a Play-In game to make the playoffs. Some were starting to wonder if it was time for the Celtics to move on from Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, and the two of them now look like they might lead Boston to another title. The Ben Simmons situation in Philly was far from resolved and the 76ers now have James Harden in his place.
There's more where all that came from as well.
Less than two weeks now remain in the regular season. With the playoffs around the corner, here's one person's opinion on where the 10 teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs and Play-In picture stand.
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Tier 1: Bucks, Celtics
The Bucks shouldn't need much explanation. It's been a bit of an up and down season for the defending champs, but they're starting to round out into form. Few teams can match their star power, and they've proven to be elite on b Kids NBA Clothing oth ends of the court when at full strength. The title still runs through them.
The Celtics might come as a bit of a surprise. Following a loss to the Hawks on Jan. 28, Boston fell to .500 on the season and looked like it might be heading towards the Play-In. Since then, the Celtics have gone 21-4 to move within striking distance of the No. 1 seed. They've had the best defensive rating in the league by a mile during that stretch and have found their rhythm offensively, led by Tatum.
Few players have been playing at Dirk Nowitzki the level Tatum has over the last couple of months.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, Robert Williams underwent surgery this week to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, but ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that there's optimism that he could return within four-to-six weeks. In which case, he could be back by the second warriors jersey black round of the playoffs.
MORE: Williams among leading candidates for DPOY
The only other real concern with the Celtics is that they've been miserable in the clutch. They haven't played that many clutch games lately because the steph curry origins jersey y've been blowing everyone out, but they'll almost certainly find themselves in some close games in the playoffs. When t infant warriors jersey hey do, they can't afford for Tatum to struggle as much as he has this season with the game on the line.
Tier 2: 76ers, Nets, Heat
It shouldn't shock anyone if these teams make a run to the Finals, but they're each faced with a decently-sized question.
For the 76ers, the Harden and Joel Embiid partnership got off to a roaring start, but Harden has been quite streaky since, averaging 21.6 points and 9.0 assists on .373/.307/.880 shooting splits over his last 11 games. The 76ers gave up a lot of their depth to acquire Harden, so they're going to need him to be firing on all cylinders to make a deep run.
For the Nets, we're yet to see them whole. They're closer to being whole now that Kyrie Irving is eligible to play in home games, but Simmons is yet to make his debut and it's unclear if we will see him at all this season. The Nets might still be able to win it all with just Durant and Irving, especially if they both continue to play at the level they have lately, but having Simmons wreak havoc defensively sure would 2009 stephen curry jersey card help.
The Heat have been the most consistent team of the three this season. They're built to stop anyone and everyone defensively, but they could run into some of the same issues offensively that they did last postseason. While both Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo have taken a step in the right direction, they'll likely need Kyle Lowry to be more aggressive and Jimmy Butler to rediscover his touch from midrange to breakthrough.
MORE: The Heat will go as far as Butler can NBA Jerseys take them
Tier 3: Bulls, Cavaliers, Raptors
The Bulls have been a great story this season. Unfortunately for them, they've struggled to stay healthy and are still searching for a win against the top three teams in both conferences. Similarly, the Cavaliers have been a great story but have had an unfortunate run of injuries. With Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley now out, they face an uphill battle at making the playoffs.
The Raptors have been one of the more confusing Michael Jordan teams NBA Shoes and Footwear in the Eastern Conference. On one hand, they've had a surprising amount of success against good teams. On the other, they've suffered some really bad losses.
Even so, the Raptors aren't going to be a fun team for anyone to play against in a series.
The Raptors play hard, feasting on offensive rebounds and turnovers. They play without a traditional center a lot of the time but have the size and length to switch almost everything defensively. Fred VanVleet was an All-Star, Pascal Siakam deserves All-NBA consideration and Scottie Barnes g stephen curry oakland jersey ets better with every game. They also have Nick Nurse, who has proven himself to be one of the league's most innovative coaches, pulling the strings.
Sleep on the Raptors at your own risk.
Tier 4: Hawks, Hornets
What a weird season it's been for the Hawks. The last time we did this exercise, we had the Hawks and Celtics in Tier 2 with the 76ers and Bulls. The Celtics have obviously moved up a tier since while the Hawks have dropped a couple of tiers. Incredible as Trae Young has been — he deserves real All-NBA consideration — it hasn't been enough for Atlanta to build on its Eastern Conference Finals run.
The Hornets didn't come into this season with nearly the same expectations as the Hawks. They've had moments but they've also experienced some real growing pains. It hasn't helped that Gordon Hayward has missed almost two months with an ankle injury. The Hornets lost to the Pacers by 27 points in last season's Play-In Tournament. Expect them to put up a much better fight this season.