Don’t Sleep on the East
The NBA has an Eastern Conference. Not only that, they also have a postseason playoff, structured much like that of the Western Conference.
I did not know that.
OK, so I actually did know that. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that many people didn’t, though. If a fan had just started paying attention because of the end of college basketball, only watching television or listening to sports talk radio might lead them to believe that the NBA had contracted and phased out most of their franchises east of the Mississippi.
Can you blame them though? With roughly a week remaining in the regular season, the Western Conference playoff picture is as clear as mud, with three games separating teams one through six and two games separating teams seven, eight, and nine. And after that, there are still two other teams that are probably talented enough to claim their playoff-worthiness.
None of this means, however, that the EC Playoffs will not be deserving of your time and attention. In fact, here are a few reasons why you should tune in to the basketball played before it gets dark outside.
The East’s top two teams are arguably better than any team in the West.
Detroit and Boston have better records, right at this moment, than any team but New Orleans. You can try to attribute that to the inevitably weaker schedule that they’ve faced by virtue of their geographical location, but they’ve also won their fair share of games against the West. These records also mean that it’s very likely that the EC could have homecourt advantage in the Finals.
The second-tier teams in the East aren’t anything to sneeze at, either.
Cleveland, though still trying to learn itself after dramatically altering its team at the trade deadline, is dangerous, if only because they have LeBron James. He showed us all last year that he probably emerges from a phone booth before each game.
Orlando has had a spectacular season, building on last season’s playoff appearance. Their youth and inexperience could lead to an early playoff exit. Their combination of deadeye outside shooting and Dwight Howard inside could push them farther than anyone could have expected they’d be at the beginning of the season.
Washington, despite its roster spending a great deal of time with one injury or another, will still finish at or above .500. With a healthy Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison (in contract years, no less) and Caron Butler, they could send some expected winner home early. Or they could bow out in round one. Neither would be surprising.
The bottom of the playoff bracket is youthful and exciting.
Toronto, with its roster modeled after what used to be the Phoenix Suns, has the talent, athleticism and speed to make their opponent very nervous. They are probably better than their record, as Chris Bosh missed some games earlier in the season.
Philadelphia has played as well as any team in the last two months, winning 22 out of 30 games. One Andre dishes, another Andre scores, and a lot of other players contribute nightly. They probably will exit in round one, but they will get some experience that will be vital to their continued growth as a team.
Atlanta should make the playoffs unless they deliver a choke job of Caliparian proportions in the final week of the season. They finally got a point guard in Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson does a little of everything and Josh Smith is probably one of the league’s most underrated players. Once again, they’ll lose, but experience is a beautiful thing.
The eventual NBA Champion will probably be an Eastern team.
An unpopular statement: yes. Untrue: maybe not. As was mentioned before, if Boston or Detroit makes the Finals they’ll probably have homecourt advantage. The West will also spend the next month and a half beating up on one another. Waiting for the victor will be an Eastern Conference Champion that is probably more well-rested and less-challenged than their Western counterpart.
Of course none of this may be true. The East could produce a total snoozefest and the West could produce multiple "upsets" and the most exciting postseason in recent memory, or perhaps ever, completely overshadowing the efforts and performances of the supposed Leastern Conference.
If that happens, you can disregard everything I’ve said here and feign ignorance of the entire thing. Just like everyone else.