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Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum. (Toronto Raptors win 113-101 (Photo by NurPhoto/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
February 5th, 2024
Boston owns the best record in the NBA and a five-game cushion atop the East, but playoff positioning is far from settled for the rest of the conference.
Less than 10 weeks remain in the NBA regular season, which concludes on April 14, and the top six teams by win percentage in each conference are guaranteed a playoff berth. The teams with the seventh- through the 10th-highest win percentage will take part in the NBA Play-In Tournament on April 16-19.
Let’s examine contenders in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics made a couple of key additions during the offseason, adding an outstanding playmaker and top-rated defensive guard in Jrue Holiday and big man Kristaps Porzingis, and they have the pieces to complement stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Boston’s elite defensive play (first in defensive ranking at NBA.com) makes them very formidable, and Boston (+300) leads the market to win the NBA title at DraftKings.
The Bucks added offense during the offense, with Damian Lillard, and their veteran core (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and Lillard) feels a sense of urgency to win a NBA title, but defense rates as a legitimate concern. The Bucks rank in the bottom half statistically in most defensive categories, which will be a major liability come postseason, and it will be interesting to see if they add a defensive presence before the Thursday trade deadline.
The Cavaliers have surged up the standings since mid-December, winning 13 of the last 14 games, and ranked top five in total offense and defense during the month of January. They caught fire without point guard Darius Garland, who is back from a broken jaw and will look to provide a late-season boost, and Evan Mobley also recently returned after a two-month absence. Donovan Mitchell averages 28.2 points per game, sixth best in the NBA.
The acquisition of elite defender OG Anunoby from Toronto in late December reaped immediate dividends, as the Knicks have looked like a legitimate playoff contender compiling a 15-3 record since New Year’s Day, and point guard Jalen Brunson is the straw that stirs the drink. Averaging 27.3 points and 6.5 assists per game, Brunson made his first All-Star team this year and when he’s on the court, New York averages 121.5 points per 100 possessions, which would rank first in terms of offensive efficiency this year, according to NBA.com.
The Sixers responded after trading away James Harden and hiring Nick Nurse, the only coach to ever win an NBA and G-League title, establishing themselves as legitimate conference hopefuls, and they’ll go as far as Joel Embiid takes them. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the reigning MVP recently underwent surgery to repair the lateral meniscus in his left knee, and we’ll see if Embiid can remain healthy when he returns.
Pascal Siakam was a nice addition inside, but the Pacers must rely upon strong guard play to cover a lack of size. Indiana leads the league in scoring offense, but it ranks 28th in scoring defense and defensive rebounding.
An inconsistent but talented nucleus, the Magic have size and promising young talent to build around in Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr., Franz Wagner, and Jalen Suggs. Orlando appears to be coming together defensively, winning four of its last five games, and the Magic would love to keep building for the future by winning a playoff series.
After making the 2023 Final from the Play-In tourney, the Heat will need to take the same path again. Terry Rozier has not shot well since being recently acquired, but he adds toughness and has the skills to be a valuable catalyst for a Miami squad that knows how to win in the postseason.
🚨 EMERGENCY POD TIME 🚨 Zach LaVine is done for the YEARThe @CHGO_Bulls crew looks at what’s next for the team with the trade deadline just five days away.https://t.co/LRX4XOh9BD pic.twitter.com/CpfScZJrjg— CHGO Sports (@CHGO_Sports) February 3, 2024
🚨 EMERGENCY POD TIME 🚨 Zach LaVine is done for the YEARThe @CHGO_Bulls crew looks at what’s next for the team with the trade deadline just five days away.https://t.co/LRX4XOh9BD pic.twitter.com/CpfScZJrjg
Despite being injury-riddled all season, the Bulls may slip into the Play-In tourney, but their chances appear poor with Zach LaVine now sidelined for the season.
Enormous underachievers most of the season, the Hawks have won four straight to offer a glimpse of hope, but the situation still appears toxic. Atlanta may move multiple players by the trade deadline.
The Nets are still alive for the Play-In tourney, winning three of their last four games, but they’re expected to be sellers before the trade deadline, with Mikal Bridges among the notables who could be changing teams.
The Raptors have outperformed expectations in a projected rebuilding year, but their chances for a playoff berth are slipping away, losing seven of their last eight games.
2023-2024 NBA Western Conference Playoff Update
2023-2024 NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Update
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