Tag Archives: Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA Quarterfinals: Worst to First

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED???

The NBA Playoffs will get underway on Saturday, and hot off the press after last night’s action, we have a full slate of first round match-ups to sink our teeth into. While this particular writer is shedding a tear because the Philadelphia 76ers didn’t even come close to making it (again), this season’s playoffs promise to be one of the more entertaining ones in recent memory. The Boston Celtics were able to snag the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since their 2008 title run; a huge milestone in the Brad Stevens era and one that will likely raise the expectations of Boston fans as the playoffs get underway.

There are four teams in this year’s playoffs that didn’t make it in 2016: The Wizards, Bucks, Bulls and Jazz. The Wizards, Bucks and Bulls all made it back in 2015, but the Jazz haven’t made it since 2012 when they were swept by the Spurs in the first round. With all of the changes that happened last off-season, we’re in for one insane playoff stretch, and it all starts with the first round on Saturday. We took a look at all of the matchups and ranked them by interest level, so when you sit down in front of your T.V. on Saturday, you’ll know what to turn on. Without further ado, here is the 2017 NBA Playoffs first round match-ups, ranked from worst to first.

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  1. Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

Meh.

The Toronto Raptors did pretty much what you’d expect them to during the 2017 season. They kept up with the Celtics and Cavaliers and contended for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, eventually finishing third and drawing a matchup with the Bucks. The Raptors do have some new faces this season that they can use to their advantage in this series; primarily Serge Ibaka.

The key for Toronto is going to be their ability to shut down the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The bigger guys on the Raptors’ roster are going to have a handful trying to defend Giannis, but if they’re able to slow him down and Kyle Lowry has a good series, there’s no reason why the Raptors can’t win this in 6 games. It could be one of the more competitive series in the first round, but aside from Antetokounmpo, there’s just not enough star power to make this an interesting series.

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  1. San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)

This feels like a movie we’ve seen before. These two teams have squared off in a playoff series four out of the last seven seasons, and the tread on the old tire of interest is wearing a little thin.

The highlight in this match-up is the battle of the brothers. While Marc and Pau Gasol may have both passed their prime by a few years, it adds a little bit of intrigue to a series that will otherwise be overshadowed by a great Western Conference series that we’ll get into later. The Grizzlies upset the Spurs as the 8 seed back in 2011, however, and it would take a shocker like that to get us to turn our heads away from some of the other great action going on around the NBA.

  1. Washington Wizards (4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)

Well, here we are again. Another year, another Hawks team that hovers in the middle of the playoff race and will be gone by the Conference Finals. Of course, the big difference this year is that they have Dwight Howard. I don’t see many people out there pushing the idea that Dwight Howard (of all people) is somehow going to push Atlanta over the hump, and this is a Wizards team that could be poised to knock them out early. After missing the playoffs last season, Washington is the four seed this year, earning home court advantage and a chance to knock off a very beatable Hawks team.

The Wizards went 3-1 against the Hawks during the regular season, the most recent of those being a thrilling 104-100 victory back on March 22. If Dwight Howard can somehow wake up from the five year nap he’s been taking and make a meaningful impact for this team in the playoffs, we might have something to talk about here for the Hawks. If not, it will be business as usual, and they can start making their tee times by the end of the month.

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  1. Boston Celtics (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)

The Chicago Bulls’ motley crew of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo did enough to squeak in to the playoffs at the last second as the 8 seed. At different points in their career, all of these guys were dynamic players who could shift a playoff series just by stepping on the court. Butler is still that player, Rondo can impress occasionally, and Wade, when he’s not battling injuries, is a serviceable veteran player who can hit big shots when it matters.

The end result of all of these things is a team that is often inconsistent and frustrating, but if everything were to click at once, they could make this a series. That is going to mean slowing down Isaiah Thomas, however, and that is no easy task to say the least. Thomas is averaging 28.3 PPG in his last ten games, and the Celtics have a renewed sense of confidence after claiming the 1 seed in the east. Although it is a 1 vs. 8 matchup, these two teams split the regular season 2-2, so we could be in for at least a six game series if all goes well for the Bulls.

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  1. Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)

If the Cavaliers had drawn a first-round match-up with the Bulls, this might be a little bit higher on the list. Of course, we’re always up for watching a great duel between LeBron James and Paul George, but this doesn’t appear to be more than a small roadblock for the Cavaliers. An interesting side note here, however, is that Lance Stephenson is back with the Pacers, and the last time he was in the playoffs, he was whispering sweet-nothings into LeBron’s ear. With that in mind, we ask Lance Stephenson please, give us more great theater like this. I want to turn on SportsCenter and see more of Stephenson trying to get under LeBron’s skin. Yes.

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  1. Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Portland Trailblazers (8)

For the casual NBA fan, the name Jusuf Nurkic might not ring a bell. Nurkic was drafted 16th overall by the Bulls in 2014, then traded to the Nuggets on draft night. Now, standing at 7ft 0in, he is the second tallest player on Portland’s roster, and he could play just enough of a role to make this more than a four game sweep for the Warriors. If Damian Lillard can also put the team on his back, we could be talking about a five or six game series, but don’t hold your breath. Golden State is just getting warmed up.

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  1. Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

The Los Angeles Clippers are in a weird spot. They have largely underachieved the past few seasons, but in a conference dominated by the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, it’s not like they ever had much of a chance. They’ve been playing very well lately, however, and their starting five are as good as anybody’s in the top of the conference (ok, maybe not the Warriors, but who cares).

The Jazz, on the other hand, are a new product. They last made the playoffs in 2012, and the only holdovers from that team are Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward. The Jazz were sneaky good this season, finishing with a record of 51-31. For comparison, that is the same record the Cavs and Raptors finished with this season. They might not be much compared to the powerhouses of the West, but they could become the little engine that could if they’re able to advance to the second round and steal a few games from the Warriors. Don’t sleep on the Utah Jazz, you heard it here first.

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  1. Houston Rockets (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)

Now here is the juiciest of juicy match-ups. Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden in what amounts to the MVP-Bowl of playoff series. It’s fun enough watching these two go at it for one game, but the possibility of 4,5,6, or perhaps even 7 make this must-see television for the first round. This is what everyone is going to be talking about. During the regular season series, Houston went 3-1, with both teams averaging well over 100 points in each of the four games (Houston averaged 115, while the Thunder averaged 111).

The fireworks, however, came in their final match-up of the regular season, when the two teams combined for 262 points in a 137-125 Houston victory. The interesting stat in that game? James Harden was Houston’s fourth leading scorer, while Westbrook dropped 39 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. If they’re able to beat the Thunder and the ever-bucket-draining Westbrook in this series when Harden has a quiet night like they did on March 26th, there just isn’t much wiggle room for the Thunder to be able to take this series. Russ will have to play like a madman, and we’re assuming he will. Will it be enough? Who knows. That’s why they play the games.

 

Cavs vs Celtics Last Night… Eastern Conference Finals Preview?

Last night’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers had a definitive playoff feel. The Cavs are currently atop the Eastern Conference, while the Celtics are now hot on their tail with last night’s win. The fallout of the Celtics’ 103-99 win raises many questions, but there is one that is on everyone’s mind after last night: is this an Eastern Conference Finals preview, and if so, did the Celts show us they can hang with the defending champions?

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In short, yes. The Celtics were able to grind out a thrilling fourth quarter and beat the Cavaliers, and they did it by sinking big shots in big moments. This showdown between these two particular teams had the type of hype surrounding it that we haven’t seen since the Celtics’ big three era, back when LeBron couldn’t get over the hump and win a championship in his first stint with Cleveland.

Though the Cavs may be undeterred by this loss, it shows that the Celtics could keep up with Cleveland in a 7-game series. In recent years, the Cavaliers have all but steamrolled through the Eastern Conference playoffs, but the 2016-17 Celtics have shown that they have other plans.

Of course, the Celtics won’t be able to rely on 31 points from Isaiah Thomas every game. In order to beat Cleveland, they would need a total team effort, something that they have shown they are capable of putting together. The prospect that the Celtics could actually do this, however, is exciting for Boston fans to say the least.

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Perhaps the most encouraging part of the win for the Celtics is that they did it despite a triple-double from LeBron James. It was James’ seventh of the season, and not many teams are able to beat the Cavs when he’s hot like that. The Celtics took LeBron’s best shot and still came out victorious.

The recent injury to Kevin Durant has also shifted the playoff scene. If he is unable to get to a healthy level by the time April rolls around, it makes the Western Conference a whole lot more interesting. At that point, the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets would come into play. A more even Western Conference would mean more wear-and-tear, which could be good news for the Celtics or Cavaliers, depending on who makes it in this hypothetical situation.

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At the very least, the Celtics showed the world that they have arrived as contenders. The next step in the Brad Stevens era will most likely have to run through Cleveland, and last night, they showed that they can keep up and win. If you thought this game was intense, mark your calendar for April 5th. The two teams will meet again at the TD Garden in one of the final games before the NBA Playoffs begin.

 

What you might have missed?

The past weekend has been crazy. Rumors are swirling in the NBA, Super Bowl Media week started, two tennis legends are back on the mountain top, and the NHL and NFL all star game ensued.

NBA

BASKET-GBR-USA-NBA-MILWAUKEE-NY : News Photo

Rumors continue to swirl about Carmelo Anthony, but just how true are they? Well…unfortunately, for Anthony, it looked like his stock is way down and the Knicks are looking to get rid of him for next to nothing for the caliber of player he is. The Clippers, Celtics, and Cavaliers have been linked as potential suitors for Melo. The Celtics have come out and said they weren’t interested, but they might be interested in being the third team  in a deal to help the Knicks and Clippers complete a trade. The stumbling Cavs are likely out as well as the combination of Lebron, Kyrie, and Melo would probably sour in Cleveland very quickly.

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The rumor mill is also firing up with Jimmy Butler’s name in the center of it. Rajon Rondo’s comments about the Bulls on his Instagram page didn’t go unnoticed. Tempers are flaring and what was thought to be a contender in the East, has fallen a long way off. NBA analysts have talked about the Bulls calling the Celtics in regards to a trade between the two teams involving Butler.

NHL

2017 Honda NHL All-Star Tournament Final - Pacific vs. Metropolitan : News Photo

The NHL All star skills competition and game took place this weekend in Los Angeles. The Atlantic came out on top in the skills competition with 9 points, but the highlight of the night was when Ryan Kesler’s son took part in the final shootout competition. Kesler’s son took the puck down the ice and dangled Montreal goalie Carey Price and slid the puck 5-hole, then followed it with an even better celebration.

The All Star game took place Sunday afternoon in the new 3v3 format. The Metropolitan division took the crown with a 10-6 victory against the Atlantic, with Wayne Simmonds getting the MVP award.

Tennis

 

Roger Federer and Serena Williams made history this weekend in Australia taking home the men’s and women’s title in the Austalian open, the first major championship of the year.

Roger won his 5th Aussie open title and 18th major championship overall, the most in the open era. Federer took on his longtime rival Rafael Nadal and took him down in an epic 5 set match.

Serena Williams cruised through the competition winning her 7th Aussie Open title and her 23rd major championship overall, a record in the open era. Williams took on her sister Venus for the first time in a final since 2009. Serena coasted to a 6-4, 6-4 victory.

NFL

Pro Bowl : News Photo

The NFL held their first skills competition since the mid 2000’s and it was an extreme waste of time. If you didn’t watch it, you did not miss out. The Pro Bowl however was a much more entertaining game with the AFC edging out a victory 20-13. It was a rare defensive battle where there was multiple turnovers and somewhat entertaining football, something we have not seen a lot from in past Pro Bowls.

NFL: JAN 30 Super Bowl Opening Night - Patriots : News Photo

On top of the Pro Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots made their way to Houston. Media week is under way and the rest of our NFL coverage including predictions will be posted later this week so be on the look out!

NBA All Stars: Who should the starters be?

The NBA All star voting concluded on Monday leaving some people with questions as to how legitimate the voting system has become in the NBA. Golden State Warriors Center Zaza Pachulia has racked up enough votes to possibly become the Western Conference stater at the 5 position. Over 21 million votes have been cast in this years voting, which is a 142% increase from last years game. The starters are determined by voting that is combined from the fans (50%), players (25%), and the media (25%). The starters for the All Star game will be chosen tonight on TNT on a special edition of NBA tip off. We pick who SHOULD start the game.

Eastern conference:

Guards:

NBA: DEC 23 Knicks at Cavaliers : News Photo

Kyrie Irving

Irving is averaging 23.6 points per game along with 5.6 assists. During the season, Irving has put Lebron in the backseat for some clutch moments including the dagger on Christmas day against Golden State. One of the best young players in the game, Irving is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference.

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Isaiah Thomas

Thomas is averaging 28.7 points per game combined with 6 assists. This season, Isaiah has put the team on his back which has garnered him the nickname “King of the Fourth”. Thomas has taken over games time and time again averaging the most points in the 4th quarter in the NBA.

Frontcourt:

Washington Wizards vs Cleveland Cavaliers : News Photo

Lebron James

James is obviously a shoe in to be an all star because he is the BEST player in the league, no questions asked. James is averaging 25.6 points, 8.1 assist, and 7.8 rebounds per game. James can do anything on a basketball court, he has great court vision and superior athletic ability making him the most dangerous player in the game.

Milwaukee Bucks v New York Knicks : News Photo

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Greek Freak jumped onto the scene last year with some impressive highlights, but this season he has really turned into a fantastic player. Giannis is averaging 23.7 points, 5.6 assists, and 8.7 rebounds per game. He has shown is freakish athleticism time and time again this year with highlight reel dunks. The 22 year old has a very bright future.

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Joel Embiid

Embiid is the first draft pick to somewhat look like he is going to pan out like they planned. Embiid is leading the Sixers, averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. “The Process” is dominating the game down low.

Western Conference:

Guards:

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James Harden

Harden is my favorite for MVP right now. He’s taken an average Rockets team and made them one of the best teams in the league. Harden is averaging 28.9 points, 11.6 assists, and 8.3 rebounds per game. The former backup to Russell Westbrook has moved past him for best point guard in the Western Conference. Harden controls the game and limits his turnovers making everyone around him better.

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Russell Westbrook

There are really no words to explain what Russell Westbrook is doing to the league this year. Although his turnover numbers could be much better, you can’t ignore his stats, 30.6 points, 10.4 assists, and 10.6 rebounds per game. Averaging a triple double has been damn near impossible in the NBA. But if he continues down this road, it could go down as one of the best statistical season ever.

Frontcourt:

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Kevin Durant

Durant has received a lot of hate for he offseason move to the Warriors. It has not gone as well as some people imagined, but Durant’s play has been consistent as he had a 40 point outburst last night against his former team in the Oracle. On a team with a ton of scorers, Durant is still averaging 26.7 points per game on top of 4.7 assists and 8.6 rebounds.

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Kawhi Leonard

Arguably one of the most underrated players in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard has become THE guy in San Antonio. He is the complete package, an excellent defender, paired with ability to score at will. Leonard has become a top tier player in the West. His stats aren’t indicative of how important he is to the team, with 24.8 points, 3.1 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game.

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Anthony Davis

Davis is a premier player in the NBA. He is the best center in the NBA and is carrying an awful team down in New Orleans. Davis is averaging 28.8 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. If you could start your franchise with one player, this guy has to be close to the top of the list because he is a fantastic talent in the NBA.

Tune in to NBA Tip off on TNT tonight to see which players receive the honor of starting in this year’s All Star game.

 

NBA Weekend: What to Watch

This weekend, the NBA features a decent slate of games, so if you find yourself bored waiting around for a crazy NFL Sunday, check out some of these match-ups.

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There are several awesome games tonight. The Miami Heat will travel to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers, a matchup that used to be somewhat interesting, but is now just a reminder how quick things change in the NBA. In 2010, Heat vs. Cavs meant LeBron was going to be booed at Quicken Loans Arena. In 2014, LeBron returned to Miami with the Cavaliers to face Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat. Now, Wade is in Chicago, Bosh has no foreseeable NBA future, and James has been back in Cleveland for over 2 years.

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The Toronto Raptors will travel to Boston to face the Celtics, with the Celts trailing the Raptors by 1.5 games in the Atlantic Division. Al Horford missed a crucial game-winning layup earlier this week, so we’ll see if he can rebound against a division rival.

Other games of interest around the league Friday include Rockets at OKC on ESPN, followed by Suns at Lakers.

On Saturday, Miami will tip-off in Chicago, and for the second time Erik Spoelstra will coach against one of his former superstars. The Heat have certainly been placed in a tough position after losing Bosh and Wade in the offseason, and will have to retool if they hope to content in future seasons.

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The Warriors will face the Grizzlies as they look to continue their dominance of the Western Conference, and the Pelicans will travel to LA to face the Clippers on NBATV to round off the Saturday action.

On Sunday, there isn’t a ton of action, but the game that stands out the most is Celtics at Thunder. Russell Westbrook has been on a tear as of late, and the Celtics will be fresh off a home game against the Raptors.

 

Cleveland Wins Now, So Who Can We Make Fun Of?

Until June 19 2016, Cleveland was the punchline of the sports world. The Browns had cycled through every quarterback from Tim Couch to Johnny Manziel, the Indians had gotten tantalizingly close to a World Series berth but never got over the hump, and the Cavaliers, until recently, lost LeBron James and faded to mediocrity. It shouldn’t be necessary to restate the pure hell Cleveland fans sat through in 1987 when they watched John Elway and the Denver Broncos carve their defense for a game-winning drive in the AFC Championship, or when the Indians won the division title six times in seven seasons from 1995 to 2001 and failed to make it to the damn World Series. Or, how could we forget when the Cavaliers lost game seven of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals after being up 20 points in the fourth quarter? Here’s the thing, that last one didn’t even actually happen, but you probably believed it, because it would’ve been so f*cking Cleveland.

However, all of that changes today. Today, Cleveland is the beacon of the sports world. Fans will flood the streets to celebrate the raising of the NBA Championship banner, and the Indians will host Game 1 of the World Series. A giant paper bag will be put over the Cleveland Browns; they’re another problem for another day. Cleveland is no longer the laughingstock of the sports world.

So, if Cleveland is off the hook now, who do we laugh at? The Browns are almost bad enough to keep making fun of Cleveland, but not quite. It’s not fair to make fun of a city with one or two professional teams. The Chargers and Padres might suck, but if San Diego had a basketball team, maybe they’d run house. You never know. Also, big market teams who are awful get laughed at even more. This, my friends, is why the awful sports city title goes to two big cities – to share.

First off, there’s Washington. Sure, the Redskins used to be good, but millennials have a short attention span and they haven’t won anything since 1992. As for the other three professional teams? Well, the Capitals went from being the worst team in the NHL to a great team who chokes in the playoffs every year. The Wizards won a title when they were the much cooler and much more successful Washington Bullets, long before Gilbert Arenas kept a pistol in his gym bag. Now, they are struggling to make the playoffs, and they didn’t even get a meeting with Kevin Durant in the offseason. The Nationals just lost in the NLDS to the Dodgers, continuing their long trend of being a disappointment in the postseason. If one of these teams can get their head out of their ass long enough to live up to their potential, Washington could have something. However, until then, they are forced to look into the television at their awful teams and ask themselves, “you like that?”

Joining Washington in their misery is Atlanta, who hasn’t had anything to write home about since the 90s Braves. Last year, the Falcons started 5-0 and somehow missed the playoffs, so don’t trust them until they win a playoff game. The current Atlanta Braves just finished 68-93, and don’t appear to have a direction. The Atlanta Hawks lost Al Horford and replaced him with Dwight Howard; expect him to leak complaints about his role with the team by mid-December. Atlanta used to have a mediocre hockey team, but they moved to Winnipeg. It’s hard to tell exactly who has it worse out of these three teams, but unless the Falcons surprise us all, Atlanta doesn’t have much to look forward to.

It is unclear who has it worse between Washington and Atlanta, but one thing is for sure: with a paper bag over the Browns tonight, Cleveland can rejoice in the fact that they are no longer the laughingstock of professional sports.

 

 

2016-17 NBA Expectations Meter: Central Division

Continuing our expectations meter for every NBA team heading into the 2016-17 season, we now take a look at the Central Division. Rather than simply previewing each team, we analyzed them and created what a successful season would look like for each franchise. Obviously, the bar is much lower for some than others (spoiler alert: the 76ers and Warriors do not have the same expectations), but each team has goals to work toward.

We continue our journey now to the Central Division, home of the Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers and Bucks. Three out of these five teams reached the postseason in 2015-16, and some may have a tough task getting back. The Cavaliers return a largely intact roster, while the Bulls made wholesale changes, adding Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo while parting ways with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, two prominent franchise players. The Pacers look to get back into the playoffs behind Paul George, while the Bucks are going to need to pray that Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokoumpo carry the team on their shoulders (oh, yeah side note: they brought in Jason Terry too. He’s still in the league? Crazy right?) Oh. Right. There’s also the Pistons, led by Stan Van Gundy, who also had the hottest mixtape of 2015.

Sadly, there’s not a whole lot of drama as to who will win this division, not when Cleveland is coming off an NBA Championship. Much like when James won in 2012 with Miami, you can expect this title momentum to carry him well into the next postseason run. However, that doesn’t mean that it won’t be interesting watching James and Wade square off in the same division. Plus, the dynamic of the Bulls with Wade, Butler and Rondo fighting for leadership will be mighty interesting.

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Cleveland Cavaliers             

            2015-16                 2016-17
              57-25                   59-23
 Beat GSW in Finals (7 games) Back-to-Back NBA Champs
   1st in Central Division      1st in Central Division

This year, the Cleveland Cavaliers face a unique challenge. For the first time, perhaps, in NBA History, nobody is talking about LeBron James and the pressure he is facing. Nobody is talking on TV about how long ago Cleveland won their last title, or how he is 2-4 in the NBA Finals. That pressure was placed squarely on the Golden State Warriors after signing Kevin Durant. No, the challenge this year for the Cleveland Cavaliers isn’t the pressure; it’s staying focused and motivated.

The competition that the Cavaliers will face in the Eastern Conference is going to be far less strenuous than their likely rematch with the Golden State Warriors. Even the Raptors or Celtics, two teams predicted to finish directly behind Cleveland in the Eastern Conference, offer little more than a tough game. If Cleveland sinks down to the level of the Chicago Bulls, for instance, they will immediately be behind the 8-ball in their task of winning another title. Golden State will be more ready than ever by the time June rolls around. The big question is: will Cleveland?

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Chicago Bulls            

            2015-16                 2016-17
              42-40                   48-34
  9th in Eastern Conference       Conference Semifinals
    4th in Central Division      2nd in Central Division

 

The 2016-17 Chicago Bulls will be a strange, strange team. Of course, you have Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo replacing Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, and many will argue whether or not that is an upgrade. The Knicks and Bulls basically had a good old-fashioned swap, and who knows, maybe both teams will come out of it with something to show. Wade has shown that he can still play at a productive level on most nights, while outperforming expectations on others. Rondo is still Rondo; an occasional distraction, occasional pest, but also, an occasionally good player to have on your team. This is without a doubt still Jimmy Butler’s team, but he has friends now.

Wade has also said that his signing with Chicago is “bigger than basketball” after his cousin was fatally shot in Chicago over the summer, so expect him to do what he always does and continue to fight for social causes while making great plays on the court.

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Indiana Pacers

            2015-16                 2016-17
               45-37                    48-34
 7th in East (Lost in 1st round)       Conference Semifinals
   2nd in Central Division      3rd in Central Division

The 2015-16 season began with a lot of promise for the Indiana Pacers. Paul George was finally returning from his long injury, and the Pacers finished as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. They lost a hard-fought series to the Toronto Raptors in the first round, costing head coach Frank Vogel his job.

This year, the Pacers look to further their playoff success, and if not, Larry Bird might have to kill someone on the spot to make an example out of them. This guy wants to win, and bringing in the old assistant coach Nate McMillan after a decent season shows that. Expect the Pacers to play with intensity and have a decently hot start, but fade a little bit toward the end of the season.

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Detroit Pistons

            2015-16                 2016-17
              44-38                   46-36
 8th in East (Swept in 1st round)        Make the Playoffs
   3rd in Central Division      4rd in Central Division

Last year was big for the Detroit Pistons, there’s no doubt about that. They made the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season, but were swept by the Cavaliers. Andre Drummond made some significant leaps, and they return with an ample amount of youth.

The Pistons may have been swept by the Cavaliers in the first round, but they didn’t go down without a fight. The Pistons showed that they were a gritty team, and this mentality could bode well for them this season. Joining them will be 18th overall pick Henry Ellenson, a big man out of Marquette. The Pistons will need to make the playoffs, however, to continue their progress, and that could be tough in this year’s Eastern Conference.

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Milwaukee Bucks

            2015-16                 2016-17
               33-49                   42-40
 12th in Eastern Conference    10th in Eastern Conference
   5th in Central Division      5th in Central Division

As a 76ers fan, it is borderline depressing that the worst team in this division last year still had 23 more wins than the Sixers. All joking aside, the Milwaukee Bucks weren’t that good by any measure, but they did see some positive signs. In December, they ended the Golden State Warriors’ 28-game win streak, a feat some might say was assisted by the Boston Celtics. They saw decent improvement from 22-year old Giannis Antetokounmpo (for the purposes of this article, we will just refer to him as ‘G-man’) and 21-year old Jabari Parker, two players they will have to rely on going forward.

Last year, a big reason why the Bucks had trouble capitalizing on their momentum was their youth. Only 5 players last season were born before 1990, and an additional 5 on the roster were born in 1994 or later. Those numbers haven’t changed much this season, but they did add the ancient treasure Jason Terry to potentially provide some leadership qualities to young players such as Thon Maker and Rashad Vaughn. It most likely won’t be a playoff season for Milwaukee, but they need to continue to develop their young talent – it’s their only hope for a future playoff run.