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The NBA Standings Report: Is the Eastern Conference getting better?

This week we take a look at the Eastern Conference powers to see if the other side of the NBA can matchup with the dominant West on the eave of a long Warriors road trip

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

As Warriors fans, it's easy to forget the Eastern Conference. Not that we don't know about the Cavaliers because they are pasted all over our sports coverage, or that it's impossible to avoid the success of the Atlanta Hawks at this point. The issue is that after the top tier teams, the East takes a swift dive quality-wise into oblivion, with a collection on the fringe of rebuilding, searching for identities and playing below expectations.

Today we are going to take a quick look at the Eastern Conference standings to see how the playoff race at the midway point of the season is stacking up. The dialogue was clear to start the 2014 campaign - the West was going to be historically good and the East had a chance to be historically bad. Has that been the case?

The Warriors are about to take a long road trip toward the east coast over the month of February, and many of their matchups will be against these unfamiliar eastern foes. As Golden State has been fantastic against the counter conference (going 14-1 against the East so far), they will have some tough city stops coming soon.

Lets take a look at the Eastern Conference standings below -

Standing

Team

Record

1

Atlanta Hawks

41-9

2

Toronto Raptors

33-17

3

Washington Wizards

31-19

4

Cleveland Cavaliers

30-20

5

Chicago Bulls

30-20

6

Milwaukee Bucks

27-22

7

Charlotte Hornets

21-27

8

Miami Heat

21-28

Observations

  • Holy Drop-off Batman! The distance between the 6th seed and the cluster that makes up the 7th and 8th seed is a chasm. With the recent momentum of the Bucks (five wins in a row, wins in seven of their last 10), it's conceivable that Milwaukee will run away and clinch that 6th spot by early into the second half of the season. This will leave a race for mediocrity at the bottom, with Miami having a hard time staying healthy and Charlotte having a hard time being what they started the season trying to be - successful.
  • Atlanta holds the top spot quite strongly, riding the success of a Warriors-like 19 game-winning streak. The Friday night showdown between these super powers could be a speak-too-soon preview of a late playoff matchup, but for now we can enjoy the theatrics and hope it delivers on the hype. Atlanta is playing extremely solid ball, even netting the first-ever "starting five" players of the month in the East (all five of their starters were co-winners). Atlanta holds many of the same statistically-dominating numbers at that the Warriors do, easily handling their competition. I will let the game preview do more of the talking, but it's obvious this Atlanta team is for real.
  • After the top spot, there is a great tier of successful winning teams separated by less than three games in the win column. These teams - Toronto, Washington, Cleveland and Chicago - have taken turns beating each other this season for bragging rights. They have also taken turns nursing the injured list, with each dealing with absences from their top stars. They will no doubt duke it out for home court rights as the second half continues on, which will be a huge advantage as Toronto, Washington and Chicago are very tough places to play.
  • The championship favorites in Cleveland are finally getting their game straight after a few trades and King James rejoining the lineup. The Warriors beat them back in Oakland, but that was without the MVP in the lineup. They are a reborn team and have continued to surge, with chemistry finally forming between the big three (Kyrie, Love and Lebron). They made some incredibly savvy trades that from the initial results are paying off. Yes, they did leverage most of their future, but they didn't give up key parts like Tristian Thompson to get the role players they needed. 
  • The Warriors have yet to face some of the top contenders in Washington and Atlanta (previously mentioned), which could be big to see how they stack up against the entire league. Washington has always played Golden State hard (John Wall is a Warrior Killer, and so is Nene). With that said, the Warriors also still have two matchups against teams like Brooklyn, New York and a trip to Philly in their future... so it does all balance out.

On the outside looking in

Outside of the top eight, a few teams in the East have shown recent signs of life, and even hold the potential to enter the race. It's an odd group, as even some of these teams that are two or three games out are on the verge of full "sell" mode to end the season. Lets take a look at them:

  • Brooklyn Nets (20-28) - Their roster is full of salary albatrosses that are impossible to trade, combined with fading superstars that can't stay on the court. Deron Williams finally returned to the lineup as of late, but only serves to keep them perpetually on the edge of playoffs without going into full rebuild mode. Management won't let this expensive team tank, even though they have thrown out trade ideas for Brook Lopez and even Joe Johnson. Will they take the dive or push on to make another playoff run?
  • Detroit Pistons (19-31) - The curse of Josh Smith lifted, this team finally looks like they have it going right... until Brandon Jennings goes down for the season. Step in DJ Augustine and they look like they still have hope, chasing down that obtainable 8th spot. Look for this momentum team to be a matchup nightmare against a first round foe in the East. Could we see another "We Believe" in Detroit?
  • Boston/Indiana - The rest of the fringe teams have either gone into rebuild mode already (Rondo) or have been forced into it long ago (Paul George). Sure, Boston or Indiana could find themselves easily in the 8th spot with a winning streak in the 2nd half, but honestly probably serve better to stay in the lottery for both franchises.

Final Thoughts

The Warriors head into uncharted waters in the coming month, and the East, though regarded as the weaker conference, still dishes out some solid challenges with their top franchises. Sure, the East doesn't hold the same parody as the West, and it's possible that two franchises with losing records will make the playoffs. This is not a conversation for re-seeding the playoff hunt (best sixteen records make the playoffs? Sure! Sounds great!), but rather a chance to look at the group as a whole. Can the Hawks come out of this conference? The Warriors care because that Eastern Conference champ might be facing them for the title. Only time will tell, but for the sake of basketball as a whole we are glad the East is finally holding up its end of the bargain.

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