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When picking favorites for the NBA Finals, the teams in the East rarely get a huge nod. Recently they’ve held their own, splitting the last four NBA Finals and winning four out of the last ten. This year’s crop of eastern ballers have a legitimate shot at taking home the Larry O’Brien trophy and there’s no shortage of star power.
The Milwaukee Bucks currently have the best record in the league but there are teams right behind them that could make a run. These are the squads that will be the biggest threat to knock them off and go on to win the championship.
Defending The Chip On Your Shoulder
We all almost immediately forgot how good of a team the Toronto Raptors were last year. Sure, Kawhi Leonard could put a damper on chances of repeating but the Raptor players are not trying to hear that.
Spotlight: Starters at the top
Toronto currently has five players that average at least 16 points per game, led by the electric energy-bomb Pascal Siakam. He has taken the reigns as the team’s leading scorer (23.6 points per game) and they continue to feed off his energy.
The back court point guard duo of Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry have combined to average 37.3 points and 14.3 assists per game. They continue to put pressure on defenses and find players in great spots to score.
Toronto as a team is shooting 80% from the free throw line, which is huge in close games. Their best players can push the ball to the basket and force the referees to blow the whistle. Right now the Raptors might be the most dangerous team because nobody is viewing them as a serious threat.
When talking about the Boston Celtics there’s only one question left: are they ready? They have the star power, the right coach and enough experience together to make a real run. The time is now for them to pull it all together.
Spotlight: Triple Threat Match
Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown all have averages above 20 points per game. Any one of them can get hot at any time and in some instances all at once. With the uncanny ability to create offense, all three can be viewed as a go-to-guy and defenses are almost helpless to stop all three in a game.
The Celtics are ranked second in the league in points allowed (106.8). They play solid, team defense and do a good job of stopping runs from getting out of hand.
Boston might have the best collection of on the court threats when you add in Gordon Hayward (17.3 points per game) as their fourth option. Everything is there for them. Can they take advantage?
The Inside Man
The Philadelphia 76ers have been a top contender for a few years now but they haven’t reached the NBA finals. Another team with elite talent that can’t seem to pull it together. Let’s not get away from the original point: the 76ers were as a close as a three point miracle shot away from reaching the finals last season.
Spotlight: A Power Move
Ben Simmons has played his young career at point guard and now Philadelphia is toying with the idea of moving him to power forward. I say Bravo to that because you can’t tell me he won’t thrive there.
Simmons does most of his scoring with moves towards the basket: why shouldn’t he be closer? He has a great rebounding knack as well and his offensive rebounds should go up. No part of his game should suffer from this move and I can’t name more than a couple of players that would be able to really guard him at that position.
Joel Embiid (23.4 points, 11.8, rebounds per game) is doing his usual numbers and Tobias Harris (19.4 points per game) is having another consistent season. That’s a front court that could lead to bigger (pun intended) and better results for a team that’s been right there for years.
These three teams have been near the top of the conference for a few years now and they all have the tools to finish the job. If they win the conference they could be the favorites to win it all.