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Five thoughts on the East

The NBA regular season only has a month remaining. When the dust settles, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be the favorites to represent the conference come June in the NBA Finals while seven other teams try to pull off an upset (somewhere, the Altanta Hawks fans are grumbling).

It will be interesting to see if anybody can push Cleveland to seven games and perhaps out of the playoffs altogether. Considering the weak nature of the East this millennium, it isn’t likely to happen early. With all that in mind, here are five thoughts on the Eastern Conference headed down the stretch.

1. The Toronto Raptors are sunk

Toronto has fallen apart over the last month and the free-fall appears to have no end in sight. The Raptors are 39-27 and easily going to win the Atlantic Division, but the fourth seed seems like their destination after being in the No. 2 spot most of the year. Toronto is likely going to face the Washington Wizards in the first round, who will be favored to knock it out of the postseason. Even if the Raptors do escape with a first-round victory, the Hawks will be waiting.

2. Atlanta is vastly underrated nationally

Look, most of us would take the Cavaliers to win the East if we had to bet our house on it. Cleveland has LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, while the Hawks have Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague. However, Atlanta is deep and can shoot the ball with guards Kyle Korver and Dennis Schroder on the perimeter. Also, the Hawks are awesome at home, boasting a 30-4 mark.

3. The Indiana Pacers are coming

Indiana started the season brutally and looked like a postseason afterthought. Then, suddenly, the Pacers decided to turn it on. Indiana is 30-35 and sitting fairly comfortably in the playoff picture as the seventh seed, a full game up over the ninth-seeded Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. Indiana won seven consecutive games before losing to Boston on Saturday.

4. The Chicago Bulls could be a massive factor yet

The Bulls have been written off by many with Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose out for most if not all of the regular season’s remaining games. Chicago is 4-6 over its last 10 games and tied with Toronto for the third seed, something smart money would have the Bulls taking. Should it earned the No. 3 seed, Chicago would likely draw the Milwaukee Bucks, beat them, and face the Cavaliers in the second round. What a showdown that would be.

5. Brad Stevens is incredible

Look at Boston’s roster and explain how that team, even in this deplorable conference, is sniffing the playoffs. The Celtics are starting Brandon Bass, Tyler Zeller, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Evan Turner. The bench? Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko and Phil Pressey. Good luck picking any of those guys out of a lineup. If Stevens drags this team to the playoffs, he should get Coach of the Year consideration.

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