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Glancing at the East: Cavaliers making their move

The Cleveland Cavaliers were expected to compete atop the Eastern Conference standings with the Chicago Bulls when the season started. Cleveland then disappointed, coming out of the gate slowly. At the midway point of the campaign, the Cavaliers were only one game over .500 while head coach David Blatt was directly on the hot seat.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Cleveland is rounding into form. Kevin Love is finding himself, LeBron James is healthy and the the depth is present following a trade which acquired J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the New York Knicks. The Cavaliers are in the midst of a 10-game win streak and have closed to within a game of the Bulls for the lead of the Central Division, gaining six games during their run.

Cleveland is likely to continue its streak on Monday when the Philadelphia 76ers make a trip to Quicken Loans Arena. The schedule remains favorable beyond Philadelphia, giving the Cavaliers the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Miami Heat next. Only Indiana is a road game from that group.

The next huge test for James and his group comes on Feb. 12 when they visit the Bulls at the United Center.

Here is a full look at the Eastern Conference standings:

1. Atlanta Hawks               40-8
2. Toronto Raptors           33-15
3. Washington Wizards   31-17
4. Chicago Bulls                30-19
5. Cleveland Cavaliers     29-20
6. Milwaukee Bucks         25-22
7. Miami Heat                   21-26
8. Charlotte Hornets        20-27
9. Brooklyn Nets              18-28
10. Detroit Pistons           18-30
11. Boston Celtics              16-30
12. Indiana Pacers            17-32
13. Orlando Magic            15-35
14. New York Knicks       10-38
15. Philadelphia 76ers     10-38

Looking at the standings, it is almost impossible to imagine the Hawks losing the top seed. Atlanta is living in a fairy tale, winner of 19 straight games. The Raptors will also coast to the Atlantic Division title, clear of the second-place Nets by 14 games.

The East is once again a disgrace toward the bottom of the playoff picture. At least two teams will likely reach the postseason without earning 40 wins. The Heat and Hornets are leading the push for the seventh and eighth seeds, with Brooklyn, Detroit and Boston pushing. The Nets have fallen apart over the last three weeks, sporting a 2-8 record over their last 10 games.

The forgotten team is Milwaukee, which is sitting comfortably in the sixth seed. The Bucks have to hope the Central winner doesn’t slide into the third seed, because Milwaukee would have a fighting chance against Washington or Toronto. The Bucks have forged ahead without rookie Jabari Parker, who tore his ACL at the beginning of the season.

Here are the games on Monday night, with lines included:

Charlotte Hornets at Washington Wizards (-7.5)
Philadelphia 76ers at Cleveland Cavaliers (-16)
Los Angeles Clippers (-9) at Brooklyn Nets
Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder (-13.5)
Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors (-6.5)
Atlanta Hawks (-4.5) at New Orleans Pelicans
Memphis Grizzlies (-3) at Phoenix Suns
Minnesota Timberwolves at Dallas Mavericks (-12.5)

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