We learn a bit more week-by-week about every team in the NBA. And now, just over a third of the way through the season, the postseason fog has started to clear somewhat, as some teams have really put it together while others have continued to struggle.
For better or worse, it’s been an up-and-down year for much of the Eastern Conference. But what are some of the more recent takeaways?
Boston Still Figuring It Out
Through 29 games this season, the Celtics are 15-14 and sit just barely fourth in the Eastern Conference. They’ve struggled this past week, going 1-3 while losing games to the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks, all of whom are on the outside looking in in regards to the postseason. A talented roster, headlined by two of the league’s most exciting young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Boston was expected to be among the best in the East this season; what’s gone wrong?
Consistency, something that, so far, has partly been out of their control. Kemba Walker has played in just 14 games this season. When he’s on the court, meanwhile, he hasn’t looked anything like the player he was even just last season. Walker, so far, is averaging the fewest assists per game (4.1) of his career, along with his second-fewest minutes (28.4) and points (17.2) totals. His abysmal field goal percentage (38.4) would also be the second-worst mark of Walker’s 10 seasons. If Boston is to turn it around, they need Walker to step up and look like the player they signed last season.
Beyond Walker, the team has seen plenty of fluctuations in the rotation; Boston has run out 16 different starter groups over the course of the season. Between his recovery, along with injuries to Marcus Smart and some of the Celtics’ other expected rotation players, the point guard position has largely been a revolving door. Meanwhile, Romeo Langford, Boston’s first round pick a season go and someone that was expected to contribute heavily with Gordon Hayward gone to Charlotte, has yet to even practice due to offseason surgery on his wrist.
So, while Tatum and Brown have looked like All-Stars, it just hasn’t been enough to keep Boston above water.
Aaron Nesmith, Carson Edwards, Jeff Teague and Tremont Waters have all had opportunities (and failed) to separate themselves from the rest of the bench. If they can’t get more out of that group, expect Boston to be more than active at the trade deadline.
Toronto Turning Things Around
After a 7-12 start to the season, the Toronto Raptors have won seven of their last 10 to get themselves to 14-15, sixth-best in the East and just five games back of the first place Philadelphia 76ers.
While there is no doubt Toronto got off to a bad start, the thought that the world was falling in on them was a bit overblown. The quick turnaround to the start of the season, with new roster additions particularly at center, combined with the fact that they are playing in a new city that required players to find housing, potentially move families and deal with some rather important life decisions should not be understated.
Back-to-back wins on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks should continue to do wonders for the teams’ confidence and chemistry. And, unlike the Celtics, the Raptors have solidified their rotation, at least for the most part. Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam have carried the team, while the consistent play of DeAndre’ Bembry, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby has afforded Toronto plenty of opportunities to rest their stars for stretches.
They might not have the same buying power behind them, but expect the Raptors to be an active team come the trade and buyout deadlines, as well.
As we in closer to the All-Star break, the Nets have been heating up. In fact, in the midst of a five-game win streak, including 109-98 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, they would appear to be on fire.
Despite losing Kevin Durant to a hamstring injury that has kept him out since February 13, the team has continued to roll in large part because of the synchrony of James Harden and Kyrie Irving. When Brooklyn acquired the former Rockets star, the big question is how the ball-dominant pair might work together. And, while many expected they would figure it out, they have not only done so, but played with far more chemistry far sooner than expected. Yes, the ball has the propensity to stick to either of them from time to time but, for the most part, the duo has done their best to keep the ball moving and, should the possession call for it, let the other do their thing.
Further, players such as Jeff Green, Bruce Brown, Landry Shamet and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot have, if nothing else, been consistent and solid for the Nets on both ends of the court.
The defense is still a glaring issue, as the team 114.2 defensive rating is sixth-worst in the NBA. If they can improve on that end, even slightly, Brooklyn could be the toughest team to take down come the postseason.
These teams should continue to garner significant intrigue as the season continues, as should the rest of the Eastern Conference as teams vie for playoff positioning and continue to build up their rosters. Keep on the lookout for our next “What We Learned” look at the Eastern Conference!
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