For an entire generation, being a quality team in the Eastern Conference means a guaranteed pass to the NBA after the season is over.
Unlike their Western counterpart, where good teams are routinely left out of the deciding picture, the East—since the Charlotte Hornets’ return to the league in 2004, bringing the NBA to a current 30-team squad—has seen a team make less than 0.500 teams. The playoffs are eight of those eighteen seasons and a four-win gap between the average fourth-best team in each conference, and a five-win gap between the eighth-best team average.
Those days, however, are over.
Teams will routinely stretch like those the Toronto Raptors endure to open 2022-23: seven games in a row against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat (twice), Philadelphia 76ers (twice) and Atlanta Hawks.
“The East is not for the faint of heart,” Raptors coach Nick Norse said with a smile.
During the first week of the season, ESPN was in attendance for six games featuring six of the seven teams in ESPN’s win and lose predictions: the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Toronto Raptors.
Here’s what we learned about each contender as they begin navigating what should be a season-long challenge to the playoffs.
When asked to break up Boston’s early play, many of the league’s scouts and executives pointed to Brogdon’s immediate impact.
“It’s exactly what they need,” one East Scout said after watching the Boston game.
Brogdon, who was acquired by the Celtics from the Indiana Pacers in a deal this summer, has demonstrated his ability to create attack after attacking the central defender, all while being able to hold on as part of Boston’s defensive scheming.
Case in point: In the first quarter of Boston’s season-opening win over Philadelphia, Brogdon grabbed a defensive rebound, pushed the ball into the area and hit it. Grant Williams To get a pointer 3 on one possession, then catch a ball in the swing into the corner, and attack James Harden And I got edge to edge to throw the ball the next day.
For each concept focus on Stephen CurryThe Golden State Warriors’ offensive team shone during the Golden State Warriors’ six-game NBA Finals victory, the truth being that the Celtics lost that series not because they failed to contain Curry’s weapons and Warriors, but because the Celtics struggled to put points. Their own. Boston’s offensive rating of 105.6 in the Finals tied the Detroit Pistons to 28th during the regular season.
Just Jason Tatum And the Jaylyn Brown They can be relied on to create snapshots for themselves. The addition of another top-ranked innovator in Brogdon, who averaged 19.1 points and 5.9 assists last season for the Pacers, removes a significant burden from the shoulders of the All-Stars. 3.3 His assists in every game so far is twice the number of assists of the man he replaced in the Boston tournament, Payton Pritchardaveraged over the playoff round last year.
Cleveland Cavaliers: What’s the solution in the young striker?
despite of Darius Garland He was out for all but the first half of Cleveland’s first game with a left eye injury, the Cavaliers looked like the contender they were set to become after dealing with an All-Star Donovan Mitchellwho slipped into the Cleveland offensive with three straight 30-point games.
The long-awaited question surrounds the junior position forward in Cleveland’s starting and closing squads alongside Mitchell, Garland, Mobley and Allen.
to begin with, Karis Levert, who had a strong prep for the new season, got approval. But while Levert has played more creatively with Garland, averaging 6.3 passes per game, shooting 3 for 24 with two shots, scouts and executives wonder if his lack of defensive ability is the right fit for Mitchell. and Garland.
while, Isaac Okorois the fifth pick in the 2020 draft, shooting 3-for-12 from the field and missing the six threes he attempted. religion valley It’s the closest approximation to what Cleveland got Laurie Markanen last season, but Wade is still working his way back from a pre-season ankle injury.
While Allen and Mobley are the Cleveland announcers, when the elite CAFs and the star wings of the East – Tatum, Brown and Harden – face off, Jimmy Butler And the Chris Middleton There is no clear answer as to how they will try to slow them down. It’s a situation worth watching until the February 9 trading deadline.
Miami Heat: How bam goes, they go
When the Heat hosted the Celtics, then the Raptors twice, a familiar trend emerged: Miami would build the lead with a big star Pam Adebayo on the field, and then almost immediately put it back when he went to the bench.
In Friday’s loss to Boston, Adebayo was a plus-20 in a game that Miami lost by seven points. He’s been +5 in both games against Toronto on Saturday and Monday, with the Heat winning three and losing eight in a row.
During those three matches, Adebayo was off the field for 35 minutes and 40 seconds. In those minutes, the Heat beat 42 points.
This pace is untenable during a season of 82 games, but with PJ Tucker Now in Philadelphia, Frontline in Miami is a work in progress.
“Everyone’s trying to kick, trying to figure it out,” Adebayo said after the loss to Boston.
The imminent return of the big man in the second year Omar Yurtseven, who came off with an ankle injury to start the season but is with the team on his current three-game trip to the West Coast, should help. Yurtseven’s return will allow Heat coach Eric Spoelstra to sit Dwyane Didmonwho had a net rating of -25.5 through four games.
It’s easy to forget, given that the Bucks qualified for the Eastern third seed last season, that pole position Brock Lopez effectively missed the entire regular season with back issues.
However, if the first week of the season shows anything, it is that the veteran big man, who is in the final year of his contract, looks more than ready to go.
In the season opener last week a win against Joel Embiid And for the 76ers, Lopez provided an instant reminder of why his unique combination of sheer size — he’s listed at 7 feet, 280 pounds — and outside shooting touch are integral to Milwaukee’s success.
Against the 76ers, Lopez fired four three-pointers, blocked two and was a big part of the Milwaukee that carried Philadelphia to just 88 points.
“This morning, if you’re going to tell us we’re going to score 90 points and win the match, maybe [have said]’Impossible’, ‘The star is ahead Giannis Antikonmo He said after the victory of Philadelphia.
“But at the end of the day, that’s our goal. We want to be one of the best defensive teams.”
Lopez’s presence next to Antetokounmpo provides a massive crime-fighting wall to navigate – he scored six blocks and was the highest level in the game plus 21 in Milwaukee’s comeback win over Brooklyn on Wednesday – while Lopez’s floor spacing creates space for Antetokounmpo to work at the other end.
While Middleton has remained sidelined after off-season wrist surgery, Lopez’s play was a reminder that if the Bucks had four healthy starting players – Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Lopez and… Jrue holiday It will be difficult to choose against them in a series of seven matches.
With their five opening games, one word can be used to describe the 76ers: disjointed.
A team that expects to compete for a championship after losing four of its first five matches is bad enough, but what makes it even more worrying is How Losses are increasing.
Against Boston and Toronto, 76 players were channeled into a transition period, edged out by 53-19 in fast break points across the two games. Against Milwaukee, it was a 5-for-24 attempt from a 3-point range while Joel Embiid went 6-for-21 overall and didn’t shoot in the second half. Against San Antonio, Rivers then admitted that 76ers don’t play hard enough against an underdog opponent.
While the individual players did well in attack – someone scored at least 29 points in all five games, including Embiid who scored 40 against San Antonio and both Therese Maxi He scored 31 goals against Toronto – no game this group has won.
Looking at the four top scorers (Embiid, Maxey, James Harden and Tobias HarrisThey all played a lot of games together during the regular season and playoffs last year – Philly was the eighth-best attacker in the NBA after trading with Harden – the early offensive issues were a strange development.
It’s also what makes calls for more time to connect – something that Rivers, Embiid and Harden have emphasized this season – baffling.
“It’s a fairly new team and it’s going to take time for everyone to be in the same position,” Embiid told reporters after San Antonio’s loss on Saturday. “But we’ll be fine.”
At such moments, it is worth remembering that the 2013-2014 edition of the 76ers – the first “Process” team – won their first three games, including a game against the Heat with LeBron JamesChris Bush and Dwyane Wade.
This team finished the season 19-63. In other words: the season is not settled by one week.
But, let’s just say the 76ers should be very lucky that the Phillies are in the World Series and the Eagles are the only undefeated NFL team.
Toronto Raptors: Why every match will be a battle
Here are the scoring margins for each of Toronto’s first four games:
This is the life of birds of prey. Toronto will certainly be among the league’s elite defensive teams, but without a clear goal-scoring option, there will be plenty of times this group struggles to put together points.
Results? Lots of exciting basketball – and a lot of stress late in the game – for Raptors fans.
This does not mean that Toronto is uncomfortable in those types of environments. The team’s first two victories of the season, over Cleveland and Miami, saw the Toronto team return to the fourth quarter after slowly exhausting their opponents.
“We know we have to guard, create some offense from our defense,” the nurse said after Monday’s win in Miami.
But nothing is easy about how to play the Raptors. Unlike many of their competitors in the East, they lack the kind of offensive transition option that can generate the attack themselves when the game slows down – although Pascal Siakam He’s been great so far, and he should be a contender again on the All-NBA site if his opening week is any indication.
But when Toronto is at its best, like during Wednesday night’s win over Philadelphia, the Raptors win by flipping their opponent and out with a transition. Against Philadelphia, the Raptors turned 13 76 spins to 21 and held a 29-17 advantage in break points, including a 10-for-10 transition from the transition field.
As a result, they won without getting into the kind of shot that would likely tip the scales in Philadelphia’s favour.