The Cleveland Cavaliers looked set to finish on top of the Eastern Conference this year and have every chance of defending their NBA Championship title. With a record of 34 wins and 15 losses Tyronn Lou’s side will go into the ‘All-Star Weekend’ break as the conference’s most dominant team.
Despite superstar LeBron James not averaging the same points per season he achieved in recent years he is displaying how his game is changing with age. He is averaging more rebounds and assists now, than he has through his fourteen-year career.
The Cavs have slipped in form in recent weeks however, which James puts down largely to the absence of a recognised playmaker in the roster.
The revitalised New York Knicks are already showing drastic improvement on last season where they finished bottom of the conference. They currently sit in 11th position putting them well in contention for a play-off spot. Despite being dubbed a “super team” before the season began having signed high profile players Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and 7ft 3 three-point shooter Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks are yet to fulfill their potential.
The Chicago Bulls show no effects of losing their key players in Rose and Noah. After Rose’s string of injuries in recent years, Jimmy Butler has had to step up as team leader and continues to do so in his absence. Despite the Bulls signing Dwayne Wade to replace Rose, it’s Butler who continues to dominate averaging 25 points per game this season.
The Milwaukee Bucks continue their good form from last year sitting in 10th place in the conference, sitting a few places lower than their 6th place finish in 2015/16. The ever-improving pair of Giannas Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are the driving force behind the team who will be regular playoffs makers in the years to come.
The rangy, 6ft 11, Antetokounmpo known as the ‘ Greek freak’ is a defender’s nightmare with his speed and athleticism in transition and his ball handling and post-up moves on set offences. At only 22 and 21 years of age respectively the duo still have plenty of growth left.
While the Atlanta Hawks were the shock team of last season having big results with no superstar players, it is the Charlotte Hornets who have showed significant improvement compared to last season. With a dismal 11th place finish last season they currently sitting in 4th and look like hanging on to a playoff spot. In recent weeks, they have gone on a seven game losing streak having beaten the Cavs only days before hand.
At the start of the season it would be expected that the LA Clippers would be on top of the Western Conference due to an unbeaten streak of 8 games. After a few over-time loses early on and the loss of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to injury they have slipped to 5th with a record of 31 wins and 20 loses.
Veteran Paul Pierce, who won a Championship with the Celtics in 2008, played his last ever game at the Boston Gardens with the Clippers, following his retirement announcement last October.
The Golden State Warriors are continuing their dominance in the conference after their record breaking regular season of 67 wins and 15 losses. As if the greatest team in regular season history couldn’t improve, the signing of 2014 MVP Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City Thunder, make them the most dominant offence team in recent years.
Having lost their superstar, OKC have shown they are still one of the top teams in the conference. Russell Westbrook has put himself firmly in contention to be the regular season MVP averaging 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists per game. While it is only approaching the half way point of the season it is worth noting that the last player to average a triple double for an entire season was Oscar Robertson in the 1961/1962 season.
Another player in contention for MVP is Houston Rocket’s James Harden. While he is exceptional on both offence and defence it is the dominance that Harden brings to every game which makes him an MVP candidate. Similar to Westbrook, Harden is consistent in every game and as long as he’s on the floor his side have a chance of winning, regardless of the opposition.
Speaking of superstars, the San Antonio Spurs lost one of their most iconic players in franchise history, Tim Duncan, to retirement. While Spaniard Pau Gasol was signed to fill the void left by Duncan’s departure, it is Kawhi Leonard who has stepped up as the team’s leader.
Leonard, who became a household name in 2014 during the Spurs championship win, has cemented himself as a leading scorer in the league averaging 24 points per game this season.
The main surprise in the West this season is the collapse in form of the Portland Trailblazers. Back in September it was expected that Damian Lillard would be leading his team to the playoffs but they haven’t produced the results so far. It could be due to a reported rift between Lillard and head Coach Terry Stotts or the time he’s been putting into his rap album. Regardless, the Blazers stand at 22 wins and 30 losses.