The Battle at the Top of the East
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When the 2014-15 season began we all had our opinions on who the top dog of the east was going to be. The popular choice was the new “Big 3” in Cleveland, and a fully healthy Chicago Bulls squad would compete for the top seeds, and make a title run. While all of our predictions were right in some way, the Cavs and Bulls are fighting for a top spot, and both could represent the east in the Finals. I don’t think anyone in their right mind thought the Atlanta Hawks would run away with the top seed. The Hawks have been the surprise of the NBA, and there is no doubt they will have home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, but the number two seed is still up for grabs, and the battle for the two seed is not just a race between Cleveland and Chicago. The Raptors and Wizards have added more surprise to this NBA season as they are in the mix for the second spot in the east.
The four teams mentioned above are separated by three games. As it stands right now the Cavaliers own the two seed followed by Toronto two games behind, Chicago 2½ and Washington 3. Cleveland the most talented team, and are playing the best basketball of all the other teams in this race. Over the past two months since LeBron came back from injury they have been the best team in the league. They would be my bet to get that number two seed. They seem to be clicking at the right time, even with the Kevin Love consistently not being involved in the game. Coach David Blatt has made it known the Cavs want the second seed. After the loss to the Heat Monday Blatt said "We got to finish in second place,” however he will give rest to players if needed, he sat Kevin Love the past few games to rest his aligning back. Whether that move was actually for rest or for another reason is up for debate, but other players could see rest if needed, even in such a tight seeding race Blatt commented on the idea of giving rest “We're thinking about that," "Where and if there is an opportunity to rest guys, we will." The Cavs also have a favorable remaining schedule, eight of the final thirteen games are at home, and only five of those games are against teams above .500. However the teams chasing Cleveland will have a shot to gain ground on them, as Chicago and Washington will each have a crack at them before the season ends.
The importance of the number two seed probably means the most to Toronto and Washington, both are dark horses to make it to the Conference Finals. These teams were expected to be in the playoffs, but to have more distance between themselves Cleveland and Chicago. That mostly has to do with early inconsistency from the Cavs trying to learn how to play with each other, and the Bulls with yet another injury plagued season. If Washington and Toronto want to get that number two seed they are going to have to play a lot better. Toronto is 3-7 in their last ten, but most of their losses came from a brutal western road trip. Washington has played better of late, winning four in a row, but they had been one of the worst teams in the league over the past month, and at this point just need positive play heading to the postseason. The Chicago Bulls in my mind couldn’t care less about seeding. As long as they’re healthy going into the playoffs this team believes they can go anywhere and beat any team. However like every season health is the key word with this then. While I believe seeding doesn’t matter too much for the Cavs either as they have a group of veterans, it does matter more than for Chicago just because two of their stars have never seen post season action. Luckily for them I don’t believe they will relinquish the two seed and the standings will finish the way they stand now. Toronto has a favorable schedule, although four of their last five games are on the road, and they also play Chicago twice so those two could easily flip flop for number three. I see the Raptors getting the three. The reason I see the Bulls slipping to four is because I feel they are going to have to rest players ensure they’re heathy for a title run. Washington has slipped to far to make a push for the two seed, and I don’t see Cleveland giving up enough ground the way they’ve been playing to let the Wizards or anyone else take the two seed from them.