NBA Handicapping: Eastern Conference Contenders
by George Monroy - 1/20/2015
With the NBA nearing the All-Star Break and the Cleveland Cavaliers still struggling to play .500 basketball, the one thing that has become clear over the first 40-something games is that the Eastern Conference is as wide open as ever. When LeBron James returned to Cleveland over the summer, NBA experts and most oddsmakers immediately installed the Cavaliers as the runaway favorite to win the East and make another NBA Finals appearance.
Two months into the season, however, no team has separated itself from the rest of the conference, and now that the NFL season is winding down with only one game left, bettors will begin to turn their attention to pro basketball. Let's take a closer look at the Eastern Conference and figure out which teams are the contenders and which aren't heading into the second half of the basketball year.
Record : 34-8
ATS Record : 31-11
It's still difficult to consider the Atlanta Hawks as real a contender in the east, but the team has the second-best record in the entire NBA and is currently sitting on a five-game lead in the conference's playoff standings. The Hawks are also the best ATS team in the league and have covered a whopping 13 straight games.
Record : 29-13
ATS Record : 20-21-1
Washington has not been a great ATS squad through the first half of the season, but as contender status goes the team should be right at the top. John Wall has played MVP-caliber basketball, but his maturity over the last two seasons has been the main reason why the team has surged recently. Washington's defense, where it is ranked fifth in fewest points allowed, has been its bread and butter.
Record : 27-14
ATS Record : 21-20
Toronto signaled its arrival on the NBA stage last season when the team surprisingly earned the No. 3 seed in the east. The team is built on a roster of young players, which includes a potential superstar in Kyle Lowry. The young point guard is currently averaging 19 points, seven assists and nearly two steals per game for the Raptors. Expect the team to be a force in the postseason after last year's heartbreaking Game 7 loss to Brooklyn in the first round.
Record : 27-16
ATS Record : 18-25
Chicago has struggled as an ATS team mostly because of the injuries to its roster. Derrick Rose is a question mark each night, while Joakim Noah and a few other key contributors have missed time. The team, however, is still chugging along and collecting victories despite the uncertainly surrounding its franchise point guard. Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic, two unknowns before the season, continue to provide game-changing production, which will only help the team come playoff time.
Record : 22-20
ATS Record : 16-26
At this point Cleveland should be considered a contender only because of reputation-James' reputation, that is. The Cavaliers are horrendous ATS-wise and are coming off a streak where they did not cover a matchup in six straight games. The bottom half of the East is so bad, however, that Cleveland will most likely make the playoffs and give the team a chance to at least try and make a postseason run.
Read more articles by George Monroy
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