The Cavs’ Competition: Breaking Down the Eastern Conference Contenders

Now that we’ve hit the regular season’s two-thirds mark, we have a pretty good idea who will be in the Eastern Conference playoffs. So we figured it would be fun to breakdown the competition and imagine how the Eastern Conference might play out.

Dark Horses (6th, 7th & 8th slots)

Miami Heat. (22-30) Were looking at fight with Charlotte and Pacers for last slots before Thursday’s trades put them in much better position.

Strengths: They grabbed one of the league’s most dominant shot-blockers, Hassan Whiteside, off the D-League trash heap, giving them the center they’ve lacked since Shaq had his brief tenure. Bosh has savored being the #1 scoring option, getting five more shots/gm playing the elbow, posting the second-best shooting % (at least 2 fga/gm) from 10’-14’, where he got less than a shot/gm and shot 41% last year. The addition of 28-year old allstar PG Goran Dragic for the contents of a junk drawer and distant first rounders was a coup that boosts their prospects dramatically

Weaknesses: Offense is only mediocre (12th best eFG%, 20th in PPP) and the defense is much worse (20th Def. PPP, 25th Def. eFG%).They still create a lot of turnovers (15.7, 10th) but they give away even more (15.9, 25th). This isn’t the strong defensive team of the LeBron years either, and Dragic’s average-below average D won’t change that. They allow the 5th highest opp. eFG% and the 10th lowest PPP. Integrating Dragic into the offense in time for the playoffs will e a challenge as well. Nor does Dragic fix the 10th worst defensive rebounding team, and produce the second-fewest fastbreak points in the league.

Prognosis: The addition of Dragic adds some needed firepower to a mediocre, overly deliberate offense, but doesn’t solve their rebounding, defense or transition offense issues. If they’re clicking they could be a first round nightmare, but there are too many issues and too much wear on these tires to go too far.

Indiana Pacers. (21-33) The Pacers didn’t tank or at least not well enough, which is a challenge in the Eastern Conference, and now find a playoff spot in reach with Paul George on the verge of coming back.

Strengths: A lot like the Hornets, the Pacers are a team that excels playing position defense, but doesn’t create many turnovers. They’ve allowed the 4th lowest points-in-the-paint, and is 9th in opp. eFG is 48.6%, just behind the Hawks and Bucks.

Weaknesses: Ballhandling remains suspect. They make 1.6 more turnover than they create and allow the 10th most points on turnovers in the league. (The Cavs are right behind them.) Their offense is just a mess (26th eFG, 27th PPP). They take a LOT of midrange jumpers (5th, behind Knicks, Lakers, Wizards and Hornets) making 41.8% which is 10th best in the league, but also take the 3rd fewest shots from within 5’ (Heat, Knicks worse) which they convert at the 7th worst rate. (Surprisingly, the Bulls and Hornets make even less of their close shots.)

Prognosis: The addition of Paul George presumably shores up some of their scoring weakness, though even with George they’ve exhibited a subpar offense. However, if they can get a shot at Toronto, Washington or maybe the Bulls, they could stage a first round upset.

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