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Ell’s NBA All-Star Break Report: East Playoff Teams

Kyle Lowry & PJ Tucker Drain Their First Heat 3's 👌 - YouTube

1. Heat

The Heat have quietly crept up to a tie for the #1 spot despite injuries to multiple players along the way allowing them to gain valuable depth. The additions of Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker have provided even better results than expected alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but this team will be a tough out in the playoffs. Tyler Herro is a legit 6th man of the year candidate, and the growth of young players Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, and Omer Yurtseven will continue to provide them good depth. The Heat should take off once the team is at full health, likely after the All-Star break.

2. Bulls

The Bulls have been better than expected under Coach Billy Donovan and the additions of Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and DeMar Derozan have paid off. Derozan has been the best move of the offseason as an underrated All-Star and MVP candidate. The additions have provided solid defense to match the offense of Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic, making them a well-balanced team with the growth of Colby White and local product Ayo Dosunmu. The Bulls have proven that injuries can’t set them back in the regular season, but now the playoff expectations are starting to grow.    

3. 76ers

The 76ers have been led by another MVP caliber season by Joel Embiid who continues to show why he is one of the best big men in the league. The growth of Tyrese Maxey has given the team good insurance for the Ben Simmons situation, but the trade for James Harden will give the team a new level of play offensively. While I didn’t like the loss of a key player in Seth Curry, the Harden trade could take this team to another level. The growth of 6th man Georges Niang has helped the team along the wing, but they will need more consistency from Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, and Danny Green; they may also miss the insurance Andre Drummond provided for an Embiid injury.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland is clearly primary playmaker of future

4. Cavs

The Cavs have been the surprise team of the league and haven’t seemed to miss a beat despite multiple injuries to multiple players including Colin Sexton and Ricky Rubio for the season. Rookie Evan Mobley has been a great find with his versatility to fill-in multiple positions, eventually sealing the starting PF spot. Kevin Love has found the fountain of youth along with late pickup Rajon Rondo to keep the bench going and provide leadership. The trade for Caris LeVert makes will keep them near the top and a tough out. Darius Garland has turned into a star and Jared Allen is one of the most underrated Centers.

5. Bucks

The Bucks have been quietly moving to the top of the East after dealing with multiple injuries early in the season mostly to Brook Lopez, Jrue Holiday, and even Giannis. The Greek Freak is the best player in the league with his two-way play and is having another MVP caliber season. The team has received good depth from Jordan Nwora and Grayson Allen, while they hope a late trade for Serge Ibaka will give them good depth inside. Bobby Portis has filled in nicely as the starting Center on both ends of the floor, but this team will go as far as their Big 3 will take them again.

6. Celtics

The Celtics struggled after some average moves in the offseason and injuries, although free agent pickup Dennis Schroder filled in nicely, his damage to team chemistry caused him to be shipped out. The consistent play from Marcus Smart and the continued growth of Jalen Brown and Jayson Tatum allowed the team to stay afloat with the leadership and play of Al Horford. Robert Williams has seen continued growth and has been able to stay healthy making him a big part of team. A late trade for Derrick White should keep the Celtics in contention and point them back in the right direction going forward.

7. Raptors

The Raptors have found their way back into the playoff hunt after early struggles without Kyle Lowry’s consistency. Fred VanVleet has been a force as an underrated PG again and leader of this team after a slow start and rookie Scottie Barnes has continued his great play from the Summer League proving to be a versatile key piece. Gary Trent Jr. has grown into a consistent scorer and Pascal Siakam has been able to regain an All-Star caliber form. OG Anunoby has been a solid two-way player, while Chris Boucher continues to provide depth off the bench, and Precious Achiuwa has been a nice young piece inside.

8. Nets

The Nets have been up and down this season after a late injury to Kevin Durant put a lot of pressure on James Harden leading to his exit, as Kyrie has already missed home games after originally being fully away from the team due to his vaccination status. The additions of Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, and Andre Drummond should provide the defense and rebounding the team was sorely lacking. The production of Patty Mills has been underrated and the growth of rookies Cam Thomas and Kessler Edwards provides good depth with veterans Blake Griffin and James Johnson. The return of Lamarcus Aldridge has given them a nice inside presence and Nick Claxton has been a solid rebounder; the team should start to win again soon.

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