VIDEO: Jeremy Lin’s 35 points lead the Hornets over the Raptors in overtime
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers’ win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday put the Eastern Conference back over .500 (76-75) in games against the West. While the West has only six teams with winning records, the East has 10.
Only 2 1/2 games separate the second place Bulls from the 10th place Celtics in the standings. Teams Nos. 2-10 in the East all have 14, 15 or 16 wins.
That makes for a lot of good matchups between teams fighting for playoff position. And there are three of them on League Pass Friday night: Hawks-Celtics (7:30 ET), Raptors-Heat (8 ET) and Pistons-Bulls (8 ET).
Beyond the Cavs, no team has distinguished itself as a favorite to win a round or two in the playoffs. They all have reasons to believe in them and reasons to doubt them. Here’s a rundown of Teams 2-10 in the East…
Atlanta (15-12) has the experience. It was the No. 1 seed last season and is one of only two teams within the group that won a playoff series earlier this year. But the Hawks are 7-10 since Nov. 13 and have played the easiest schedule among these nine teams.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ BOS, 12/20 @ ORL, 12/23 vs. DET, 12/28 @ IND
Boston (14-12) has a top-five defense, has a point differential of a team that’s actually 17-9, and has played the toughest schedule among these nine teams. But they’ve actually played the worst defense (by a wide margin) in games played within the group. They allowed the Pistons, a bottom-10 offensive team, to score 119 points on Wednesday.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. ATL, 12/23 @ CHA, 12/26 @ DET
Charlotte (15-10) ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but has played five more home games than road games. It’s also fair to wonder if Kemba Walker will continue to shoot as well as he has, having been the league’s worst shooter over the first four seasons of his career.
More vs. the group this month: 12/23 vs. BOS
Chicago (15-8) has the best record, but the seventh-best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) among these nine teams. Ten of their 15 wins have come by six points or less, and they’ve been outscored by 41 points in their eight games against the other eight teams on this list, having lost three straight within the group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. DET, 12/28 vs. TOR, 12/30 vs. IND
Detroit (15-12) is 5-2 within the group after Wednesday’s win over the Celtics, but five of those seven games have been at home. Overall, the Pistons have been 9.3 points per 100 possessions better at home than on the road. Only Milwaukee (12.3) has a bigger differential.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ CHI, 12/22 @ MIA, 12/23 @ ATL, 12/26 vs. BOS
Indiana (15-9) is a top-10 team on both ends of the floor, is 8-3 (6-0 at home) in games played within the group, and has a point differential of a team with a 17-7 record, which would have them tied with the Cavs for first place in the conference. The Pacers certainly have the best resume of the teams on this list. But their starting lineup has been pretty bad, especially defensively.
More vs. the group this month: 12/28 vs. ATL, 12/30 @ CHI
Miami (15-9) ranks third in defensive efficiency and has the talent to be a top-10 offense if it gets its starting lineup on the same page. But the Heat have played a home-heavy schedule thus far and are 3-6 (1-4 on the road after Monday’s win in Atlanta) in games played within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 vs. TOR, 12/22 vs. DET, 12/26 @ ORL,
Orlando (14-11) is another team with a top-10 defense and has won its last five games against non-Cavs East opponents. But the Magic have the ninth-best NetRtg in the East and have played the fewest games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/20 vs. ATL, 12/26 vs. MIA
Toronto (16-11) is one of only two teams (Chicago is the other) with three wins over the four best teams in the league (Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City and San Antonio), getting last week’s win over the Spurs without two starters. But the Raptors’ offense has been rather anemic in its seven games within this group.
More vs. the group this month: 12/18 @ MIA, 12/28 @ CHI
Three of these teams will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and at least two of them aren’t going to even make the postseason. Maybe at some point between now and April 13, it will get easier to distinguish the contenders from the pretenders.