Has anyone looked at the Eastern Conference standings this morning? Spoiler alert: The Toronto Raptors are in 1st place.
Coming into the year, they had the 11th (tied) best odds to win it all, now just days after the trade deadline, it is not implausible to believe the NBA Finals will be played partially outside the United States.
This is a result of the Raptors making a strong case they are better than both of the teams that get all the attention in the East — Cleveland and Boston. For what it is worth, Toronto has advanced to third in odds tied with Cleveland and ahead of Boston (5th).
While there is not much separation between Toronto (0.5 lead) and Boston record-wise, it is hard to make a case the edge goes towards Boston.
Albeit one game, they just played this past week, and the Raptors looked far superior on both ends of the court. The Raptors’ 20-point victory does not even paint the story vividly enough as they topped them in nearly every statistical category: points, field goal %, three point %, assists, steals, blocks, fast break points, points in the paint, total turnovers.
As for Cleveland, when they last faced the team with the best record in the East, they were humiliated in a 34-point stomping and were outrebounded 72 – 45. It might be important to add, they had to remake half of their roster proving just how bad things are in Cleveland.
One could say these are just two recent games, but they actually represent what has been occurring this season, and that is Toronto looking like the most complete team in the East.
Toronto is third in points per game (111.4) this season ahead of Cleveland (109.8) and far ahead of Boston (102.9), but more importantly, their points per game differential (+8.1) is nearly double that of Boston (+4.1) and makes a mockery of Cleveland’s – 0. 3.
Statistically, the team across the border prevails, and team chemistry-wise, they have the most coherent squad. Of course, it is impossible to know how the new-look Cavs will look post-trade deadline, but the days of LeBron James making life easy on his teammates are long gone.
While Kyrie Irving has seemed to fit well with the Celtics, it has never felt like the team has fully clicked offensively upon his arrival. Disappointingly, they have gone from 7th in points per game a season ago all the way down to 25th this year.
No such problem exists in The 6 with the pieces blooming together well and defining what team ball truly is. Toronto is beating teams while not relying solely on one individual nighty.
Now, many may believe their lack of star power will ultimately be their Achilles’ heel, however, DeMar DeRozan has actually been on par, if not better than Irving this season putting up nearly identical statistics.
Yes, LeBron is still a significantly better player, but that might be the only advantage Cleveland currently holds. And barring an unanticipated collapse, LeBron will be hauling his new roster he most likely will be subtweeting by playoff time over to Canada to one of the most aggressive fan bases in the NBA.
The West looks like a collision course between the Warriors and Rockets, could the Raptors and Drake be waiting for them?