1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Coming into the new season as defending champs, the Cavaliers had all the more reason to retain their deserving number one spot in the East, and the early goings of this new season certainly reassure this conjecc2774a87bee560311f032836199af878-original.jpgture. The fact of the matter is that in an Eastern Conference that is still relatively weak, in spite of significant improvements to some teams, the Cavaliers are on track to a third Finals trip in as many years. It will take a lot of effort from the likes of Chicago, Toronto, Boston, Charlotte, and Atlanta, to whom the Cavs narrowly lost their first game of the season, to bring down a consistent Cleveland team with little visible weakness, especially juxtaposed with the greater NBA context of a chemistry-challenging addition to Golden State and the loss of an iconic leader in San Antonio. There aren’t many playmaking needs that are waiting to be addressed at the Q, and though it is way too early in the season to be making predictions about seven months from now, the previous three teams with which LeBron James has won 5 of the first 6 games have gone on to take the ‘chip in June. -Izeman
  2. Chicago Bulls: When the Bulls decided to ship Rose out to New York it seemed like they were finally putting their faith behind Jimmy Butler. However, with the off-season signings of Wade and Rondo the balance of leadership in the locker room, which kept the Bulls out of the playoffs last year, once again seemed in question. These worries have proven to be insignificant as Dwyane Wade has taken a commanding lead of the team, and the veteran has reaffirmed his status as a top ten player in the league. The ball movement and defensive effort has kept Chicago afloat as a superpower in the east. Ranking as a top-ten team in both offense and defense, the Bulls seem like a legitimate challenger to Cleveland. A glaring flaw with this team that has plagued this unit since the days of Thibodeau, has been the inconsistency of the big men. Solid play from Robin Lopez has been contorted by poor outside shooting fromaxresdefaultm Mirotic and lackadaisical defense from Gibson. In order to beat a team like Cleveland, the Bull’s bigs will have to start performing at a high level or Cleveland will have a field day with them. With a tough schedule ahead for the Bulls, which includes an away visit to Utah and L.A, the strength of this unit will truly be put to the test. -Vainesman
  3. Toronto Raptors: Many expectations going into the season for this Toronto team were mostly along the lines of them returning to being an average playoff team (they were the 4 seed in 2014-15) after an incredibly impressive season in which they came within one game in the Eastern Conference of the eventual-champions Cavaliers. Kyle Lowry has been expected to slip in quality after a career season and DeMar DeRozan has been expected to not have the same iso and mid-range production from a season ago. However, all the signs are seemingly pointing in the opposite direction as Kyle Lowry does not seem to be slowing down and DeMar DeRozan has been outstanding, shooting 52.4% with 33.7 PPG including scoring 30+ in the first four c456ffe682f8ffc5f84eda64369bfa2fgames of the season. So far, under the lead of Lowry and DeRozan and in spite of an early loss at a slumping Sacramento, this Raptors team has demonstrated that they are capable of reciprocating last season’s performance. -Izeman
  4. Boston Celtics: Coming into this season the Celtics had high expectations; Boston was deemed the most fit challenger to the Eastern conference crown, by ESPN. However, this title of ‘Kings of the East’ seems to be confidently held by the Cavaliers at the moment. Once agaiimagesn these expectations appear to be a bit unrealistic. Boston is a young team who will only improve, but the lack of experience and carelessness with the ball has proven to be costly. Namely, putting the ball in the hands of their first-round pick Jaylen Brown with seconds left in Chicago. This, after previously tying up the score, lead to a lackadaisical turnover and a waste of a precious possession which for a playoff team is unacceptable. Since Brad Stevens took over for Doc, the Celtics record has improved year by year; The Celtics went from winning 30.5% of their games in 2013-2014 to a 48.8% win percentage the next year and a 58.5% the following year. I have no doubts that the Celtics will continue to improve, but the notion that they can challenge the Cavaliers in the playoffs is a foolish sentiment. They are far too young of a group to challenge for the title this yearM. After a loss this past night to the Wizards, they fall to a dismal 3-4, but to overlook the injuries that have plagued this team would be ill-advised. With Al Horford (concussion), Jae Crowder (ankle), and Kelly Olynyk just returning, the depth of the Celtics was truly tested during this past 3 game losing streak. With all these key contributors returning and a decently easy schedule in the foreseeable future it is certain that the Celtics will get their season back on track. -Vainesman
  5. Atlanta Hawks: Early into the 2016-17 season, a Hawks team without Al Horford and Jeff Teague doesn’t seem to be in any bad shape, especially with an in-form Dwight Howard, averaging a double-double less than ten games in, who is accounting for a big portion of Atlanta’s improved rebounding efficiency from last season. The Hawks are sporting a very well-rounded team at the moment; Kyle Korver is shooting above 40% from beyond the arc, Tim Hardaway Jr. is on the path to having a career season in his fourth year, Paul Millsap is gunning towards a fourth consecutive All-Star team, and the Hawks are second in the East in defensive efficiency behind Charlotte. However, the Hawks have had a significantly easy schedule, so as their 636057363240457643-usatsi-9273354schedule hardens in the next two weeks, we can expect to get a sense of the true character of this challenger team as it pertains to the rest of the season. -Izeman