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James is again the face of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and alongside Kyrie Irving and Co., expect the team be back in the thick of the playoff race and in contention for the No. 1 seed in the conference. Chris Bosh is now the best player on the Miami Heat roster, while Carmelo Anthony stayed with the New York Knicks.
Let’s not sleep on last year’s top seed, the Indiana Pacers, though they’re a team that remains very much in flux with Lance Stephenson‘s departure potentially on the horizon.
How could the Eastern Conference standings look next spring? Here’s a glimpse into the XN Sports crystal ball as to which eight teams make the playoffs.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
If LeBron is on your team, expect to be the favorite in the East. A player of his caliber is enough of a difference-maker, especially in this conference, and the Cavs could still be in play for another All-Star such as Kevin Love.
Cleveland contended with Kyrie Irving as its best player, so expect 33 wins to skyrocket closer to 50-55.
2. Chicago Bulls
Chicago is suddenly a very deep team, one that was the No. 4 seed in the conference without its most talented player. Rose’s presence should allow the Bulls to resurface as at least a top-three seed.
3. Indiana Pacers
Much of the Pacers’ fate is contingent on whether they can re-sign Lance Stephenson, who is also considering the Charlotte Hornets and Dallas Mavericks.
Stephenson is the next-best scorer on Indiana’s roster after Paul George, and losing him could mean the team falling into the bottom two or three seeds.
In addition, there were rumors of a possible Rajon Rondo deal. When it’s all said and done, Indy has a very high ceiling and low basement.
4. Miami Heat
5. Washington Wizards
Pierce should be a sixth man at the stage in his career, but the team seemingly has faith John Wall and Bradley Beal will continue to progress as major scorers. Plus, Marcin Gortat was re-signed, giving the Wizards enough to continue to make noise in the East.
6. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets lost McRoberts, a major piece of the puzzle for their playoff team a season ago, but are in the mix to land Stephenson, who may fit in even better with what the team is doing.
If Charlotte whiffs on Stephenson, they may be better suited to be the No. 8 seed — or at least in the mix to be it.
7. New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony is back in the fold, and Phil Jackson is not done yet adding talent around him. Already, Jose Calderon gives the team a true assist-minded point guard, while Tim Hardaway Jr. may emerge as a true weapon.
This team could shoot up in the standings if Jackson can orchestrate a trade that sheds Amar’e Stoudemire‘s deal in exchange for another scorer. There’s still a lot to be done this summer.
8. Atlanta Hawks
Don’t the Hawks find a way to sneak into the playoffs every year?
Expect Atlanta to at least be worthy of the No. 8 seed, but could easily fit in as high as the fifth or sixth, depending on how the rest of free agency goes. Plus, we could see one of its Euro players surface as a difference-maker for the team.
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