The Eastern Conference in the NBA is not a problem for title contenders. With the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers the favorites for a spot in the NBA Finals, the East has its fair share of teams capable of finishing this season as champions.
The departures of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets also leave the door open for underdog teams.
Three NBA sleeper teams with a shot at making the Eastern Conference Finals
3. Miami Heat
After a crushing loss in Game 7 to the Boston Celtics during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Miami Heat looked like a completely different version of themselves compared to last season.
But if there’s one thing to expect from this team, it’s that once the playoffs start, you can never really count the heat.
After Miami (33-30) had the East’s best record 53-29 last season, he’s seventh. The Heat have sixth-ranked defense in the league with a 111.4 defensive rating and 26th-ranked offense with a 110.5 offensive rating.
You still have Jimmy Butler, who is averaging 21.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game while shooting 52.0%. He averaged 27.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 4.6 apg and 2.1 spg while averaging 50.6% in the playoffs last year. Don’t be surprised if he plays even more with a chip on his shoulder once the postseason kicks in and his team gets overnighted.
On top of that, Bam Adebayo is having another solid season, averaging 21.2 ppg and 9.8 rpg while shooting 53.8%. Adebayo is an All-Star for the second time in his career and, with a 109.2 defensive rating this season, has continued to prove one of the NBA’s top centers, especially defensively.
He’s also supported by a strong supporting cast that includes Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo, Kevin Love, Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent.
They lost freehand PJ Tucker in the offseason and miss having him on their rotation. He provided great distance with his 3-point corner kick (41.5%) and solid defense.
But make no mistake, the Miami Heat are no strangers to giving opposing playoff matchups a hard time.
2. New York Knicks
The New York Knicks (37-27), fifth in the East, are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They have won seven in a row, with an impressive 109-94 win over the impressive Boston Celtics on Monday, and are up 27-14 from a 10-13 start.
The Knicks have the league’s fifth-ranked offense (116.2 rating) and 13th-ranked defense (113.2).
They are led by two-time All-Star Julius Randle (25.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 46.3% shooting). After an underperforming season last year, Randle has made a strong comeback with an improved level of play.
After the Knicks’ struggles last season (37-45), they made the necessary move to strengthen their team by taking on Jalen Brunson in the offseason.
Much like Randle, Brunson is having an incredible season, averaging 23.8 ppg and 6.2 apg while shooting 48.5%, with 41.0% from 3-point range. From those stats alone, Brunson shows his best season of his career.
The New York Knicks also have some high profile players in their rotation in RJ Barrett, Josh Hart, Mitchell Robinson, Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Jericho Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein.
With only a handful of games left in the season, the Knicks will keep things interesting during their postseason run.
1st Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers (39-26), fourth in the East, have remained one of the NBA’s most enduring teams. They have third-ranked defense (109.9 rating) and ninth-ranked offense (115.3 rating).
The team is led by its dynamic backcourt scoring duo.
Four-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell averages a team-high 27.5 ppg and 4.8 apg while shooting 48.1%, with 38.7% from 3-point range. Mitchell is one of the most explosive players at his position due to his penetrating power and ability to make hard shots.
Darius Garland joins him in forming a deadly scoring tandem, averaging 22 ppg and 7.9 apg while shooting 47.0%, including 42.4% from 3-point range.
Both fit together seamlessly as each provides the team with a powerful shot on goal with top notch shooting performances.
Similar to the Boston Celtics’ double-sized lineup, the Cleveland Cavaliers have Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Distance won’t be compromised as Mobley is capable of hitting perimeter shots while the center defense is one of the most intimidating to penetrate in the NBA.
There is depth of quality in Caris LeVert, Ricky Rubio, Cedi Osman, Isaac Okoro and Dean Wade.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have had victories over the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Memphis Grizzlies. The Cavaliers could easily make a splash in the playoffs as a team not to be taken lightly in the Eastern Conference.