- The Raptors are third in the NBA in offensive rating and net rating. Do they have a sliver of hope against the West’s top teams?
- Can Kyrie Irving return in time to guide the Celtics to the NBA Finals?
- Find out why each team in the West won’t win the NBA championship
Another thrilling NBA season is coming to an end and fans in eight Eastern Conference cities have reason to rejoice as their teams have qualified for the playoffs. It’s an exciting, jubilant time dampened only by the fact that none of them have a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning the NBA championship.
From the Cavs to the Bucks, every single Eastern Conference contender is deeply flawed in its own unique way. Some are hobbled by injuries, some are beset by locker room drama, and others consistently come up short in June (we’re looking at you, Toronto).
We’ve identified each club’s biggest shortcoming and have set the odds on their downright depressing chances of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Toronto Raptors: A History of Playoff Failure
The biggest hurdle for the Raptors in 2017-18 is the franchise’s pitiful playoff history. Toronto has won 48-plus games in each of its last five seasons only to fold like cheap deckchairs in the playoffs. DeMar DeRozan and co. have lost in the first round twice during that stretch and were unceremoniously swept by the Cavs in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
Enjoy those courtside close-ups of Drake while you can, because Toronto will be headed home early again.
This year’s squad is admittedly better and deeper than previous iterations, but Toronto has yet to prove that it has the mental fortitude to win it all. Their toughness has been especially questionable lately as the Raptors have lost four of their last seven games and have been allowing opponents to shoot a blistering 49.4-percent from the field since mid March.
Enjoy those courtside close-ups of Drake while you can, because Toronto’s “second season” will be ending early again.
Odds Toronto will win the NBA championship: 10/1
Cleveland Cavaliers: Lack of Reps
No team has dealt with more upheaval this season than the Cavs, who gutted their roster at the trade deadline and have fielded a different starting line-up nearly every night since. At this point it’s really just a matter of conjecture who Cleveland’s optimal starting five is, since few of the team’s best players have been available at the same time.
Cleveland will probably roll out George Hill, Rodney Hood, LeBron James, Larry Nance Jr. and Kevin Love at the start of games once the first round begins, but that quintet has only logged 13 minutes all season and has been atrocious defensively during their brief time together.
Their lack of familiarity and understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses will be fatal once teams triple team LeBron and dare the rest of the Cavs to beat them.
Odds Cleveland will win the NBA championship: 12/1
Boston Celtics: Kyrie Irving’s Absence
Boston’s chances of winning a championship were marginal with Kyrie Irving, but they’re absolutely abysmal without him. The five-time All-Star is the Celtics’ best playmaker, top scorer, and undisputed closer, and he’s the one player on the team capable of consistently breaking down defenders and getting to the rim.
Boston’s offensive rating drops by 7.3 points per 100 possessions whenever Uncle Drew sits and that number will likely be even higher in the playoffs once the pace slows down and the defensive intensity ratchets up.
Boston has enough grit to steal a series while Irving rehabs his surgically repaired knee, but they’ll be toast in the second round if he returns at anything less than 100-percent.
Odds Boston will win the NBA championship: 20/1
Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid’s Untimely Injury
Philadelphia’s feel-good season officially ended on March 28th at 7:15 p.m. when Markelle Fultz’s shoulder collided with Joel Embiid’s face, sending the Cameroonian center to the floor with a thud. The 7’0” All-Star has since been diagnosed with an orbital fracture and will now miss the first round of the playoffs as he recovers.
The Sixers have outscored opponents by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when the Process is on the court, and have been thoroughly outplayed when he sits.
Embiid won’t receive many MVP votes this June, but there’s no question that he’s been Philly’s most valuable player. The Sixers have outscored opponents by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when the Process is on the court, and have been thoroughly outplayed when he sits.
His absence couldn’t have come at a worse time for a team that was finally blossoming after years of self-inflicted misery.
Odds Philadelphia will win the NBA championship: 66/1
Washington Wizards: Lack of Momentum
Someone needs to tell the Wizards that the final two weeks of the season are a time to start peaking rather than imploding. Washington has lost five of its last seven games including a pair of embarrassing defeats to the Knicks and Bulls. Those kinds of stretches are excusable in mid-December, but not at the tail end of the season when momentum is so crucial.
Odds Washington will win the NBA championship: 100/1
Indiana Pacers: Victor Oladipo’s Postseason Disappearing Act
The dirty little secret around Indiana is that the team’s lone All-Star is a postseason no-show. Victor Oladipo made his playoff debut for the Thunder in 2016-17 and proceeded to stink up the joint with his ice-cold marksmanship and inconsistent play.
The 25-year-old “shooting” guard averaged just 10.8 points per game on 34-percent shooting from the field and 24-percent from behind the arc. Those numbers won’t cut it this year as teams key in on Oladipo and expertly exploit his many limitations.
Odds Indiana will win the NBA championship: 100/1
Milwaukee Bucks: An Anemic Bench
Unlike the Raptors, the Bucks have qualified for the playoffs in spite of their bench rather than because of it. Milwaukee ranks 28th in bench scoring at just 27.1 points per game and experiences a huge drop-off whenever Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe take a breather.
Both stars are young enough that they can play max minutes in the playoffs, but they’re unlikely to get the help they desperately need from any of the team’s reserves. Malcolm Brogdon is injured, Jabari Parker is still working his way into shape, Thon Maker is literally two-dimensional, and Jason Terry is a year or two away from the senior’s discount at IHOP.
The Bucks’ glaring lack of depth will spell disaster once the playoffs begin.
Odds Milwaukee will win the NBA championship: 150/1
Miami Heat: Hassan Whiteside’s Growing Discontent
The Heat are hot, but their chemistry is not. Miami center Hassan Whiteside caused an uproar over the weekend when he openly complained to the media about his minutes and questioned the team’s substitution strategy.
If Hassan Whiteside was as good as Hassan Whiteside thinks he is, the Miami Heat wouldn’t have this problem.
— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) April 1, 2018
The disgruntled pivot has since been fined for “comments detrimental to the team” and could be dealt in the offseason unless he changes his tune. Miami is good, but they’re not good enough to survive this kind of distraction so close to the postseason.
Odds Miami will win the NBA championship: 150/1
Let's have fun and keep it civil.