After representing the Eastern Conference for the past two season in the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers are once again the favorites to win the Eastern Conference title. They currently have a three-game lead over the Boston Celtics for the first overall playoff spot in the East. By the time the playoffs roll around, who are the Cavaliers biggest competition to get back to the NBA Finals?
3. Atlanta Hawks
Even though the Atlanta Hawks are currently only the fifth seed in the East, they are a bad matchup for the Cavaliers. The teams have only played each other once in the regular season, when the Hawks won, 110-106. The Hawks have two good big men, center Dwight Howard (13 rebounds per game) and power forward Paul Millsap (26 points per 100 possessions). The Cavaliers primary power forward Kevin Love (31.2 ppg) and center Tristan Thompson (10 rpg). Love recently received arthroscopic knee surgery and will be out until at least the end of March. The Hawks will be able to expose the Cavaliers down low with Love not at 100%. This was already the weak spot for the Cavaliers so the Hawks would have a decent shot at pulling off the upset.
2. Boston Celtics
Currently, the second seed in the East, the Boston Celtics have taken a big step forward this season. Point guard Isaiah Thomas (43.2 point per 100 possessions), has carried the team this season and currently has scored 20 points in 41 consecutive games (the Celtics have played 57 games this season). Thomas has been the definition of consistent for the Celtics and proved he's the best player in the NBA. He is also averaging 10 points in the fourth quarter, which is the best in the NBA. In the playoffs where almost every game is close, Thomas will be the key to a long playoff run for the Celtics. In addition to Thomas, the Celtics will need power forward Al Horford to step up his game. He is only averaging 6.6 rebounds per game and 22 points per 100 possessions. To be able to beat the Cavaliers, the Horford will have to start dominating the paint. He and Thomas need to become the best duo in the NBA.
1. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors are probably the most balanced team in the East right now. They currently have six players on their roster averaging double-digit points. They are led by point guard Kyle Lowry (30.5 points per 100 possessions) and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (39 points per 100 possessions). This past week the Raptors also added power forward Serge Ibaka (25 points per 100 possessions and 6.6 rpg) from the Orlando Magic. Ibaka and center Jonas Valanciunas (10 rpg and 23 points per 100 possessions) can be as good down low as the Hawks and have one of the best back courts in the East. It is going to take a lot to beat the Cavaliers and a balanced team that can adjusted to whatever the Cavaliers throw at them is the best shot upset the reigning NBA Champions.
No matter who the Cavaliers play in the playoffs, the will be the favorites. With the best player in the NBA, LeBron James, the Cavaliers will always have the edge. It is hard to think anyone in the East can beat the Cavaliers in the playoffs. Most fans will take the “I will believe it when I see it,” mentality. If any team has a chance though it is the Toronto Raptors.
It’s hard to imagine the last time that MLB’s reigning home run king had so little interesting from teams in free agency that he considered playing overseas. Yet, that was where Chris Carter stood a couple weeks ago. Despite lack of interest, Carter ended up signing a deal with the New York Yankees for one year and $3 million. What role can Carter play on the Yankees?
When the Yankees signed Carter it seemed like his playing time for this upcoming season would be very limited. When his deal was signed, Carter was listed on the Yankees depth chart as the third string first baseman and third string designated hitter. Carter is fortunate as he is likely going to be promoted, at least in the short team, to backup first baseman. The Yankees’ backup first baseman, Tyler Austin, broke his foot recently and will miss several weeks.
Why did Carter’s value fall so much despite hitting 41 home runs last year? He doesn’t do anything else that well. Last year Carter’s batting line was .222/.321/.499 with 76 walks and 206 strikeouts. In addition to leading the league in home runs, Carter’s 206 strikeouts was also the highest. Carter walks at a decent clip which brings his on base percentage to a reasonable clip, but mainly only hits home runs. Fangraphs.com gave Carter a 0.9 WAR last season which ranked 19th out of 23 qualified first basemen. His low average and less than stellar on base percentage plays a role, but his defense and baserunning was also a major factor. Carter’s defensive rating was -16.9 last year, also ranking 19th and his baserunning rating was -4.1, ranking 18th. Given those stats it's no surprise why more teams were not bidding for Carter’s services.
However, $3 million for a one year deal is practically nothing for a team like the Yankees so it makes to give a player with that power potential a shot. Unless Carter can increase his on base percentage or play better defense, the Yankees shouldn’t want him to play first base regularly. But he provides a veteran presence and depth at a position that may be unpredictable. Austin is hurt and likely starter Greg Bird missed all of last season with a torn labrum. If neither Bird and Austin can play, Carter is at least very familiar with the position.
Ideally, the role Carter plays is backup designated hitter that can come off the bench to pinch hit when a home run is needed. He can also be that emergency role at first base. Most teams would not keep a third string designated hitter and third string first baseman on its roster, but it can work for the Yankees. Carter’s competition at designated hitter is Matt Holliday and Aaron Hicks. Holliday will be the starting designated hitter but at 37 years old may need regularly scheduled days off. Hicks is also the backup right fielder who can play center field as well. With Aaron Judge slated as the starter in right field, Hicks may get playing time if Judge continues to struggle in 2017 or is sent back to the minors. That scenario would also allow Carter to get some at-bats.
This is a great move by the Yankees. At $3 million, New York is able to have a bat with massive power that can play two positions in which health are major factors. If everything goes right for the Yankees and Bird, Austin, and Holliday stay healthy, Carter regret signing with the Yankees rather than going overseas.
Professional sports give us a few basic things every year, no matter the sport.
A villan – normally the team every other team is trying to beat, or the team with the biggest attitude. The contenders – the teams with the best chance at winning their league’s title. The non-contender and basement dwellers – the teams that definitely aren’t making the playoffs that season. And the posers – the teams that analysts say that can make some noise, but never do.
The villan, the contenders and basement dwellers normally change year to year. Sure some teams stay in their classification longer than others, but a lot of teams stay in a revolving door of classification.
Posers are different. Posers stay in their lane for a few years, sometimes even up to a decade. They’re fun to poke fun at, but generally speaking, are actually kind of annoying.
They muddy up the divide between, depending on the level of poser-ing they’re at, villan and contender, or between contender and basement dweller.
What teams in pro sports are muddying up the divide the most? Which teams are the biggest posers?
5. Dallas Cowboys
And a hush falls over the crowd.
How are the Dallas Cowboys posers? They were just an Aaron Rodgers-led drive away from going to the NFC Championship Game. How dare you?
Yeah, you’re right. They Cowboys were just an Aaron Rodgers-led drive away from going to the NFC Championship Game. Which is exactly why they are posers.
Sure, Dallas went 13-3 in the regular season, the team’s best mark since 2007. However, after a first round bye the ‘Boys looked no better than the four-seeded Green Bay Packers, which were a game away from being a Wild Card team.
And it’s those same Packers than you can easily make the argument that never should’ve beaten Dallas in the playoffs. Let’s not mix words, this wasn’t a Packers team destined to win a championship. Dallas, given the regular season it had, should’ve won by at least a touchdown.
The defense that gave up the aforementioned Rodgers-led drive late in the fourth quarter ranked 26th in the NFL in passing yards given up per game. Dallas’ defense, which got praised more and more as the season progressed as continuing to get better, never got better defending the pass.
Also, there’s a little thing called a sophomore slump. And Dallas’ two more important players will both be entering their sophomore years in the league this fall.
When Dallas has been as consistently average as it has been over the last nearly two decades – a winning season one year, a bad losing season shortly after with an 8-8 campaign somewhere close by – I’m not ready to say the Cowboys are a sure thing for 2017.
4. New York Knicks
All I want for Christmas this year is for everyone to stop treating the Knick like a glorious organization.
Historically speaking, the Knicks are an average franchise. New York entered this season with an all-time win percentage below .500, has endured a losing season 12 out of the last 15 years and is well on its way to another let down year this season.
Historically speaking, what happened last week between owner James Dolan and former Knick Charles Oakley is one of the more embarrassing things to happen in the NBA during the 21st century.
We use this saying a lot of times in sports, “Things like this only happen to bad teams,” and there’s no better way to describe the incident, and practically the entire Carmelo Anthony era in NY, better than that. Things like that only fail or happen at all on bad teams and bad organizations.
Enter the New York Knicks.
While plenty of other teams in similar markets – the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat – have been able to bring superstars together to compete for and win a championship since Anthony has been in New York, the Knicks have failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs (and that’s if they even qualify).
Once again this year, the Knicks were pegged as a team that should make the playoffs. Instead, Dolan and company are nearly a lock to be part of the NBA Draft lottery.
The Knicks don’t deserve The Garden, and if they were actually any good they’d be higher up on this list.
3. Washington Nationals
The Nationals have finished either first or second in the NL East each of the past five years, and will likely do it again this coming season.
Washington has one of the most popular players in baseball in Bryce Harper.
And what have they done? …… Nothing!
A trio of bow outs in the NLDS.
But oh boy, twice the manager has been Manager of the Year, Harper was Rookie of the Year and Scherzer won a Cy Young Award.
Once again, the Nats will likely win the NL East in 2017. Only really the Mets stand in their way.
And once again, they’ll likely make a first-round exit from the playoffs.
There’s a reason the growing opinion in baseball is that Harper won’t be back when his contract expires in two years. Not because of the money (although it’s a LARGE factor) but because he wants to get a ring. And it’s not happening in Washington.
2. Toronto Raptors
I’m done thinking that this is the Raptors year. I’m done with it.
We as basketball fans have been led down this train of thought for the last two or three years and we’ve basically gotten the same result every time.
The current makeup of this team is not of one that can beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series. Nor do I think they’d beat Boston in a series, and I think the Wizards would also beat them.
Since Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have gotten together in Toronto for the 2012-2013 season the Raptors have: missed the playoffs, suffered back to back first round exits including being swept, and then took advantage of one of the easiest routes to a conference finals ever and then got wrecked by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals.
And then they got arguably worse in the offseason.
To me, at best they’re the 4th best team in the East, and I’m not buying them at all as a team that could make the Finals.
Even the recent addition of Serge Ibaka doesn’t propel the Raptors to any higher than second-best in the East.
At least Toronto can say it only has one superstar-caliber player is DeRozan. This next team doesn’t have that same excuse.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
Ever since the Clippers Big 3 of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan was assembled in the 2011-2012 season, the Clippers have been picked to be the team that can contend with whatever team is the top team in the West.
And every year, they’ve underachieved.
The best LA has finished is 3rd in the West, and they’ve never made it past the second round of the playoffs.
As a franchise, the Clippers have never been to the conference finals, let alone the NBA Finals.
A couple things to also consider:
1. This team still has to hang selfies instead of banners. If that doesn’t scream poser to you, you’re either a life-long Clippers fan, or just haven’t been paying attention.
2. The Clippers franchise has a .395 winning percentage. Entering this year they had 800 more losses than wins. I know we’re in a time period where title droughts go to die, but let’s stay within reason
. This isn’t a championship team.
Currently battling for fourth place in the West with the Utah Jazz, there’s no way the Clippers are going to the NBA Finals. But that doesn’t mean analysts won’t pick them to be a team to watch out for in the playoffs.
Sure, we can watch LA. For the first round. After that, they’ll be watching with us.
Make sure to listen to Thursday’s episode of Moose-Talkas, presented by U-92, as Joel Norman and I will be going through our list of the five biggest posers in pro sports.