Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Earlier this week, I updated my levels in the Western Conference based on what we’ve seen during the quarter mark for the season.

Now is the time to go through the Eastern Conference.

The Eastern Conference has been a pleasant surprise this season. The Nets currently have the best record, but there are several teams that are not far behind, including the Bulls, Wizards and the pesky Cavaliers. The Bucks have been on fire lately, but they got off to a slow start and got some bad news this week: Starting center Brook Lopez is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery.

With all of that in mind, let’s start with Level 1. Are they still Nets and Bucks or have things changed?

Carlan Gay (@CarlanGay): First of all, you just had to get the news from Lopez there, right?

Rafferty: You already know how I am. Brook Lopez fan for life.

Gay: Yes, the larger.

As far as tiers go, I’m with you, Bucks and Nets are still at the top tier, BUT I would like Miami to enter the conversation.

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Rafferty: I’m not mad at that. The Heat have had a weird season so far when you factor in Jimmy Butler’s lost time, Bam Adebayo is now out and Duncan Robinson can’t shoot and yet I strongly believe in his defense, Kyle Lowry has conceded. Like a glove and if Tyler Herro is going to continue to be the best sixth man in the league, they are going to be pretty scary.

Also, when Butler has played, it has been incredible. Like, we-should-be-talking-about-him-more-in-the-race-MVP-awesome.

Gay: Yes, I think last year should have been discussed more, and it has been even better this season.

For me, I think the nation will pay more attention to Miami in March. The Heat will be healthy then, they should be on top of the East and I feel like they will have a hot streak of seven or eight straight wins to let us know that they are preparing for a deep playoff run.

With those three teams at Tier 1, landing that number one spot will be crucial. It didn’t work out the way the 76ers wanted last year, but I think avoiding a second-round showdown with one of the other two at Level 1 will be huge in May.

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Rafferty: Agreed.

Honestly, I think it should be Bucks and Nets at Level 1, followed by Heat at Level 2, but we can keep all three on their own level for now. Plus, the next level is where it gets interesting as there are only three games that separate the No. 3 seed from the No. 11 seed in the Eastern Conference as of this writing.

I guess we both have the Bulls at Level 2, right? If so, who else joins them?

Gay: Wait, what do you need to see from the Heat to get them to Level 1? Because they are already there for me.

Rafferty: Again, I buy his defense entirely, but when it comes to shoving, I do care a bit about his offense.

That’s not to say I’m not worried about the Bucks and Nets – losing Lopez is important for Milwaukee and Brooklyn is dealing with James Harden, who is still working his way back and Kyrie Irving is away from the team, but they both have a megastar. on your computer.

Gay: Didn’t we just say they had an MVP nominee?

Rafferty: We did it! Butler is fantastic and we are not far from him leading the Heat to the Finals, but he is not Giannis or KD.

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Gay: I never said he was, but like you said, he led a team to the Finals before. He has shown that he can have great games on big stages. Lowry has, too. Herro too.

Once again, KD and Giannis are different, but those three guys have proven that they can get cubes in big places. So I ask you what else you need to see, but we can move on to Level 2 …

Rafferty: I mean, look, we still haven’t seen this Heat team shoot full blast because guys are in and out of the lineup and players like Robinson start the season slowly. In addition, there is the possibility that Adebayo will be off between 4 and 6 weeks. I’m only a hair behind the Nets and Bucks right now, so I’m not going to fight you if you want them at Level 1.

Gay: BTW, my Level 2 doesn’t actually include the Bulls …

Rafferty: LET’S GO GOOOOO! So who is on your Level 2?

Gay: Right now, I have the Hawks, Celtics, and 76ers.

I can’t conscientiously put the Bulls there when their best player (which I know is debatable) Zach LaVine hasn’t played in a single playoff game. Like, not one. I need to see him in the postseason before I can confidently put them to Tier 2.

I know what I’m getting with a healthy 76ers team, a Celtics team and a Hawks team after last year. The Bulls have no idea … yet.

(NBA Getty Images)

Rafferty: Interesting. I’m with you at the Hawks. Trae Young is a stud and they showed what they are capable of last season. I can’t be on the same level as you on the Celtics and the 76ers. Not now, at least. I just don’t quite believe in this Celtics team and, I mean, the 76ers haven’t had their second best player this entire season and we still have no idea if / when that will be fixed.

Gay: Don’t you believe in Joel Embiid? Or Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown?

I think I am considering health here. If those teams are healthy, I have more confidence in what I am going to get out of them. And that includes the 76ers without Ben Simmons.

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Rafferty: In a vacuum, I agree that the 76ers and the Celtics should to be at this level, but again, there is no resolution in sight for the Simmons situation, and Tatum and Brown have been way up and down to start this season.

Are we both going to have to give in a little bit here and have Hawks, 76ers, Celtics and Bulls at Level 2? I’m not sure if we agree and once again we’re breaking the bank.

Gay: Yeah okay, I suppose the Bulls can live at Level 2 now, but when they start to go down the rankings in February, I want them out.


Time for level 3.

This is another interesting one. Who do you have?

Gay: Well, the Bulls.

Rafferty: We got engaged, Carlan!

Gay: I already know.

I think the Hornets and Knicks live here. I’m not entirely sure about it. Like I said, I’d have the Bulls here alone and then these other two teams one notch down, but here we are.

You know what? I will add the Wizards here as well.

Rafferty: … can we add the Cavaliers too?

Gay: Why not, let’s add Duke here too, since it’s Coach K’s last year.

Joking aside, I think I’m skeptical of the Cavs for the same reason that I’m the Bulls. None of his key players have played in the playoffs.

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Rafferty: I’m also a bit skeptical of the Cavaliers, but they’ve had a tough schedule to start the season and they keep racking up wins. Jarrett Allen has taken a leap, Evan Mobley is already a monster on defense and Darius Garland looks like a future star. I think part of his success earlier in the season is real.

How about this? Come on, Hornets, Knicks and Wizards at level 3. At level 4, Cavaliers, Raptors and Pacers. That would leave Magic and Pistons at Level 5 on their own.

Gay: With that I can agree.

It will be interesting to see how things change for the rest of the year. Styles is going to do the fights in the playoffs.

Rafferty: Look at us, agreeing on something. Everything is possible!

Well, that means we have (in no particular order within the levels) …

  • Tier 1: Nets, Bucks, Heat
  • Level 2: 76ers, Bulls, Hawks, Celtics
  • Level 3: Hornets, Knicks, Wizards
  • Level 4: Cavaliers, Raptors, Pacers
  • Level 5: Magic pistons

Are you happy with that? I know we disagree with some of the teams at the top, but that seems pretty fair overall.

Gay: It’s the closest we’ll get to agreeing. Quick, let’s run away before discussing font size.