NBA: 7 future-defining storylines to follow down the stretch

Chicago Bulls Zach LaVine (Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)
Chicago Bulls Zach LaVine (Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland Cavaliers Donovan Mitchell (Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports) /

Will a team in the second tier in the Eastern Conference take a step forward?

Heading into the final stretch of the season, I think there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the middle of the Eastern Conference. Under the assumption that the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers are sitting firmly atop the East, will there be any other team or teams that try to make a jump between now and the playoffs?

A few of the possible teams that could make that jump are the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, or Toronto Raptors. The Brooklyn Nets are in that thick but after losing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, you’d have to assume they’re going to fall down the standings a bit.

Could any of those other teams make a deep playoff run? Do any of them have the talent to make such a run? It will be interesting to see if the East is indeed going to come down to the three top teams or if there’s going to be another team that could emerge as a dark horse threat in the playoffs.

And I’d have to imagine if that does end up being the case, we’ll get a strong indication of that possibility during the final few weeks of the regular season.