Contenders and Pretenders in the Eastern Conference: Are the Miami Heat for real?

With their recent surge in the standings, the Miami Heat look like they are still contenders.

Miami Heat v New Orleans Pelicans
Miami Heat v New Orleans Pelicans / Sean Gardner/GettyImages
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Pretender: Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic have made significant steps toward their future. For the first time in years, the Magic are a playoff team. Led by first-time All-Star and reigning Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, the future looks bright for them.

Orlando finally has a legitimate franchise piece to build around. However, it is still way too soon to even consider the Magic being a contender in the East. Their 14-18 road record this season is something that has held them back.

They are currently slotted as the No. 7 seed in the East, with the NBA Play-In looking like a possibility. Teams like the Miami Heat have shown anything can happen once just making the Play-In and playoff picture. However, the Magic just don’t have Jimmy Butler.

Pretender: Indiana Pacers 

Tyrese Haliburton has brought new life to the city of Indiana. The Indiana Pacers are currently the 8 seed in the East, but just 6-4 over their last 10 games. Similar to the Orlando Magic they are another team that has made significant progress.

Different from Orlando, the Pacers have a much stronger core and supporting cast. Their All-Star Haliburton has lots of help with players like Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner there to shape out their starting unit. They even made it to the NBA’s first-ever In-Season Tournament finale but lost to the LA Lakers.

Indiana has had a record-breaking offense to start the year, but in return, they struggle heavily at times on the defensive end. In a playoff atmosphere, it is proven that defense becomes much more important. The Pacers may be closer to contender status than a team like Orlando, but they might not be there yet.

Pretender: Cleveland Cavaliers

This is one of the tougher teams to call a pretender out of the bunch. The Cleveland Cavaliers have put together two consecutive strong regular seasons. Donovan Mitchell is a superstar in this league and at the very beginning of his prime years at 27.

Max Strus just had that insane, near full-court game-winning bucket a night ago. The vibes are good in Cleveland and have been for the past two seasons. However, they haven’t been able to make barely any noise in the playoffs in decades without being led by the services of LeBron James.

Last season they were bounced out of the first round by the New York Knicks despite having homecourt advantage for that series. It seems like with the addition of Strus to their starting unit they may be a little better than a season ago. Anything could happen, but they need to prove themselves more to be considered a true contender.