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Sorting through the biggest surprises in the Eastern Conference: the Cavs, Celtics, Pistons, Sixers and more

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Sorting through the biggest surprises in the Eastern Conference: the Cavs, Celtics, Pistons, Sixers and more

What many assumed about the Eastern Conference this season hasn't quite come to fruition so far.

Despite many stars leaving for the West, the East through one month actually looks improved, with more depth than many predicted.

There are a host of teams with surprise winning records and a few others most believe are better than their current place in the standings. 

Today marks exactly one month since the season began, so let's go around the conference to look at a few of the most surprising teams - either good or bad - and whether they can keep it up.

Celtics are on fire:

The Boston Celtics, despite losing Gordon Hayward on opening night, look even better than they did last year when they earned the No. 1 seed in the East and reached the conference finals. They have the top defense in the NBA and rebound better than anyone. Though their offense ranks as below average, they are scoring enough to win 13 straight games. And when they need offense, Kyrie Irving (20.6 ppg) is a decent guy to turn to.

A big determinant in whether the Celtics can keep this up - they are an NBA-best 13-2 - will be the play of young swingmen Jaylen Brown (14.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Jayson Tatum (14.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg). Both are scoring and efficiently, but they are young and most young players take time to find consistency. Perhaps they're different, we'll see.

Cavs have stumbled:

The Cavaliers' 8-7 record through 15 games is one of the more surprising developments of the NBA season so far. It has them currently out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Though that will change, it might be wrong to assume they will get things fully sorted out anytime soon. Their defense is absolutely dreadful. Based on defensive rating, it's the worst in the NBA and even their top-five offense hasn't been enough to offset those issues.

Isaiah Thomas and Tristan Thompson being hurt hasn't helped and Jae Crowder is off to a rough start on both ends of the floor. Dwyane Wade isn't making a positive impact, even on offense, and the result is LeBron James carrying too heavy of a load. While the new additions have hit the ground running in Boston, that hasn't been the case in Cleveland. The Cavs still have the best player in the world and they will get better, but how much better is hard to tell. 

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

Are the Pistons legit?:

The most surprising success story within the conference so far has definitely been the Detroit Pistons, who at 10-4 hold the second-best record in the East. Of those 10 wins, they have beaten the Warriors, Timberwolves, Bucks, Pacers and Heat. They are 7-1 at home. 

The Pistons have been a good defensive team for several years running and now they may have a competent enough offense to put it all together. They have the eight-best offensive rating and the seventh-best defensive rating. They are hitting their threes (38.2%, 7th in NBA) and grabbing the second-most offensive rebounds. The biggest difference has come from Tobias Harris (19.6 ppg, 47.5 FG, 50.6 3PT%) who has been playing out of his gourd. Avery Bradley (17.8 ppg, 44.1% 3PT) is putting up career-high numbers. They may take a step back offensively, but the Pistons look like they are here to stay.

Sixers may be a problem:

The early returns in Philly have been quite good. At 8-6, they a competitive team for the first time in years and that's with 10 of their first 14 games coming on the road. Budding star Joel Embiid has played in 12 of their games with some amazing numbers. He's averaging 23.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.0 steals in just 29 minutes per night. On Wednesday, he became the first NBA player ever to have at least 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks in a game. The guy does everything well.

Ben Simmons (17.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 7.7 apg) has been a revelation and looks like a lock for rookie of the year. Robert Covington (16.5 ppg, 49.5% 3PT) is one of the league's most underrated players. And J.J. Redick (14.8 ppg) is fitting in nicely. So far the Sixers have been among the best NBA teams at three-point shooting and rebounding. What will be interesting to see is how long it takes for them to learn how to win. Can they emerge as true playoff contenders this season, or will it take time? 

RELATED: WHO IS THE NBA'S BEST POINT GUARD?

Knicks are fun for once:

Much like the Sixers, the New York Knicks are 8-6 despite playing 10 of their first 14 games on the road. Kristaps Porzingis (28.9 ppg, 7.3 apg, 2.2 bpg) is playing like an All-Star. Tim Hardaway, Jr. (17.8 ppg) and Enes Kanter (14.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg) are adjusting well. Courtney Lee (47.2 3PT%, 3.8 3PA/g) is lighting it up from three.

The Knicks have a couple of impressive wins, one at the Cavs and one against the Nuggets at home, but it's hard to buy what they are selling quite yet. Porzingis may be a generational talent and a thrill to watch, but the Knicks don't have much depth and lottery pick Frank Ntilikina (4.8 ppg, 4.3 apg) looks like a work in progress. Of the surprising NBA teams so far, New York seems to be a good bet to fall back down to Earth and soon.

Magic finally have an offense:

Similar to the Pistons, the Orlando Magic (8-7) are off to a surprising start because their offense is better so far than it has been in years. Evan Fournier (19.7 ppg), Aaron Gordon (17.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Nikola Vucevic (17.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg) are leading the way. Jonathan Simmons (15.1 ppg) has been a nice free agent pickup so far. They have a winning record despite starting point guard Elfrid Payton having been injured for most of their games.

The way the Magic are scoring, however, suggests it may not be sustainable. Through 15 games, they are shooting ridiculously well from three. Fournier is at 42.9 percent after shooting just 35.6 percent last year. Gordon is at 50 percent from long range, almost double his 28.8 percent last season. Even Vucevic and Simmons, both at 39.4 percent, are hitting threes after never being threats from there before. If they can keep burying teams from the perimeter, then the Magic could remain a factor in the East. But this seems like a team destined for a reality check sometime soon. They have lost five of seven and that pace seems likely to continue.

RELATED: ROAD DIARIES WITH CHRIS MILLER

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NBA Power Rankings 2017-18: Rockets keep winning, Wizards have help coming

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NBA Power Rankings 2017-18: Rockets keep winning, Wizards have help coming

The Warriors just demolished everyone in their path on a six-game road trip. The Celtics only have six losses on the year. 

Neither team is at the top of the rankings this week.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

The NBA has a ton of teams right now that continue to put together really successful stretches.

LeBron James and the Cavs are back to their winning ways after having their 13-game win streak snapped by the Pacers.

Speaking of the Pacers, that Paul George trade that was supposed to be one-sided, is actually working more in favor of Indiana right now.

The Wizards also get a boost with John Wall on his way back, as they try to hold steady in the rankings as well.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

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Wizards at Nets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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Wizards at Nets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre and the Washington Wizards battle Jahlil Okafor, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch…

WASHINGTON WIZARDS AT BROOKLYN NETS

Where: Barclays Center
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington Plus (coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Online with no cable TV: fuboTV (try for free)
Radio: 1500 AM

Three things to watch...

Will Wall or Mahinmi play?

The Wizards have two players who may or may not play against the Nets due to injury. John Wall has missed the team's last eight games, but continues to inch closer to his return from having platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment in his left knee. He will likely to return either against the Nets or on Wednesday against the Grizzlies. Given those two games are on back-to-back nights, it wouldn't be surprising to see Wall wait until Wednesday.

Ian Mahinmi has yet to miss a game this season, but was held out of practice on Monday in New York due to a right knee strain. If Mahinmi can't go, that should open the door for Jason Smith to get some rare playing time. Marcin Gortat would also likely play a lot more than usual.

[PODCAST: MORRIS ON WHY THE WIZARDS ARE A TOUGH TEAM]

Will Okafor and Stauskas debut?

The Nets may have two new players in their lineup as Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas are waiting to make their Brooklyn debuts. Both players were acquired in a trade last week with the Philadelphia 76ers and both are looking for a fresh start with more playing time on their new team.

Okafor was the third overall pick in 2015 and Stauskas was the eighth pick in 2014. They offer the Nets two talented young players to build around and, in the short-term, an interesting dynamic for their opponents.

[RELATED: BRADLEY BEAL ON THE ART OF GETTING FOULED]

Can't play down to the Nets

The Brooklyn Nets remain a bad team with a 10-15 record, good for 11th in the Eastern Conference. But bad teams have been quite troublesome for the Wizards this season. They are 6-7 against opponents with sub-.500 records despite having an 8-5 mark against teams with .500 or better records.

The Wizards just lost to the 9-15 L.A. Clippers on Saturday, so they can't take the Nets for granted, even though they swept them last season and have only lost twice to Brooklyn since 2013. One thing the Nets can do this year is score. They are seventh in points per game. The Wizards need to be focused on defense, or the Nets could surprise them like other teams have.

[RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS]