With James out of the East, the Cavaliers struggled and their streak ended at four consecutive NBA Finals appearances. James’ personal streak was at eight straight Eastern Conference titles, dating back to his time with the Heat. On Thursday, Milwaukee Bucks star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo admitted that the Eastern Conference race was “definitely open” with James leaving.
“I didn’t see it as open. But now that I look back … it’s definitely open, not having LeBron in the East and not trying to go through him.”
—Giannis on the Eastern Conference pic.twitter.com/2bImjkAONt
— ESPN (@espn) May 16, 2019
“I didn’t see it as open,” Antetokounmpo said. “But now that I look back and see how everything went, it’s definitely open, not having LeBron in the East and not trying to go through him.”
Without James in the fold, the Bucks rose to the top of the Eastern Conference and the NBA as a whole. Milwaukee put together an NBA-best 60-22 record and was the top seed in the East this postseason.
In addition to the Bucks, the Toronto Raptors also made a huge splash by acquiring All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard in the offseason and finishing with 58 wins and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“But any time you don’t have to go through LeBron James is going to help your odds,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton added.
Antetokounmpo has also enjoyed an MVP-caliber season in the absence of James and certainly could win the award following the conclusion of the NBA Finals. The Bucks star forward put together averages of 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists throughout the regular season.
In addition, Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.1 points per contest while shooting 51.7 percent from the field this postseason. With James out of the East, the playoff race produced a few new faces this time around.
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