According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, two of the East’s more formidable teams are about to regain some star players.
Both Khris Middleton and James Harden are nearing a return over this next week. Middleton has yet to make his season debut for Milwaukee after undergoing wrist surgery during the offseason. The Bucks have gotten off to a 14-5 start without their All-Star on the floor, but that only makes the potential return of Middleton that much more intimidating.
As for the Philadelphia 76ers, they have been without Harden since Nov. 2 due to a foot injury. They, too, have been able to stay afloat by winning four of their past five games, earning a 12-9 record in the East. Returning Harden to the floor alongside Embiid – who made his own return to the lineup after a four-game absence on Monday – could only push Philly further toward the Bucks and Celtics at top of the conference.
For the Chicago Bulls, this is a good reminder that teams could begin to separate themselves further from the pack over the next couple of weeks. Philly, in particular, currently sits in a jam-picked center of the conference where only 3.5 games separate seeds 3-11. This tightly-contested start to the year has actually felt like good news for a Bulls team trying to make up ground. But, as teams like the 76ers begin to find their groove, we could start to see a more established hierarchy finally come into frame.
More on the current state of the East below …