The NBA season began October 22nd and there are a lot of expectations for teams in the Eastern Conference. Kawhi Leonard has gone back to the West after his one year championship stint with the Toronto Raptors. While Kevin Durant is out for this year, Kyrie Irving could give the Nets a boost and give them one seed bump for the playoffs. The Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat could each build off of some acquisitions last year and in the offseason. It is time to reveal who the top eight teams might be.
1). Milwaukee Bucks
Last year’s number one seed will probably repeat with most of their core intact, minus one or two players. As long as the reigning MVP is on the team, there’s a pretty good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo will lead the Bucks back to the number one seed, and improve since last playing. No dealing with Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs or conference this time.
2). Philadelphia 76ers
Adding Al Horford will make a difference and not just with height and veteran leadership. Horford brings a lot to the team when it comes to knowledge and has made every team he’s been on better in almost every facet of the game. The Sixers barely lost to the Raptors in a seven game series last year, and could be the favorites in the Eastern Conference to make the Finals. While JJ Redick going to New Orleans does hurt the shooting game a bit, the Sixers playing physically with Horford, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will make the important games close, so it’s an even trade-off.
3). Boston Celtics
Exit Kyrie Irving, enter Kemba Walker and Tacko Fall. This year’s Celtics team looks like the real deal and scarier than in last years. Kemba played at a good level in Charolette for years, and Fall did well in college before going to the draft early. He could wind up being a draft steal considering how Boston plays better as a team under Brad Stevens’ coaching. Expect them to be much better than last year for sure.
4). Indiana Pacers
The Pacers should feel good about this season, especially with Kawhi leaving the Eastern Conference. The Pacers could be the fourth best team in the conference if they play as hard and competitive as they did last year. If the injuries start piling up, there’s still a good culture and coaching.
5). Brooklyn Nets
While Kevin Durant is out for this season, Brooklyn’s acquisitions of Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan will still put this team in the right place to make an impact in the playoffs. Yes, Kyrie Irving has become a bit of an issue with the Nets right now, but they have to implode spectacularly in order to not make it to the playoffs. The Nets have more talent than the next three teams that will be listed, and much better depth.
6). Orlando Magic
Minus what happened in the last four games against Toronto, the Magic did pretty well for the season. Locking up Nikola Vucevic the way they did in the offseason will be a breather, and if Mo Bamba gets going during winter, this team has a real shot of winning the division. Additions of Al-Farouq Aminu and Michael Carter-Williams will help the bench keep them in games. Give credit to GM John Hammond for building this roster the way he has.
7). Detroit Pistons
Not a pretty pick, but Dwayne Casey worked his magic last year with Blake Griffin leading the charge. With Derrick Rose there (and running point at times with Reggie Jackson out), Detroit will have a say for the playoffs. While they’re not as good as Indiana or Milwaukee, but the Pistons have to like their chances to make the playoffs as a later seed, especially with Cleveland and Chicago bottoming out in the league and not just the division.
8). Miami Heat
Finally, there’s the Miami Heat. When Jimmy Butler decided to sign with them this past offseason, it put the Heat back in the playoff conversation. Erik Spoelstra has proven he can coach and develop talent well enough, and the Heat have at least eight rookies that can grow and be critical towards making the playoffs. Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters help with depth, something a number of the other teams on the brink don’t have.
To see who else has a realistic shot of making the playoffs in the East, look at who’s left. Mentioned above in the Detroit section was how bad the Bulls and Cavaliers will probably be, and that is 99% guaranteed. Washington and New York look to be awful as well, either because there’s no depth or the front office is a mess. The Hornets have a starting five that would make a great bench. Atlanta is still developing and putting the pieces together, and Toronto lost Kawhi Leonard and key pieces such as Danny Green in the offseason.