It’s been a wild 2020. First the NBA season paused until mid-summer, then the Miami Heat went on a tear dismantling the Milwaukee Bucks and edging the Boston Celtics to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
The NBA bubble in Orlando won’t be back, yet there won’t be many fans in stadiums due to COVID-19 precautions. The season starts tonight despite these fan restrictions, so it’s time to pick which eight teams in the East have the best chance to make the playoffs.
#1 Milwaukee Bucks
This isn’t a hard one. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player in professional basketball and the Bucks have a solid supporting cast. Coach Mike Budenholzer is good in the regular season (post-season is a different story). Milwaukee might lock up the first seed early since there’s enough depth to hold leads or make games competitive. The addition of point guard Jrue Holiday solidifies the Bucks holding onto their number one spot.
#2 Boston Celtics
The Toronto Raptors lost their core depth and height in free agency. As good as coach Nick Nurse is, I don’t see how the Raptors come out on top and retain the number two seed. Boston did add Tristan Thompson in the offseason, a center who has championship experience to compliment Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.
The Celtics have more to work with and look to be the most complete team on paper. Even with injuries, coach Brad Stevens will find ways to keep them a top four seed.
#3 Miami Heat
Outside of teams wearing green, this may be the best team. Miami retains most of their roster from their Finals trip in September. Coach Eric Spoelstra can improve breakout role players Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro. Starting center Bam Adebayo, point guard Goran Dragic and team star Jimmy Butler will be enough for this team to cement the Southeast Division.
What sets this team apart is how they can play as a whole unit, their coaching, and they match up well against dangerous teams such as Brooklyn and Philadelphia.
#4 Philadelphia 76ers
Doc Rivers is a clear upgrade from Brett Brown at head coach. Dwight Howard as the backup center behind Joel Embiid will be interesting, and shooting guard additions Danny Green and Seth Curry will make this a polar year for the Sixers.
Unfortunately for them, the Heat have shown to be a true contender as they won the East last year, taking out the top two teams of this list. Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris aren’t players to win championships with, but they can take Philly far if there’s a good core who can shoot.
Despite the cons, they’re much better than all but a few teams in the East. Let’s see how long coach Doc Rivers can improve this team.
#5 Indiana Pacers
The Pacers get overlooked because of the drop-off in star talent outside of Milwaukee, but they’re a real playoff threat…if they can win a game. New coach Nate Bjorkgren needs to find ways to win when it matters especially in the playoffs.
Outside of two sweeps the past two playoff appearances, the Pacers have solid players to clinch a five or six seed. Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis and Justin Holiday are a good core Bjorkgren can work with early in the season. Outside of bench players Doug McDermott and Jeremy Lamb, the Pacers have to shoot better from mid-to-long range.
Indiana plays well defensively, something they have to do considering the Bucks and Celtics are the top teams who push them around. Outside their shooting issues, that should play another pivotal part of their season and in the division.
#6 Brooklyn Nets
The team everyone wants to see early and often. The Nets look to be one of the best teams to score and dominate on offense, but defensively a sieve. Coach Steve Nash will have his hands full when the Nets have to defend in close games.
The returns of Kevin Durant and point guard Kyrie Irving are what basketball fans want to see. Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris provide offensive flexibility and long-range scoring. However, outside of an aging DeAndre Jordan there isn’t anyone who shows they’re a defensive star.
The sky is the limit for the Nets. They could fix the defensive issues by mid-season or crash and burn. Too many questions remain that can’t be answered at once. The sixth seed is fitting since they couldn’t be any worse to start the season.
#7 Chicago Bulls
Coach Jim Boylen deservedly got the boot and was replaced by phenom Billy Donovan. That puts the Bulls and Donovan in a much better spot than the beginning of 2020. Boylen had no idea what to do with the talent in front of him.
Point guard Coby White’s trajectory looks positive going into his second season. Bulls stars Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. will be led and taught by Billy Donovan on how to improve their individual and team games. Markkanen is playing for the right coach and should have a career year.
Otto Porter Jr., Thaddeus Young and Denzel Valentine are good bench players who will help out and play team-first basketball. Donovan didn’t have this much talent to work with in Oklahoma City. The Bulls are ready to take the next steps with a new coach and general manager.
#8 Orlando Magic
A second team has to make the playoffs from the Southeast division…I think. The Magic or the Atlanta Hawks are the best bets to grab the last seed since Washington and Charlotte will probably sink this season. The Magic get the nod for two reasons: they’ve drafted and designed a better roster and they have playoff experience.
The Magic were thrown out of the playoffs by a championship Toronto Raptors team in 2019 and a dominant Milwaukee team in 2020. However, they grabbed one win against both of those teams. They’re not some mediocre team with no stars, they’re still developing like the Chicago Bulls are.
The good thing for Orlando is their added depth behind their starters. Michael Carter-Williams, Al-Farouq Aminu, Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba should keep the Magic in games especially against teams close to getting into the playoffs.