Despite last season’s finals loss, the east gained more talent. The conference finally looks superior in terms of quality teams. Cleveland is close to being a dangerous playoff unit. Chicago and Philadelphia desperately want a championship. Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami view anything less than a finals appearance a failure. It’ll be a fun and competitive regular season.
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Now it’s time to break down which eight teams in the eastern conference have the best chance of getting to the playoffs.
Anchored by Giannis, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, there’s no way Milwaukee misses the playoffs unless all three players have season ending injuries.
Stars Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tobias Harris will be a fun trio to watch. The signing of P.J. Tucker in the offseason should elevate Philadelphia to the top three in the eastern standings if all remain healthy.
The Southeast is still the weakest division in the Association but Miami’s a top team in championship contention. While Tucker signed with the 76ers, Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo draw a lot of attention. Last but not least the Heat still have one of the best coaches in Erik Spoelstra.
No one expected coach Ime Udoka to be out the whole season due to sexual relations with staff (not players thankfully). Boston will have a hard time re-grouping after a Finals loss and an interim running the team. However the Celtics have a deep roster and started off the season with a win at home to the 76ers. As long as forward Jayson Tatum starts every night, the Celtics are a serious contender.
No Lonzo Ball for what might be the whole regular season will sting and drops the Bulls to middle playoff seeding. They do have point-guard depth with Alex Caruso coming back and Goran Dragic if the first few months get bumpy. Andre Drummond is a solid backup center who can give Nikola Vucevic some rest. Coach Billy Donovan has to get more out of his role players and his new starting point-guard Ayo Dosunmu.
Like last year, I’m hesitant on where to put the Nets for playoff seeding. The sixth spot is generous not because of last season but because Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons should know how to play well with their teammates by December.
There’s also speculation coach Steve Nash could be fired early if the team doesn’t start well. Drama aside, Brooklyn has a talented roster that shouldn’t miss the postseason. Therefore, a middle ranking is fine until the All-Star break.
The guard duo of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray will captivate audiences this fall and winter. Clint Capela returning to the starting lineup helps solidify the defense and Bogdan Bogdanovic is a needed role player.
Coach Nate McMillan needs to get this team on a faster start than last season. Atlanta’s capable of getting a sixth seed or better but they need to show it or else people will start to wonder if more change is necessary.
Like Atlanta, the Cavaliers need one of the six teams above to falter while playing good basketball to not be in the play-in round. Unlike the Hawks, Cleveland is a younger team that needs more playoff experience and time to grow. The addition of Donovan Mitchell makes the starting lineup stressful to face. Even if the Cavaliers are the last team to clinch a playoff berth, the east’s number one seeded team will have a tough time winning four games against them.
Play-in losing teams: Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Hornets
2021-22 Eastern conference prediction record: 8-2