• dwang16

Predicting the Eastern Conference Standings

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

Although once seen as a weak conference dominated by LeBron James, the Eastern Conference has improved significantly, and the battle for playoff seeding is set to be extremely competitive. Here's how I see the regular season standings playing out.

1. Milwaukee Bucks

Jul 20, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) celebrates with the NBA Finals MVP Trophy following the game against the Phoenix Suns following game six of the 2021 NBA Finals at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The defending champs led by two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo look primed to make another run at the title. Alongside Antetokounmpo, the Bucks will bring back much of their core from last season's championship team including Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, Donte Divencenzo, and Pat Connaughton. Additionally, the Bucks brought in George Hill, Grayson Allen, Rodney Hood, and Semi Ojeleye, all of whom could be important role players that provide sparks off the bench. Furthermore, Mike Budenholzer has always been a successful regular season coach, and in his three years coaching the Bucks, they have an NBA-best 162-65 regular season record. Milwaukee's combination of talent and continuity should allow them to finish atop the East yet again.

2. Brooklyn Nets

Feb 13, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) talks with forward Kevin Durant (7) during a free throw attempt by the Nets against the Golden State Warriors in the third quarter at the Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

With an All-NBA trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets are undoubtedly one of the favorites to take home the championship this season. Behind their star-studded trio, the Nets have an extremely deep team with LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Joe Harris, Paul Millsap, Patty Mills, Bruce Brown, and Nic Claxton. The Nets are an absolute juggernaut, and if they stay healthy, it's hard to see them losing in a seven-game series to anyone. However, in the regular season, Brooklyn's lack of continuity and frequent injury history could make them slip down the standings a little. With "load management" becoming increasingly common in the NBA, Brooklyn will probably be careful with their stars in the regular season. Ultimately, the Nets have championship aspirations, and their regular season goal will be to just stay healthy, not necessarily capture the one-seed.

3. Miami Heat

Jan 2, 2020; Miami, Florida, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) shoots over Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Heat had one of the best offseasons in the NBA, securing Jimmy Butler and Duncan Robinson to extensions while also acquiring six-time all-star Kyle Lowry. Besides Lowry, the Heat also acquired P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris. Over the years, the Heat built a culture centered around toughness and defense, and their three additions certainly fit the bill. The X-Factor for the Heat will be Tyler Herro. Herro went through a sophomore slump last season, but if he can take a step forward and regain his form from the 2020 playoffs, the Heat could find themselves in title contention yet again. Herro's elite scoring ability provides a necessary spark to a defensive-minded team and elevates the Heat from a great team to a championship-caliber team. It's also important to keep in mind that the Heat re-signed former all-star Victor Oladipo, who is currently injured but could return late in the season.

4. Boston Celtics

Dec 23, 2020; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) celebrates with guard Jaylen Brown (7) after scoring against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Following a disappointing season, the Celtics made major changes in the offseason. After President Danny Ainge stepped down, coach Brad Stevens took over the President role, then hired Ime Udoke to be the next franchise coach. Under Udoka, the Celtics are looking to establish a more tough-nosed, defensive minded identity this season. Alongside the star-duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics extended Marcus Smart and Robert Williams long-term while adding several key players in Dennis Schroder, Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Enes Kanter, and Juancho Hernangomez. Right now, the Celtics are looking like a much deeper and more well-rounded team than last year. With a major shake-up in the front office and more of an emphasis on team basketball and tough-nosed defense, the Celtics appear ready to contend again. If Tatum and Brown continue to improve, the Celtics could be a wild-card to shake up the top of the East.

5. Philadelphia 76ers

Jun 14, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and guard Shake Milton (18) and forward Tobias Harris (12) show dejection after a loss against the Atlanta Hawks during game four in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After finishing last season as the one-seed, the era of misery and "Trusting the Process" seemed to finally be over. Led by MVP runner-up Joel Embiid, the 76ers appeared to be destined for an Eastern Conference Finals appearance at the very least. However, Trae Young and the Hawks spoiled Philadephia's hopes and upset the top-seed in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Following that series, everything has been falling apart in Philadelphia. Following a disappointing playoff performance, Ben Simmons has received the brunt of Philadelphia's crticism and is now adamant about demading a trade. Nonetheless, the 76ers still have a promising roster led by Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, as well as solid role players such as Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, and newly-acquired Andre Drummond. With all the disarray in Philadelphia, it's hard to feel confident about the 76ers heading into this season.

6. Atlanta Hawks

Jun 20, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) shakes hands with center Clint Capela (15) in the final minute of a victory against the Philadelphia 76ers in game seven of the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Following a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hawks will hope to repeat that success with a year of experience under their belts. Led by superstar Trae Young, the Hawks will also return much of their core from last year's team. In the offseason, the Hawks were relatively quiet but productive. They extended both John Collins and Clint Capela, committing to a core of Young, Collins, Capela, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. The Hawks also extended their coach Nate McMillan, who led the Hawks to a 27-11 regular season record after taking over for Lloyd Pierce. In addition, the Hawks drafted two big-name college prospects in Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper who should make immediate impacts. Regardless, the Hawks have had issues on defense in prior seasons and they didn't do much to address that end of the floor. While their future is bright, the Hawks don't seem ready to compete with the heavyweights of the East.

7. Chicago Bulls

Sep 27, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball (2) center Nikola Vucevic (9) guard Zach LaVine (8) and forward DeMar DeRozan (11) pose for photos during Chicago Bulls Media Day at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls made some of the biggest splashes in the NBA this offseason, signing DeMar Derozan and Lonzo Ball to contracts upwards of $80 million, as well as signing fan-favorite Alex Caruso away from the Lakers. Alongside a core of Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, Patrick Williams, and Coby White already in place, the Bulls are now loaded with talent and look to be in contention again after several losing seasons. However, the Bulls lack continuity, and it is unclear whether how their roster will mesh together. Derozan, LaVine, Ball, and White are all primarily ball-dominant players, so they will have to get used to playing off-the-ball more often this year. The new-look Bulls will undoubtedly be one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA this season, and it would be reasonable to see them finishing anywhere between the three seed and the ten seed.

8. New York Knicks

May 11, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) celebrates after a three-point basket with guard RJ Barrett (9) and center Taj Gibson (67) during the overtime period against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After a promising season ended with the Knicks as the fourth seed in the East, the Knicks fell to the Hawks in the first round. The Knicks had a lot of trouble scoring in the playoffs, averaging just 97.0 points per game on 39.8% shooting from the field and and 34.2% shoot from three. To address these issues, the Knicks brought in Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, and Alec Burks this offseason. Adding Fournier and Burks certainly addresses their need for three-point shooting, and adding former all-star Kemba Walker will provide a much needed scoring spark. The addition of Walker will also allow Derrick Rose to be the sixth-man again, a role he flourished in last year. The Knicks are led by Julius Randle, who had a phenomenal season last year and was named to the All-NBA second team, but he struggled in the playoffs. Alongside their veteran talent, they will look for youngsters R.J. Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin, and Immanuel Quickly to continue making strides this year. The Knicks will be a wild card, but under Tom Thibodeau, they are trending in the right direction.

9 (Play In) Pacers

Mar 15, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis (11) chest bumps guard Malcolm Brogdon (7) before the game against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers return a solid, experienced team, but a much more competitive Eastern Conference leaves them on the outside of the top-eight seeds. Last season, the Pacers were plagued by injuries and missed T.J. Warren, Myles Turner, and Caris LeVert for extended periods of time throughout the season. Warren, Turner, and LeVert should all be ready to go this year, and alongside the duo of Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, the Pacers could be in for a promising season. The Pacers hired coach Rick Carlisle, an experienced coach who most notably led the Dallas Mavericks to the championship in 2011. Carlisle had a four-year stint as the Pacers head coach from 2003 to 2007, and his team made the playoffs three times while reaching the Conference Finals once. As long as they stay healthy, the Pacers should be a competitive, playoff team again.

10 (Play In) Raptors

Apr 8, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) reacts after committing a foul during the third quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

After winning the Championship in 2019 and losing Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers, the Raptors haven't been a particularly competitive team. Last year, the Raptors finished an awful 27-45 after five straight 50-win seasons. However, the Raptors should see some success this season, even in a stacked Eastern Conference. Despite losing Kyle Lowry, the Raptors got back Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa from Miami. Dragic shined during the NBA Bubble in 2020, and he should do a fine job filling Lowry's role. The Raptors still have Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby from their championship team, and they are led by one of the best coaches in the NBA in Nick Nurse. Furthermore, the Raptors acquired Gary Trent Jr. last season and extended him in the offseason, and they drafted Scottie Barnes with the #4 pick in the draft. While they may not be what they once were, the Raptors certainly have the depth and experience to make a run at the playoffs.

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