A LeBron-less conference means the road to the NBA Finals in the east is actually possible and teams will look to capitalize this playoff season.
So far, the top-tier teams include: the Milwaukee Bucks (MIL), Toronto Raptors (TOR), Philadelphia 76ers (PHI), and Boston Celtics (BOS). These four teams are nearly guaranteed to find themselves matched up against one another in the Eastern Conference Finals (EFC) as they have the coach, the talent, the experience and a cohesive unit to bring it all together. However, there’s always that possibility where even the best teams can find themselves in lackluster performances, so consistency is key or these top teams will struggle versus the tier-two level teams in upset match-ups.
The tier-two level challengers include seven teams who are known for their underachieving seasons. Now, with less than three months to go until the postseason the bottom four spots in the east are wide open. The Brooklyn Nets (BKN), Detroit Pistons (DET), Washington Wizards (WIZ), Indiana Pacers (IND), Charlotte Hornets (CHA), Miami Heat (MIA), and the Orlando Magic (ORL) all have the capability of finding themselves in the playoffs. It’s one thing to represent their city after the regular season is over but it’s more impacting to make a playoff run.
So, even though these bottom seven teams aren’t ideal to impact the playoffs, in this league you never know what can happen. With momentum and energy on one’s side nearly anything becomes attainable, so here are the reasons to believe one out of these eleven eastern conference teams have a NBA Finals destination.
The Bucks have skyrocketed to the league’s number one overall record (45-14) and have MVP candidate Small Forward (SF) Giannis Antetokounmpo leading a surge that’s ready to fight until June. Head Coach Mike Budenholzer, is responsible for the improvement on player roles and the efficiency of each player thus far. This team doesn’t seem like a deep team, however the team consists of non-egotistic players that just want to win. Antetokounmpo is the epitome of what general managers go out looking for as the face of their franchise.
Prediction: 1st Seed (61-21)
The Raptors (44-17) won’t finish as the first overall pick because franchise Superstar (SF) Kawhi Leonard is starting to rest consistently and they’ll lose more games with him resting than if they him suited up. The late additions of Point Guard (PG) Jeremy Lin and Center (C) Marc Gasol make the Raptors as dynamic as they’ve ever been because every hole in on their roster is filled. Power Forward (PF) Pascal Siakam has become a top candidate for Most Improved Player (MIP) and that has allowed for less double teams on Leonard and All-Star (PG) Kyle Lowry. The only aspects that make the Raptors vulnerable are their lack of consistency on health, outside shooting, and finishing ball games.
Prediction: 2nd Seed (60-22)
If the 76ers (38-22) had this constructed team that they have now, they would be a top five team overall. The only two things this team lacks is depth and experience. They have a starting five that coaches live for as they have a defined (PG) Ben Simmons, an established marksmen in Shooting Guard (SG) JJ Redick who’s seen the most success in the league, an upcoming Forward (F) in Tobias Harris, a franchise level player in (SF) Jimmy Butler, and lastly a dominant big man in (C) Joel Embiid. If only their starting five could play all 48 minutes than they’d be destined for the NBA Finals. However, they will need valuable contributions from their role players like (PF) Mike Scott, (PG) T.J. McConnell, and (C) Boban Marjanovic. These players can be reliable contributors as they can help control the pace of the game, the rebounding, and keep the energy level high.
Prediction: 4th Seed (53-29)
The most hyped, the most talented, and the most ready team to face any western conference foe are the Celtics. This team has three players that are franchise cornerstones and many more who have extremely high Basketball IQs. Superstar (PG) Kyrie Irving wanted to lead a young team and wanted the pressure on his shoulders, however his actions haven’t lived up to his words. He’s handled situations like he wasn’t a leader and he’s lucky the team is still standing behind him. He’s one losing streak away of already having his mind on the off-season. He seems so disconnected at times that the potential of his team suffers because they went all-in as making him the leader of this core, but from a far it doesn’t look like he can handle it. He needs to stop the continuous criticism and just lead by example. He’s a top-2 point guard in this league and he has all the resources to carry this team to a 18th championship. Once the Celtics start to play for one another than they will start show their potential, which will dramatically leap them as THE team to beat on both conferences.
Prediction: 3rd Seed (56-26)
The bottom half of the seeding will be determined by just one game or even 0.5 games behind.
The Indiana Pacers will fold because they don’t have health on their side. Star (G) Victor Oladipo is out and (C) Myles Turner can’t keep healthy enough to claim the leadership role. Right now the Pacers have no direction that will help them in late game situations.
Prediction: Miss the playoffs (44-38)
Motor City has done the least with the most, in the that past couple of seasons. They have two all-star level players in (PF) Blake Griffin and (C) Andre Drummond but haven’t established a plan to make them impactful in correlation of one another. Guard Reggie Jackson is the third factor that will determine the success of the team’s season as he needs to compete like the star he once vocalized he was. The Pistons have a coach who’s won the respect of the league, so they’ve just got to keep rolling through the waves of a game and that’ll in the end help them grow into a playoff team.
Prediction: 8th Seed (45-37)
The Brooklyn Nets are riding on momentum behind their first time All-Star (G) D’Angelo Russell. Since the start of the 2019, they’ve went (14-9) and as a team have grown as one. They’re hungry for the competition and curious about competing in the postseason. With the return of (G/F) Caris LeVert, the eventual return of Spencer Dinwiddie, and (C) Jarrett Allen coming into his own the Nets are bound for a low playoff position. A position nonetheless.
Prediction: 7th Seed (46-36)
Buzz City has waited very long for relevance in the playoffs ever since Michael Jordan has taken over. At (28-31), they can’t afford to lose games as they play more than half of their games left against eastern conference opponents. They can make a big jump in the leaderboard if they play through the coach’s gameplay and when the ball goes through (PG) Kemba Walker’s hands.
Prediction: 6th Seed (47-35)
The nation’s capital has fallen through big cracks as they have lost their top player (PG) John Wall and went through a mid-season construction of their roster. They aren’t ready to compete against anyone really and won’t go so far with just All-Star (SG) Bradley Beal leading he team. They need to figure out their identity, understand player dynamics, and find a cohesive way to build around Wall and Beal.
Prediction: Miss the playoffs (31-51)
Aaron Gordon has become more than a dunk machine and the Magic made the right move in trading for (G) Markelle Fultz, however we will have to wait until next season to see potential progress. Big man (C) Mo Bamba has had one of the most disappointing seasons for a rookie and the Magic will need the offseason to develop their core. Trading (PF) Jonathan Isaac might be the one ticket to getting some fresh talent on team desperate for change.
Prediction: Miss the playoffs (38-44)
The last spot goes to the Miami Heat. The Heat have been playing the last couple of seasons with a completely unknown identity. The last couple of years have been a culmination of players that are borderline better than the league average, although they have certain players that should be producing more. Obviously in his “One Last Dance” Dwyane Wade has been more so enjoying the ride rather than controlling the ride. Big man Hassan Whiteside hasn’t been the dominant player that once got him a franchise contract from the Heat. Players like (PG) Goran Dragic and (SF) Justise Winslow haven’t been a factor in determining the foundation of the team. Rather players like (G/F) Derrick Jones Jr, (G/F) Josh Richardson, and (SG) Dion Waiters have been the blood pumping the heart of this team to relevancy. Wade wants to compete in the postseason for at least one last time, so that’s his motivation to win every game now. He once carried a team to a championship as a third year player but now he’s going to need the help of the league’s most unknown group of players.
Prediction: 5th Seed: (45-37)
The NBA Finals is a destination built for the only the strongest and cohesive units. It’s a tough road that’ll start after the 82 games of the regular season are over. It’s going to be a matter of who wants it more and who’s ready to be all-in for the last quarter of the season.
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