NBA Eastern Conference Preview and Predictions
With the Cavs trading for Donovan Mitchell and the Nets announcing that Kevin Durant will be staying in Brooklyn, it seems like the “blockbuster moves” part of the off-season has come to an end. But even with the Cavs newly strengthened core and the Nets keeping one of the best players in the league, how much ground did these teams really gain in the Eastern Conference? Below, I have split the Eastern Conference into various tiers of what their realistic ceiling is.
**RP = Record Prediction**
Tier 1: Serious contenders to make the finals
1 - Boston Celtics → RP: 57 - 25
2 - Milwaukee Bucks → RP: 53 - 29
As I have mentioned in my previous articles, I believe that the Celtics and the Bucks are the 2 best teams going into this NBA season. They are coming off of one of the most entertaining series’ during this past playoffs and I am expecting to see more of the same in the ECF next May. While the Bucks are my favorites to win the East and the Championship, I think Boston will be the stronger regular season team. Boston finished last season winning 28 of their last 35 games which is 66 win pace for a full 82 game season. While I don’t expect them to win 66 games, I believe they will carry over the momentum from last year and have a very successful regular season. Regarding the Bucks, Khris Middleton is coming off an injury and Giannis seems to have picked up some minor injuries in the EuroBasket competition. Although these injuries may not be very serious, I think the Bucks will play it carefully with their 2 stars at the beginning of the season and only start really ramping it up around the turn of the year.
Tier 2: Could make the ECF if things fall in place
3 - Philadelphia 76ers → RP: 51 - 31
4 - Miami Heat → RP: 51 - 31
5 - Brooklyn Nets → RP: 49 - 33
All of these teams in tier 2 have proven “superstars” that can take over a game on any given night. However, there are still concerning questions regarding their supporting casts. For the 76ers, will James Harden ever go back to being the player he was in Houston? For the Heat, is there enough offensive power to complement Jimmy Butler? For the Nets, will Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons even play more than half the season? Assuming they are healthy, I expect these teams to battle for the 3 - 5 spots in the Eastern Conference and hover around 50 wins for the season. If any of these teams can reach one of those top 2 seeds, they will ensure a much easier route in the playoffs.
Tier 3: Solid foundation but needs one more piece
6 - Cleveland Cavaliers → RP: 48 - 34
7 - Toronto Raptors → RP: 48 - 34
8 - Chicago Bulls → RP: 46 - 36
When it comes to the teams in tier 3, the major thing they are all missing is that “superstar” who is capable of being the best player on a championship team. The Cavs did add Donovan Mitchell which will make them incredibly strong not only this season but for the future as well. However, I’m not sure just yet if any of the Cavs top players are capable of reaching that “superstar” level. Apart from their season in Tampa, the Raptors have continued to be a very strong team since their championship run in 2019 but when they get to the playoffs, they begin to severely miss having a talent like Kawhi Leonard. This past year was a season of rejuvenation for the Bulls. Demar DeRozan once again proved that he is one of the most talented offensive players in the league and the Bulls made the playoffs for the first time in 5 years. With all that being said, they had a 9 - 17 record against other Eastern Conference playoff teams last season. These teams will all have strong regular seasons but fans shouldn’t expect them to get out of the first round.
Tier 4: Talented players but I don’t see major improvements
9 - Atlanta Hawks → RP: 45 - 37
10 - New York Knicks → RP: 42 - 40
Both the Knicks and the Hawks made some huge additions to supplement their backcourts with the Hawks bringing in Dejounte Murray and the Knicks bringing in Jalen Brunson. These players should help both teams make some improvements but when it comes to competing with the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference, they just don’t match up. Starting with the Hawks, they were in the ECF just 2 seasons ago but as more time passes by, that playoff run is seeming more flukey. They barely made the playoffs last year, getting in just because of the play-in tournament, and even with the addition of Dejounte, I think they’ll be in the same position of battling in the play-in tournament. Moving on to another team that seemingly also had some flukey success a couple of years ago, the Knicks completely faltered this past season dropping from the 4th seed just 2 seasons ago to the 11th seed this past year. Former Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy had this to say about the current roster, “The Knicks have good players, but you line it up against the competition in the East, and this roster is not on the same level.” Adding Jalen Brunson will sure up their backcourt but I see them only jumping one spot in the standings and hopefully competing in the play-in tournament.
Tier 5: Play-In at best
11 - Charlotte Hornets → RP: 35 - 47
12 - Washington Wizards → RP: 33 - 49
The Hornets and the Wizards are probably my 2 most disappointing teams in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets have an extremely entertaining and talented group of young players but have put up embarrassing performances in the last 2 play-in tournaments. In the 2021 play-in tournament, they lost to the Pacers by 27 points, and then in the 2022 tournament, they lost to the Hawks by 29 points. With the roster issues they are facing this season, it will be an achievement if they can even get back to the play-in tournament. Moving on to the Wizards, the moment they decided to sign Bradley Beal to the supermax extension along with taking on the Porzingis contract this past season, it became quite clear that they will be the definition of mediocrity for the foreseeable future. Beal is an extremely talented player but saying he is worth $50 Million annually seems like quite a stretch. The Wizards will continue to win between 30 - 35 games every season for some time but in regard to being some sort of playoff threat, that’s not going to happen.
Tier 6: Promising young cores
13 - Detroit Pistons → RP: 29 - 53
14 - Orlando Magic → RP: 26 - 56
15 - Indiana Pacers → RP: 21 - 61
The tier that rounds out the Eastern Conference has three teams that have extremely promising young cores. I don’t expect these teams to make a run for the playoffs just yet, but with the quality of players they are fielding including Tyrese Haliburton, Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Cade Cunningham, and Jaden Ivey to name a few, these teams will be making noise in the Eastern Conference in no time.
If you have read this far, thank you so much. If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions about anything I wrote, I would love to hear them. Stay tuned for another article in a couple weeks!
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