The NBA season gets underway on Tuesday and the Eastern Conference is looking more balanced next to the West for the first time in a very long time. Sure, the Milwaukee Bucks are viewed as the odds-on favorites to come out of the conference, but there are realistically 4-5 teams who could represent the East in the NBA Finals. You’ve got the Miami Heat, the reigning East champs, ready to go with the same core intact. The Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers all figure to be in contention throughout the season as well.
Below we’re going to attempt to predict the finishing order and play-in tournament for the Eastern Conference this season.
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Brooklyn Nets
- Miami Heat
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Boston Celtics
- Toronto Raptors
- Atlanta Hawks
- Chicago Bulls
- Indiana Pacers
The Nets and Hawks are the top newcomers in the postseason for the East. I wouldn’t be surprised if a team led by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving ended up finishing first in the East. For now, we’ll tempter expectations a bit and put them second. I think the Heat will be hungry again after making it to the NBA Finals and Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro should only take another step forward. Rounding out the top 4 is the Sixers, who I think could surprise a lot of people this season. Philly finally has a real coach and GM, plus they went out and got some 3-point shooting to put around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Moving down the list, the Celtics take a clear step back without Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter. Kemba Walker is banged up and may not be ready for the start of the season. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are great cornerstones and the Celtics should be competitive for a while, it’s just they aren’t nearly as talented as some of the teams comprised of All-Stars ahead of them.
The Raptors could end up being a top 3-4 team again this season after surprising everyone in 2019-20. Losing Kawhi Leonard didn’t impact them as much but losing Kawhi, and now Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka could hurt a bit. Toronto is also playing down in Florida, which could result in additional Covid-19 positive tests. The Hawks are another team who could fly up the standings. I view them in the same vein as the Suns in the West. Atlanta made vast improvements to the roster, but will it all come together? That’s the big question. Even if it doesn’t completely, there’s just too much talent surrounding Trae Young for the Hawks to miss the postseason.
I’m going to be a homer and say that Billy Donovan keeps his playoff streak going and get the Bulls back in there. This is a very young team with potentially the most underrated back court in the NBA in Zach LaVIne and Coby White. If Lauri Markkanen can get his game together and the Bulls can play better defense, I think they’ll win enough games to make it to the play-in tournament.
The Pacers I probably shouldn’t be too down on but with a new coach and so many players prone to injury, I’m a bit suspect. Indiana has the biggest range of outcomes of any team in the East I feel. Victor Oladipo could return to All-Star form with Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis and form a very scary unit. The Pacers have depth, too, but I think they lack elite talent similar to some of the teams ahead of them not counting the Bulls. So we get an old school rivalry in the play-in tourney with the Bulls sneaking in.