The NBA’s Eastern Conference is loaded this year. Putting away the idea that the Western Conference is superior. The top 5 seeds are all within 5 games of 1st place. The last month or so of the season is set up for a lot of potential movement in the standings.
So who are the 5 teams who have a real chance to run the East come playoff time?
Can Giannis Repeat?
The Milwaukee Bucks seem to be a “sleeper” team to win the East this year. The reality is that they are still just as good as the team that won it all last season. There is just more competition this year for them. Giannis is still playing at an MVP level.
Khris Middleton is having another all-star season, scoring 20 a night, to go along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. He also has the ability to go for 40, he just did it earlier this month. That can be a huge asset if a defense can shut down Giannis. Jrue Holiday is another great asset, one of the best all around point guards in the league when you factor in his defense.
They have the role players to go along with their core, Bobby Portis has turned into a really solid big man for the Bucks. He’s shooting the three at 41% on just under 5 attempts a game.
The Bucks traded for Serge Ibaka, they still have Pat Connaughton, George Hill, and Wes Matthews. The Bucks are serious about winning this year, and they built a solid team to do just that.
Does Harden take Philly to the Finals?
The 76ers have had a drama-filled season, starting with Ben Simmons sitting out requesting a trade, and then trading him for James Harden who forced his way out of Brooklyn.
But now they have Joel Embiid, an MVP candidate, James Harden a former MVP who is having a “down” year putting up about 23/8/10 a game and are looking dangerous.
Embiid had the 76ers in good shape while Simmons was still sitting out. Adding a star of Harden’s caliber has made them a legit threat to win the East.
The emergence of Tyrese Maxey has made a huge leap this season. Specifically since the James Harden trade.
They have all the star power, but the thing they need is consistency from guys like Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, and Tobias Harris come playoffs.
Are Tatum and the defense enough to win the East?
The Boston Celtics have done a complete 180 this season, early in the season they struggled to hold leads, and they lost a lot of winnable games. Some slight roster tweaking has flipped a switch for them and they have been one of if not the best teams in the NBA since the new year.
Jayson Tatum has shown he is the leader of this Celtics squad. Tatum is averaging 26/8/4 this year. His decision making and defense have taken a step this season.
After trading for Derrick White at the deadline, the Celtics found their rotation. And the results could not be better.
As a team, they have a potential defensive player of the year in Robert Williams, and Marcus Smart could make a case for the award as well. Regardless of whether they win the award or not, the Celtics have three players who could make the NBA’s first or second team all defense. Smart, Williams, and Tatum.
Oh ya, and don’t forget about Jaylen Brown a nightly 23/6/3.
Can Jimmy lead them back to the Finals?
The Heat are an interesting team, they have played their way to the number 1 seed in the East. . They don’t have the star power that some of the other contenders have. Their big 3 of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kyle Lowry is strong, but their depth is what carries them.
Eric Spoelstra has been one of the leagues best coaches for some time now, it is not surprising that he has this team in 1st place.
With the addition of Victor Oladipo back into the lineup, there is a potential for them to become even better. A healthy Oladipo can make your team elite, the big question is, can he stay healthy?
This team needs consistent contributions from people other than Jimmy or Bam, we saw that two finals ago against the Lakers. The Heat just lacked the star power and didn’t have the bench to help make up for it.
Can KD and Kyrie lead Brooklyn? Will Simmons help them or hurt them?
A team with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will always be a threat to just outscore you. A midseason trade of James Harden made them worse right away. Ben Simmons, the player they traded for, has still yet to play a game this season.
The Nets are 4-6 in their last 10 games. Simmons should come back and add DPOY caliber defense, but his offensive game is questionable.
The Nets depth is fine, but they lack a backup forward with Joe Harris out for the year. They have a similar roster to the Lakers, a lot of their best players have already played their best basketball. Lamarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Goran Dragic, that’s a playoff team on their own 5 years ago.
The Nets will have to be carried by Durant and will need Kyrie to step up if they want to win this season.