The NBA regular season has ended and the playoffs are now in full swing. Each team has their seeding and all of the matchups are set. In the West, most people believe that the Warriors are the clear favorites to go to the Finals. The Eastern Conference, however, is a different story with there being many different competitive teams out there. There is not one clear team that is heavily favored to make the Finals.
Eastern Conference: Contenders vs. Pretenders
Eastern Conference Contenders
The Milwaukee Bucks have been the team to beat in the Eastern Conference throughout the regular season. Very quietly, the Bucks have one of the most talented and overall complete rosters in the entire NBA. While they are headlined by stars such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, they also have a plethora of other quality players. Role players like Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe, and Malcolm Brogdon as well as other contributors make the Bucks a force to be reckoned with.
The balance this team possesses is incredible and will be key for a championship run. The Bucks have a solid mix of three-point shooting from marksmen like Middleton and Bledsoe as well as paint dominating players like Antetokounmpo and Lopez. Head Coach Mike Budenholzer also makes sure that his defense is sound making it difficult for opposing teams to score. With all the talent this team possesses they should definitely be a favorite to make the Finals.
Much like the Bucks, the Toronto Raptors are also a very complete and well-balanced team. Led by superstar forward Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors are not a team to take lightly in this year’s playoffs. Toronto has a desirable mix of seasoned veterans such as Leonard and Kyle Lowry as well as young, homegrown talents like Pascal Siakham and Fred VanVleet.
The Raptors have the necessary blend of experience and youth to contend with other top teams in the league. Another major factor the Raptors have going for them is their play against top-tier opponents. Over the span of the regular season, Toronto was able to win the tough, grind-it-out games more than they lost. In the playoffs, every game is a difficult one which makes the Raptors poised to emerge from the Eastern Conference.
The Boston Celtics were one of the toughest teams to place on this list due to the many inconsistencies they had during the regular season. At times, the Celtics looked like they were unbeatable, but at others, looked lost. However, after sweeping the Pacers in round one and looking good while doing it, Boston has cemented their place as contenders. With quite possibly the deepest team in the entire NBA, players like Kyrie Irving and Jayson Taytum highlight their starting lineup; making them hard to beat.
Interestingly, the Boston Celtics bench is often the real story. Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, and longtime career starter Gordon Hayward are just a few of the big names on the Celtics’ depth chart. With a productive group of stars paired with a deep bench, the Celtics have not gone away and remain very relevant in the Eastern Conference title picture.
Eastern Conference Pretenders
As much as I like the Philadelphia 76ers and see how much potential this group of players wields, sadly, they are not contenders. On paper, the 76ers should be one of the top teams in the league. They have star power in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Jimmy Butler along with outstanding complimentary players like Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick.
The biggest issue the 76ers are plagued with is their play against top tier opponents. In the East, Philadelphia lost their season series against the Raptors, Bucks, and Celtics. The 76ers need to start playing like a contender if they want to be treated like one. With all the talent to be one of the top teams, the 76ers must tighten up fast if they want to represent the East in the NBA Finals.
The Orlando Magic are a respectable, up-and-coming team that seems to be headed in the right direction. The players have been developed from the beginning and they have built a respectable roster without signing a lot of stars. Despite all of this, the Magic still have not played well enough to be considered a contender. The Magic are young and the squad tries hard and gives it their all, but with a lack of star power, hustle and effort sometimes aren’t enough. With the Raptors ending their playoff hopes, the Orlando Magic must enter the offseason with many different aspects of the roster to address.
The Detroit Pistons are simply not that good of a team. Fortunately, the Pistons have two All-Star caliber players in Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Beyond that, the Pistons’ roster is very underwhelming. As the team’s new Head Coach, Dwayne Casey does a great job with what he is given and has helped them reach the playoffs. For the Detroit Pistons to jump into the top tier of the Eastern Conference, they will need at least one more superstar in the Motor City.
Outside Looking In
The Indiana Pacers have proven this season that they are an up-and-coming team in this league. Had Victor Oladipo been healthy down the stretch, there is little doubt they would have made the contenders list. Next year could be the year for Indiana as the Pacers will be getting Oladipo back and should sign even more talent. While this season didn’t turn out the way they planned, the future in Indiana definitely has a bright outlook.
The Brooklyn Nets have been arguably the most improved team in basketball this season. Their players have improved and developed immensely from last year and that should continue into next season. The best way I can put it is this that the Nets need to do a little better in a lot of areas. This includes spending their cap space on more talent while continuing to foster player development. There is a strong possibility that Brooklyn makes the most improvements next year should the team strike gold in free agency.