The Eastern Conference is full of competition this year and home to many of the top teams in the NBA. However, when it comes to who should be the favorite to win the East this year, there are many differing opinions. Some people pick the current number 1 seed, the Miami Heat. Ohers choose the MVP favorite Joel Embiid and his Philadelphia 76ers.
No one really knows who will come out of the East victorious, but as we inch closer and closer to the start of the NBA playoffs, here’s my thoughts on who the top teams in the Eastern Conference are.
#4: Boston Celtics
Current Record: 39-27 (5th in Eastern Conference)
There’s a strong argument to be made that Jayson Tatum has officially entered superstar status. Tatum and the Celtics are the NBA’s hottest team, led by the NBA’s best defense. The Celtics have two of the league’s best young scorers in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum is averaging 26.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, and 4.2 apg this season and shows no sign of slowing down. Meanwhile, his fellow partner Jaylen Brown is averaging 23.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and 3.3 apg, along with over one steal.
The Celtics roster is very underrated and gaining heavy momentum. Along with Tatum and Brown, the usual starting lineup consists of veteran wing Marcus Smart, experienced big man Al Horford, and Robert Williams lll. This starting lineup screams of defensive talent. Brown and Smart have the abilities to lock down perimeter players. Horford and Williams protect the paint. The Celtics also have newly acquired guard Derrick White to go along with Daniel Theis and Grant Williams off the bench.
The Celtics are going to be very tough in the playoffs. They carry the league’s best defense and a lethal combination of young scorers. However, they are only the fourth best team in the East in my eyes due to their lack of playoff experience and the talent the teams ahead of them possess.
#3: Miami Heat
Current Record: 44-22 (1st in Eastern Conference)
Many people are going to be upset at the “disrespect” I am giving to the Heat by only putting them at three, and I may regret it (probably not, though). The Miami Heat have the best record in the Eastern Conference; that’s mainly because of how deep their roster is. Their bench consists of Victor Oladipo, Tyler Herro, and Dewayne Dedmon, who each know their respective roles. Herro and Oladipo bring the scoring off the bench, while Dedmon brings rebounding and defense.
Not only is their bench loaded with talent, but their starting lineup is arguably one of the best in the league. The Heat’s starting guards include NBA Champion Kyle Lowry, who is averaging 13 ppg with 7.8 apg. The other starting guard is a pure sniper in Duncan Robinson, averaging 11.2 ppg and shooting 37% from three. We all know what All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo bring to the Heat: defense and physicality. Butler has shown his ability to be a clutch player when he needs to be, and Adebayo is one of the best defenders in the entire NBA.
However, with all that said, the Miami Heat shouldn’t scare other teams as much as they think. Jimmy Butler and PJ Tucker are the only ones who have legitimate experience in the postseason. Also, I don’t believe they match up particularly well with Milwaukee or Boston. The Heat are a very well built team and should have decent playoff success this year. However, they aren’t going to make the Eastern Conference Finals. The next two teams WILL.
#2: Philadelphia 76ers
Current Record: 40-24 (2nd in Eastern Conference)
Two words describe the 76ers this season: Joel Embiid. Embiid is the current MVP favorite and has been dominating the whole league this season. The 76ers are going to be a tough in the playoffs with Embiid, and now they’ve recently added one of the greatest scorers ever in James Harden. Joel Embiid is averaging a league best 29.7 ppg, along with 11.2 rpg and 4.3 apg. Meanwhile, Harden is averaging 22.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, and 10.4 apg and heating up at the right time.
The 76ers also have some other firepower besides than their star duo, which includes Tobias Harris. Harris is averaging 17.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, and 3.5 apg, despite struggling from the three-point line this season. However, if there is one story that can compete with the Joel Embiid MVP story, it’s the explosion of Tyrese Maxey. Maxey is averaging 17.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, and 4.5 apg and shooting an insane 43% from deep. If Philadelphia can keep playing the way they have been recently, there is a great chance they could win the NBA title.
If there is one thing that the 76ers should fear, though, it is their inability to consistently shoot from behind the arc. After trading Seth Curry to the Brooklyn Nets in the Harden trade, they have yet to fill his role in hitting from deep. Teams like Milwaukee, for example, specialize in paint defense and will make it difficult for Embiid. If the 76ers are unable to develop any form of consistent outside shooting, then certain teams can take advantage of that.
#1: Milwaukee Bucks
Current Record: 41-25 (3rd in Eastern Conference)
Yes, yes, yes… the Milwaukee Bucks are the best team in the East, and there’s many reasons for that. First, Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to play at an MVP level and is the NBA’s best fourth quarter scorer this season. Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.4 ppg, 11.5 rpg, and 6 apg while also making a case for another Defensive Player of the Year award. Giannis has also shown growth in his shooting ability this season at 31% from three.
Jrue Holiday is also on a tear and continues to impress. Holiday still has the ability to defend the best player on the court if needed, and is shooting with ease this season. Holiday is averaging 18.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, and 6.7 apg along with 1.5 spg. Jrue is shooting 42% from three and 51% from the field.
Along with Giannis and Holiday is Khris Middleton, who is having another underrated season. Middleton is averaging 20.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 5.3 apg and can always play great defense as well. Combine the Bucks’ Big Three with the fact that Bobby Portis is playing at an insane level, and they will be virtually unbeatable when fully healthy in a seven game series.
The Bucks are not the current favorites to win the NBA Championship, and are once again being overlooked in the big picture. Yet, they just continue winning games and slowly pacing themselves as the playoffs inch closer. I didn’t even mention the contributions they can get from their bench once fully healthy. All in all, I believe the Milwaukee Bucks are the Eastern Conference’s best team this season… and have a great chance to repeat as NBA Champions.
Final Prediction: Bucks vs 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals
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