Now that the NBA trade deadline has passed and the All-Star Weekend is over, teams are headed into the final stretch of the regular season. The Eastern Conference has been significantly weaker than the Western Conference in recent years.
This is partially due to LeBron James’ dominance in the east, but now that he is in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Lakers, teams like the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks are battling to claim the Eastern Conference.
The race for the top four seeds and home court advantage is very tight, a five-team race for four spots. With about 25 games remaining in the regular season, here are my playoff predictions for the Eastern Conference:
- Toronto Raptors: The Raptors organization is doing everything possible to reach the NBA Finals. Acquiring Kawhi Leonard in the summer and recently trading for Marc Gasol, the Raptors have one of the strongest rosters in the NBA. Leonard, Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Danny Green lead the team with a deep bench and possible “6th Man of the Year” Fred Van Fleet. Toronto played well during the first half of the season but I see them only getting stronger. Their new additions strengthen the lineup, and I can’t see any other team outlasting them to get the top spot. The north is a tough place to play and with the LeBron-less Eastern Conference, I believe this is finally the year the Raptors reach the NBA Finals.
- Philadelphia 76ers: The 76ers have the star power to easily dominate the NBA for the next half-decade. With their powerful roster of Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, JJ Reddick, Joel Embiid and late trade acquisitions of Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic, I see the 76ers finishing their season strong and getting the second seed spot in the playoffs. However the team has a lot of different personalities and egos in their locker room. Paired with the lack of playoff experience on the team, I don’t see the 76ers making the NBA Finals or the Eastern Conference Finals. That said, they do have a lot of star power and players who can control games. The 76ers are almost where they want to be, but finishing as the second seed is still a step forward.
- Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks currently have the best record in the NBA and are led by MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. The team found its stride early in the first half of the season and has surprisingly led the east for most of the year. This is a very exciting team. However, with the strengthening of the 76ers and the Raptors, I see the Bucks having a tough time holding onto their success and I see them falling to the third seed. This might come as a surprise since they have been off to such a solid start, but the length of the regular season will continue to wear on this team that doesn’t have strong playoff experience.
- Boston Celtics: Celtics fans may have a hard time understanding why their team has struggled so much this season. Frankly, I knew this was going to happen because there is a lot of attention and media pressure in Boston. The Celtics’ number of egos and lack of unity when playing at full strength have caused this team to struggle. The Celtics were faced with injuries and absent players last year. Even though all their stars are healthy, Kyrie Irving has yet to lead the team like everyone thought he would. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are showing that they are still young and not quite solidified stars by putting up very average numbers. The bright side is they have one of the best coaches in the NBA and a talented lineup that could beat any team in the NBA.
These four teams will likely lead the east by the time playoffs come around. The rest of the conference is pretty far behind these four.. As for the final four seeds, I see them rounding out like this. .
- Brooklyn Nets: D’angelo Russell has found himself in Brooklyn. After being named to the All-Star squad this year, I see him leading the hot Brooklyn Nets team to a playoff berth.
- Indiana Pacers: Without Victor Oladipo, the Pacers will struggle to hold their spot.
- Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker and the Hornets young core could be something special.
- Miami Heat: Dwayne Wade gets his final run in the playoffs to seal off a Hall of Fame career.