NBA Restart Preview and Predictions: Eastern Conference
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In these unprecedented times nothing is guaranteed, but thanks to Commissioner Adam Silver and the head office of the NBA we are heading towards the guarantee of crowning the 2019-2020 NBA Champions. With this restart format taking place within the confines of the Disney World NBA Bubble, we will see the top 22 teams in the league play out eight games to determine the playoff seeding which will then start the traditional NBA playoff tree format.
While this is already an intriguing and exciting concept on its own, Adam Silvers wish has finally come true in the way of a play-in game between the eighth and ninth seeded teams in either conference (as long as they are within four games of one another). This will be a do or die affair, bringing a fresh sense of urgency and drama to the playoffs and possibly a glimpse into the future seasons of the NBA playoffs.
Before any of this action ensues, the regular season must wrap itself up, with each team's remaining eight games. So here are my predictions for the Eastern Conference.
1) Milwaukee Bucks: Projected Total Record/Seeding Games Record (59-14) (6-2)
The Bucks have shown this season that they are legitimate title contenders. Behind a historic campaign from the reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, as well as the standout play from underrated guard Khris Middleton, the Bucks have cemented themselves as the top team within the Eastern Conference. The Bucks play with tremendous chemistry and don't seem to be slowing down within the confines of the NBA Bubble.
The Bucks play a physical and fast paced style of basketball, using their elite size and athleticism to wear teams down only to have sharpshooters make it rain late in games to cement their victory. The Bucks are built top to bottom to compete for a title this season along with a fantastic coaching staff led by two-time Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholzer.
The Bucks won't have an easy path towards the playoffs however as they will be facing formidable opponents in the Celtics, Raptors, and Heat among others while on their journey to first place. Regardless of the challenging remaining eight games ahead of them, Milwaukee is poised to keep their winning ways rolling and finish with the first seed in the East.
2) Toronto Raptors: Projected Total Record/Seeding Games Record (51-21) (5-3)
The Defending NBA Champion Toronto Raptors have put together a fantastic season while facing tremendous adversity virtually the entire year. From the departure of Kawhi in the offseason, to the plague of injuries sustained within the season, the depth of the Raptors has put them on the championship contender radar.
With career numbers from Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka, as well as the unexpected skillset of undrafted guard Terrence Davis, it is clear to see that Nick Nurse has gotten his entire roster to buy into his system, and into the belief that they can compete for another Larry O’Brien trophy. The Raptors depth will surely help them for the remaining regular season games and within the playoffs but there still remains a glaring issue in finding a new number one scoring option.
While Pascal Siakam has been exceptional during his first all-star season his consistency has left fans with more to be desired. The Raptors championship hopes will heavily rest on Siakam's shoulders and without a high efficiency output from him, it will make it incredibly difficult for the defending champs to repeat.
3) Boston Celtics: Projected Total Record/Seeding Games Record (48-24) (6-2)
Similar to the Raptors, the Celtics strengths this season laid heavily on high-level defence, superb coaching, and fantastic depth. The Celtics flipped a disturbed Kyrie Irving for the always cool, calm, and collected Kemba Walker in the offseason and he has fit perfectly in Brad Stephens system. Kemba, however, hasn’t been the biggest story of the Celtics this year as the emergence of Jayson Tatum has been a revelation for Celtics fans.
With a talented young team the Celtics have promising aspirations for a deep playoff run this year. A large weakness within the Celtics is the lack of an interior presence. When trying to cover the giants of the East such as Giannis, Embiid, and Adebayo, a rotation of Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis is good, but definitely won’t cut it within a seven game series. The Celtics will need to rely on their fast paced play and strong athleticism to fair well in the remainder of the season.
4) Philadelphia 76ers: Projected Total Record/Seeding Games Record (45-28) (6-2)
If you had to use one word to describe the 76ers this season, it would be underwhelming. The dysfunctional group of giants and their tall ball system has not worked like some had hoped. The lack of perimeter offence has created tumultuous spacing issues for star centre Joel Embiid and “point guard” Ben Simmons. Luckily throughout their lacklustre journey Philly seems to be adapting and reacting well to their situation.
After moving Al Horford to the bench and putting 6’10 Ben Simmons at his true position of power forward, their spacing woes have begun to fade away. This move, however, would not have been possible without the surprising upstart in play by Shake Milton. Milton, a solid facilitator on the court as well as knockdown 3-point shooter will allow Embiid and Simmons to have clear cuts to the rim and the ability to kick out to reliable shooters on the outside.
While this team is full of potential it is completely up in the air on whether or not Philly can capitalize on said potential and compete for a title this year. Look for Philly to make a huge jump in the Eastern Conference standings and if all goes to plan, there is no doubt that the 76ers could be dark horse contenders to win the East.
5) Miami Heat: Projected Total Record/Seeding Games Record (44-29) (3-5)
While the gritty, young, and tough Miami Heat team has become a fan-favourite this season, this doesn't necessarily mean much in the way of potential. With tremendous building blocks for the future in Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and Bam Adebayo, sprinkled in with crafty vets such as Jimmy Butler and Andre Iguoldala, it is no wonder this team has found success within the regular season. But that is as far as this team is built to go.
Jimmy Butler, while having a solid year after two rough stints personally with Minnesota and Philadelphia, is not a number one guy on a championship contender. His play can be inconsistent at times which doesn't fit well with a young core that will be looking for a safety valve in Butler within the playoffs. The Heat have arguably one of the toughest schedules for remaining games on the season and will need a lot of things to bounce their way to hold onto their fourth seed in the East.
The Heat will be a tough matchup for any team to go up against but not a threat to contend against the upper echelon of the NBA.
6) Indiana Pacers: Projected Total Record/Seeding Games Record (41-32) (2-6)
A criminally underrated team, the Indiana Pacers have proven to be a solid squad from top to bottom even with star shooting guard Victor Oladipo missing the first half of the season. The Pacers have great perimeter shooting to go with budding stars in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, but still lack the offensive production to be taken as a serious threat in the playoffs.
It was up in the air on whether Oladipo would play originally in the NBA bubble (all signs pointing towards he will be playing but nothing official) but even with his addition the Pacers have been placed in a tough spot. With a strong schedule looming above them, the Pacers lack the “it factor” to become great. Part of this is due to lacklustre performances from Myles Turner as well as the inability to generate comprehensive on-court chemistry between himself and Sabonis.
The Pacers similar to the Heat will be a tough matchup on any given night but not to the same degree and will likely find themselves facing a quick exit from Orlando once the playoffs begin.
7) Orlando Magic: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (33-40) (3-5)
Now this is where we begin to see a steep drop off in talent inside the East. Orlando, a stingy defensive team, plays an outdated slow brand of basketball that gravitates through big man Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic is a great player himself but is not the caliber of player that can win a series for his team without a good supporting cast.
Technically the “home team” within the bubble, the Magic will be hard pressed to find wins within the regular season as well as the playoffs. While on paper their roster seems to be above average, it is the lack of chemistry that hurts the Magic the most. With various styles of players on the team coming in and out of the lineup due to injuries, or to a change in coach Steve Clifford's game plan, the Magic lack the big game spot light mentality.
The Magic will need to see big output from their unproven young guns in Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac, and former first overall pick Markelle Fultz if they have any chance at taking a few wins off a team in the playoffs let alone making a series competitive.
8) Brooklyn Nets: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (31-41) (1-7)
Hold on to your Dinwiddie Dollars folks’, and avoid placing any bets on the Nets to be successful this postseason. While they take the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, they still sport an abysmal record even going into the regular season for a playoff team. But to paraphrase Ned Kelly, “such is the Eastern Conference”.
The Nets will be without their big free agent signings in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and DeAndre Jordan as all have succumbed to injuries within the past calendar year. The Nets have virtually no chance to compete this year, but the silver lining for them is the experience young players such as Caris Levert and Jarrett Allen will gain from this odd experience.
But as for this season, the Nets will need J Crossover to average 50 PPG if they want any chance of doing anything with the remainder of the season.
9) Washington Wizards: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (25-47) (1-7)
No Bradley Beal, no John Wall, not even Davis Bertans. The Wizards are preparing for the shellacking of a lifetime as their depleted and untalented remaining roster are being fed to the wolves of the NBA Bubble. The Wizards struggled to get wins this season even with star Bradley Beal averaging 30 PPG, and without his dynamic output on both ends of the floor, the remainder of their season could be disastrous.
Rookie Rui Hachimura will have an excellent opportunity to have an offence run through him as a first option as well as garner some national attention. The former Gonzaga standout will need some support however but it is unlikely he will receive much if any. The Wizards showed this season they are allergic to playing a lick of defence and without their top bucket getter these games could get ugly fast for Washington as they will need a blessing from above to even win a measly two games.