Sports

NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions

Charlie Krumsiek ‘20
Sports Editor

The East has been dramatically reshuffled after reclaiming the Larry O’Brien Trophy from the West for the first time since LeBron James led the Cavaliers to a legendary comeback in 2016. After a strong season last year, the East appears to have taken another step back after the Raptors lost Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Here’s how I see the East shaking out in 2019-2020.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks: 62-20 

This was the best team in the league last season and they managed to keep most of the core that took them to an Eastern Conference Finals. They retained Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer, All-Star forward Khris Middleton, All-NBA defender Eric Bledsoe and stretch-five Brook Lopez. This core took the Eastern Conference by storm a season ago and Giannis Antetokuonmpo has made huge improvements to his game each offseason. I think they improve their win total slightly from last year in a weaker conference to play in and continued steps forward from Giannis Antetokuonmpo.

2. Philadelphia 76ers: 59-23 

I expect big things from the Sixers this season. One of the best teams in the league last year, they took the eventual champs to seven hard fought games and nearly stole the series. They boast two of the most talented young players in the league and they have surrounded them with an excellent starting five. It wouldn’t surprise me if this team sets a lot of defensive records this season. They lost Jimmy Butler and JJ Reddick but gained Josh Richardson and Al Horford which makes theirs the best starting defense in the league. Offensively, they have been limited in past years, but both Richardson and Horford can take some of the playmaking load off Simmons and Embiid and allow them to play off-ball more than past seasons. Their only weakness is their bench but they have proven that on a season-long basis, this will not slow them down.

3. Boston Celtics: 49-33

While the Celtics managed to recoup some of their offseason losses, they still lost both of their All-Star players and remain a step behind the two major contenders in the East. The Sixers and Bucks are a head above the rest of the East. The Celtics still have an exceptionally young roster with guys who have shown that they can take on major roles in big moments. Jaylen Brown is in a contract year and had a good second half after recovering from a nagging hand injury and Jayson Tatum’s game is likely to improve. I anticipate their starting five to not include one of their signings from the offseason in Enes Kanter. A good player in a limited capacity for what the Celtics tend to do, I think that for the majority of the season Grant Williams will claim his spot. Gordon Hayward had a full offseason in which he was not rehabbing and hopefully will take a step closer to the player he was before his injury, but the addition of Kemba Walker keeps the Celtics ahead of the rest of the East.

4. Indiana Pacers: 48-34

The Pacers were a very solid team last year and they lost their best player halfway through the season. Oladipo’s return is not imminent, with reports indicating that a November or December return is more likely. This means that they will likely get off to a slow start and lose some games while Oladipo works his way back into shape. They added Malcom Brogdon after an incredible season with the Bucks last year, joining the 50-40-90 club. A very efficient scorer, Brodgon also adds a playmaking and defensive element to the backcourt that the Pacers desperately needed after Oladipo went out. They will be a very hard out in the playoffs but the first half of the season, expect them to lose games they probably shouldn’t. 

5. Toronto Raptors (47-35)

The defending champs will not be the same without Kawhi Leonard, but they are still a lock to make the playoffs. General Manager Masai Ujiri has drafted extremely well in recent years, and Toronto will look to young players like Pascal Siakam, Fred Van Vleet, Norman Powell, and OG Anunoby to fill the void left by Leonard. With veterans Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka all on expiring contracts, this may be the last hurrah for this era of Raptors basketball. They likely won’t reach the heights they did last year, but it was all worth it to win that one championship.

6. Brooklyn Nets 46-36

The Nets had one of the biggest offseasons this year but they rank so low because they are missing the biggest addition from their summer in Kevin Durant. His torn Achilles tendon means that he likely will not be seen on the court for at least this season. The Nets did replace D’Angelo Russell with Kyrie Irving but missing such a major piece like Kevin Durant will hurt them. They did, however, manage to keep a strong core of the players that got the 6-seed last year and only improved at the point guard position. I don’t see too much separation in these three teams and I anticipate the final standings for the 3-5 seeds to be hotly contested to the very last few games of the season. 

7. Detroit Pistons: 43-39

The Pistons have a very strong roster of veteran players who know how to win and a number of players with huge upside. Derrick Rose and Joe Johnson were two of their major pickups this offseason and both will look to prove that their careers aren’t over just yet. While Johnson tore up the recently created Big 3 League, Rose had the best shooting season of his career, both from the field and from three. Blake Griffin also had a great season, making second team All-NBA, but injuries prevented him from contributing much in the playoffs. Injuries could be a major factor in this team’s success as they have shaped the careers of both Griffin and Rose. They have a proven head coach in Dwane Casey and will likely be a hard team to beat on a night-to-night basis, but likely don’t have the talent to knock off some of the higher seeded teams in the conference.

8. Miami Heat: 43-39

The Heat gained All-Star Jimmy Butler who is on his third team in two years and traded away one of their premier players in Hassan Whiteside. This team just missed the playoffs and gained a very good player in Butler. However, Butler is a notoriously hard player to get along with, reportedly upsetting both Karl-Anthony Towns and Ben Simmons. The Heat do not have any young players as talented as these two and in fact will start the season as the league’s second oldest roster. Reports are saying that they are interested in acquiring another veteran star in Chris Paul, which on talent alone make them a playoff team in the East. However, a deal does not appear to be imminent and it is very unclear how Paul and Butler would work together, although on paper it would appear very well.

Honorable Mention: Atlanta Hawks: 41-41 

The Hawks have a decent chance to make the playoffs in the East this season. They have an incredible crop of young talent, after using their two lottery picks on De’Andre Hunter and overlooked Cam Reddish. Rookie Trae Young showed that he is a more than capable ball handler and distributor. They also re-signed Vince Carter who seems more than content to play limited minutes but act as a mentor to the young guys. They also have taken advantage of their young roster replete with rookie-scale contracts, using extra cap room to pick up players like Allen Crabbe, Jabari Parker, and Chandler Parsons who may be tremendously overpaid but still have lots of talent and potential to help on the court this year.

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