Eastern Conference preview: Title contender tiers

As the NBA season is about to commence, let’s analyze the Eastern Conference teams and categorize them based on their chances of winning the title. Although the regular season standings may not follow this exact order, this ranking reflects each team’s potential in the playoffs.


Milwaukee Bucks
Boston Celtics

These two teams are in a league of their own. Despite the possibility of one of them starting slowly due to fit and system adjustments (more likely for Boston), or dealing with injuries that may allow an upstart like Cleveland to surpass them in the standings, it would be surprising not to see a Boston vs. Milwaukee Eastern Conference Finals.

The Bucks boast the league’s best duo in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard, but can the rest of the aging and thin roster support a title run? On the other hand, the Celtics have a deeper and more versatile lineup with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Jrue Holiday, but the readiness and health of Kristaps Porzingis on this big stage remain uncertain.


Philadelphia 76ers

Does anyone know how this season will turn out in Philadelphia? A Harden-shaped dark cloud hanging over the franchise makes every prediction murky. The 76ers have the MVP in Joel Embiid and he will be a monster again, Tyrese Maxey looks ready for a breakout, and Nick Nurse’s systems will energize the offense. The pieces are there to be a threat to Boston and Milwaukee if the 76ers end up with more help out of the Harden saga. It’s just hard to predict where this team will land.


Cleveland Cavaliers
Miami Heat
New York Knicks
Atlanta Hawks
Indiana Pacers
Toronto Raptors

After the Celtics and Bucks, the Eastern Conference field becomes more crowded, and the question arises as to which teams will break out.

I have high hopes for the Cavaliers. They won 51 games last season, learned valuable lessons in the playoffs, and had a strong offseason including the acquisition of Max Strus. I believe this team has the potential to become a contender, but they need to prove it. Evan Mobley’s improvement will be crucial to their progress. Although Heat fans may be disappointed to see their team listed here instead of as a contender, the departure of key Finals starters Strus and Gabe Vincent without quality replacements lowers their ranking. Nobody wants to face Jimmy Butler in the playoffs, though.

The Knicks, led by Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, will remain a solid team, but they seem to be waiting for the next superstar to become available before becoming serious contenders. Many people have higher expectations for Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks than I do, but if anyone can elevate this roster to contender status, it’s their coach, Quin Snyder. I’m hopping on the Indiana Pacers bandwagon – expect Tyrese Haliburton to have a breakout season, and their acquisition of Bruce Brown addresses their need for wing defense. The Pacers are a playoff team. As for the Toronto Raptors, I have no clue about their long-term plan, but with players like Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes, they have too much talent to miss the playoffs.


Chicago Bulls
Brooklyn Nets
Charlotte Hornets
Orlando Magic
Detroit Pistons

The Bulls believe they should be ranked higher, but without the presence of Lonzo Ball (and with their core getting older), I think they will be fighting for a play-in spot. The Nets have solid talent on the roster. Mikal Bridges will have an offensive breakout season, but the Nets need Ben Simmons to regain his form, which I doubt will happen. The Hornets also possess talent, and I have more faith in LaMelo Ball as a leader compared to other analysts. However, they are not at the same level as their 43-win roster from a few years ago and will likely contend for a play-in spot (especially with Miles Bridges’ uncertainty). Orlando displayed promise in the second half of last season, and Paolo Banchero’s development might enable them to make a playoff push, but I remain skeptical and see them as a play-in team. The Detroit Pistons probably belong in the lower lottery category, but I believe Cade Cunningham will shine this season and place Detroit in the play-in mix.


Washington Wizards

Make sure to add Jordan Poole to your fantasy team. The Wizards are finally undergoing a rebuild that should have started years ago, and although players like Kyle Kuzma will put up numbers, this is not a team that will win many games this season.


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