The NBA finally made its triumphant return this past Thursday after a short hiatus for the All-star break.
This means that All-Star weekend has come and gone, and the playoffs are not too far way. There are multiple teams who could make it to the NBA Finals, but who? Who is ready to make the leap and truly contend for a championship?
With LeBron James taking his talents to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Eastern Conference is now wide open. For the first time in eight years, the team representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals will not be the Miami Heat or the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For the past decade, the Eastern Conference has been considered a joke when it comes to contending for an NBA title. Unless LeBron was on the team, nobody expected much from any team in the East regardless of the team’s personnel or its record. Teams in the Eastern Conference regularly underperformed when compared to their counterparts in the Western Conference.
Now that the King is soaking up sun rays in LA, who is ready to take his place atop the Eastern Conference? The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics are all currently seeded one through five respectively in the East. But who is ready to take that next step?
First there are the Bucks. Milwaukee currently has not only the best record in the league, but they also have a leading frontrunner for MVP on their team in F Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, the team is still quite young and has one of the lowest scoring benches in the league. When playoff time comes around, the team is going to need more from its supporting cast if the Bucks are to make a deep run.
Teams are going to focus in on Giannis intensively. They are going to do everything they can to limit his impact on the game. So, when Giannis is having an off night, he is going to need players to step up in big moments if this team is going to make it to the Finals.
The Bucks have good players, as Khris Middleton was named an All-Star for the first time this season. But Khris and Giannis cannot do this alone; the bench has to score and score consistently for this team to have a chance at making it to the Finals.
The Raptors made some major moves this season, like trading for All-Star F Kawhi Leonard during the offseason and acquiring veteran center Marc Gasol at the trade deadline. The team is full of veterans with years of playoff experience. The biggest key for the Raptors to make a deep run this year will be late game execution.
For years, Toronto has been the team with potential that always crumbles during playoff time. Every time it seems that they finally have the opportunity to get over the hump, they fall apart and let the game slip away.
Despite the Raptors countless blunders in season’s past, this year’s team is different. With a new coach and a new influx of players, the Raptors look better than they ever have in franchise history. Only time will tell if this team will finally be able to slay its playoff demons and finally get to the franchise’s first NBA Finals.
The Indiana Pacers, despite currently sitting at third in the Eastern Conference, are not ready for contention. The team lost its best player in G Victor Oladipo prior to the All-Star break and without him, the team is not positioned well enough to truly contend for a title.
When things get slow during a game and the Pacers need a bucket, who is getting the ball in the last two minutes without Oladipo? That’s a question the Pacers cannot answer, unfortunately. The team is in desperate need of a leader: someone who can go and get a bucket in crunch time when the game is on the line.
The Pacers are a really good team and well coached, but you can’t win a championship with just role players. You need a star, which is something the Pacers just don’t have.
The Philadelphia 76ers are a team, at least on paper, that have the best chance of getting out of the Eastern Conference. However, while they may look like the one of the most dangerous and well-rounded teams in the league, that does not guarantee wins.
The biggest question facing the Sixers is chemistry. The team already had two All-Star caliber players in G/F Ben Simmons and C Joel Embiid. The team then added G Jimmy Butler, F Tobias Harris and C Boban Marjanovicic via trades this season. The team and head coach Brett Brown need to define what every players role will be in the offense.
The Sixers have the personnel to score from both the perimeter and down low in the paint. They also have players that can switch and defend multiple positions. If the team can find its offensive identity and define what each players role is on the floor, this team could be ready to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2001.
The Boston Celtics are like the elder statemen of the Eastern Conference. They are the team with the best combination of experience and chemistry. The Celtics biggest issue heading into the playoffs is well… the Celtics.
The team was one game away from the NBA Finals last season, as they ultimately fell to LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics were able to make that run despite key injuries to both G Kyrie Irving and F Gordon Hayward.
Currently, the is struggling with defining who needs to have the ball and who does not. The team is not sure who is its Batman and who is Robin. The Celtics have a number of capable players and options ranging from Kyrie and Gordon to Fs Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Celtics need to figure out who is going to lead this team, whether it the old vets or the youngin’s.
Once the players can decide as a team who needs to take a back seat, they might be ready to bring another championship to the city of Boston.
Each team has its flaws, so there is no clear-cut favorite to come out of the East. LeBron going to the Lakers changed everything; the King is gone and somebody needs to take his place. At the moment, the Celtics seem to be the team most ready to takeover the Eastern Conference.
They have the pieces, chemistry, and experience to get it done;they just have to get out of their own way.
While Boston might look like the team best positioned to come out of the East right now, no team is a lock to make it to the Finals.
To quote the great Kevin Garnett “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!”