Now that the dust has nearly settled from the always busy NBA offseason, we now have a strong idea of what the landscape of the NBA in 2021-22 will look like. The Eastern Conference standings race really picked up this past season, and it is bound to be all the more competitive this go-around. Here are our predictions for the 2021 NBA Eastern Conference standings come playoff time.
Click here for the 2021 NBA Western Conference Standings Predictions
2021 NBA Eastern Conference Standings Predictions
1. Brooklyn Nets
The 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets were penciled in for an NBA Finals appearance by nearly every fan of the game. What started as a near guarantee ended in disappointment for Brooklyn fans thanks to Kevin Durant’s foot being a half-inch too big. Despite sinking that last second heave to force overtime against the eventual champs Milwaukee Bucks, as clearly followed, it did not send them on their way to the NBA Finals.
Brooklyn is running it back with their juggernaut Big Three of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, along with an improved supporting cast. They lost Spencer Dinwiddie to the Washington Wizards, but made up for it by adding some bench reassurance in Patty Mills. Brooklyn is a powerhouse, with enough depth and star power to surge through a grueling regular season. A one seed is not much of an issue for Brooklyn, rather avenging their losses from last postseason and capitalizing on this championship window will be their main focus.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Coming in at number two in the NBA Eastern Conference standings predictions is the reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and company bet on themselves, and it paid off. Paying Giannis his massive extension, trading a king’s ransom for Jrue Holiday, and riding with their core group that brought them to relevance all the way to championship success was an inspiring story to watch unfold. While Holiday and Middleton are stars in their own right, Antetokounmpo was on a whole other level in the Conference Final and NBA Finals.
Will the Bucks fall victim to the championship hangover in 2021-22? Maybe not, as a second seeded finish should not signal much of a dropoff for Milwaukee. The real question is, can this revamped Bucks team hang with the other titans in the East while they are at full strength this year. The East is becoming very top-heavy, and it is going to be a bloodbath to claim homecourt.
3. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat rearmed themselves with some much needed ammunition. After being outright embarrassed in the first round against the Bucks in four quick games, Pat Riley went to work and sought to make the team more mentally and physically tough. They acquired Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors to provide championship experience at a high volume, while adding some veteran toughness in P.J. Tucker. Tucker provides minutes as a plug-and-play enforcer that can help some of the team’s young talent stay the course.
Miami enjoyed a strong offseason, and their style of play in 2021-22 should embody toughness and grit, along with some stellar volume shooting from Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, as they look to make their way make to the top of the Eastern Conference. The Heat possess a strong combination of youth, stardom, and veteran talent that should ideally prime them for a long toll that the regular season entails, as well as a strong postseason run.
4. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics had a whole checklist of tasks to be done in order to put this team in a better position to win in 2021-22 and beyond, and they executed them all to near perfection. Getting off of Kemba Walker’s contract, creating yet another trade exception via Evan Fournier’s departure, re-signing Marcus Smart and Robert Williams to team-friendly deals, and signing a starting calbier point guard in Dennis Schroder to dirt cheap money. While all of these moves should serve them well in 2021-22, it puts them in play for something bigger in the near future, and definitely next offseason.
Not to mention the new look front office and coaching staff for Boston this season. Brad Stevens has already shown that he is not afraid to make a maneuver or too, and each one has been done with intent to make the team better now and the future. Head coach Ime Udoka is looking to reestablish the team’s defensive identity this season, along with playing more team-oriented basketball after a string of seasons missing such approach. If this new system goes as planned, it will make for another substantial leap from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown that should bring them back to the championship picture in due time.
5. Atlanta Hawks
There have been only a few playoff runs that come to mind that were as enjoyable to watch from one side’s perspective like the one that Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks put forth this year. Young and the Hawks steamrolled through a hostile New York environment when everyone seemingly wanted to see Trae lose, then they upset the Philadelphia 76ers, and very well could have put a permanent end to “The Process”. Despite coming up short to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks, there is plenty of reason for basketball fans in Atlanta to be excited for.
After a bit of some back and forth, Atlanta was able to bring back John Collins on a long extension, establishing the core group that the Hawks are going to ride this window out with. They are extremely deep, and young, and have experienced what the toll that a playoff run takes, and how to get there. The Hawks may have established themselves as a legitimate threat last season, and it may not be long before we start to consistently see them in the Conference Final picture. For now, Atlanta comes in at number six in these NBA Eastern Conference standings predictions.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
As of when this article is published, Ben Simmons is a Philadelphia 76er. While all signs point to him not being a part of the club for much longer, we will proceed like he will be. So, that all being said, this Philadelphia 76ers team falls to the sixth seed in the NBA Eastern Conference standings predictions. Things are falling apart in Philly, and if they decide to hold onto Simmons come training camp and the start of the season, it may only get worse.
Head coach Doc Rivers has voiced his lack of trust in the All-Star point guard and his abilities to contribute to a winning team. While reports say otherwise, Joel Embiid refutes any claims that there is a rift between the two stars, but who can really decipher what is real and what is not. If chemistry issues are as real as the media portrays, it is highly unlikely that the talent of Philadelphia can outweigh the negative vibe in the locker room. Depending on if Simmons is moved, and what Philly gets in return for him, then the Sixers are likely not setting themselves up for home court in the NBA Eastern Conference standings.
7. Chicago Bulls
Talk about nailing an offseason. The Chicago Bulls bumped themselves up a few pedestals with just a few big moves this offseason. Thanks to some well-done roster reshuffling, Chicago may have created a formidable roster that can stack up against many of the top teams in the East. Acquiring both Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan add versatility, defense, facilitation, and most importantly, direction, to this team.
Pairing those two with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic create a star-studded core with young upstart Patrick Williams to cement one of the toughest lineups in the conference. That all being said, they fall to the seventh seed in the NBA Eastern Conference standings predictions because of how top heavy the East has become. The scales have tipped back towards the East of late, with super teams becoming more and more prevalent and many of them laying on the Eastern Conference side of things. Chicago is talented enough to push for playoff seeding past the play-in tournament and earn a seventh seed.
8. New York Knicks
Closing out the top eight standings is the New York Knicks. The Knicks put forth a welcome surprise of a season in 2020-21. Despite having plenty of young, raw talent, they did not exactly scream playoff caliber. Julius Randle went above and beyond for them, and it turned into an inspiring run for Tom Thibodeau’s bunch. If this upward trend continues for New York, they could soon enough shake themselves out of the laughing stock category of the league that they have been labeled for far too long.
They run back most of their roster from last season, along with some veteran scoring reinforcement in Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. The Knicks just have to prove that last season was not a fluke run and that fans can expect to see them come playoff time more often. An eighth seed finish here would cement that, as the Knicks look to bring back some NBA buzz in NYC.
9th seed play-in. Charlotte Hornets
10th seed play-in. Toronto Raptors
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