Stein on Sports: NBA Eastern conference predictions and team breakdowns

The Grizzlies face off against the Bucks in a 2022 game in Milwaukee. Photo by The ed17/wikimedia

Just like the Western Conference, the East is stacked this year. There’s a bevy of serious playoff contenders and probably five actual championship contenders in just the East. So many teams have something to prove. This will be one of the most competitive seasons in the conference in recent memory, and it’s going to come down to the wire. Young teams with budding All Star potential, older squads looking to return to the Finals, and everything in between, the East has it all this year and I’m excited to see it play out!

  1. Bucks
  2. Celtics
  3. 76ers
  4. Heat
  5. Cavs
  6. Nets


  1. Hawks
  2. Bulls
  3. Raptors
  4.  Wizards


  1. Knicks
  2. Magic 
  3. Pistons
  4. Hornets
  5. Pacers

Individual Team Breakdowns:

Milwaukee Bucks: It’s hard to admit as a Celtics fan, but with Khris Middleton healthy during the playoffs last year, the Bucks would have surely made it to the finals. Their big three of Giannis, Middleton and Holiday (more like a big 1 of Giannis) is dominant, and won’t be slowing down this year. The Bucks are one of the most complete teams in the league, and Giannis will have another MVP caliber season.

Keys: Middleton stay healthy, keep consistent shooting around Giannis

Ceiling: 1 seed, Floor: 3 seed

  1. Boston Celtics: The Celtics’ offseason began great, and ended extremely poorly. Obviously Boston’s offseason news was dominated by scandal as Head Coach Ime Udoka, who led the team to the finals in his first year as a head coach last season, was found to have had a consensual relationship with a woman in the organization, resulting in a one year suspension. That’s not great, to say the least, but they did pick up Brogdon for almost nothing from the Pacers, which will add depth to their lacking point guard position. Whether or not they take a big hit from the loss of their HC, Boston has one of the best lineups in the league, and could easily go back to the finals this season. Also, expect a monster all star season from Jaylen Brown.

Keys: Brogdon and Smart share the floor, Rob Williams stays healthy, role players like Grant Williams excel, HC Joe Mazzulla doesn’t mess up

Ceiling: 1 seed, Floor: 3 seed

  1. Miami Heat: The Heat still have one of the best teams in the league, and getting back Victor Oladipo for a full season (fingers crossed) will definitely help them. At this point it seems like we know what Jimmy and Adebayou can do, they are both All Stars and have been pretty consistently so recently. For Miami, it’s a matter of how well the players around them perform this season. Will Duncan shoot well consistently? Will Herro give them high production off the bench? They have a really cohesive team, and were one shot away from going to the Finals last year, but the Heat will have to fight hard this season as the East improves. 

Key: Lowry has to play like he did in Toronto

Ceiling: 2 seed, Floor: 4 seed

  1. Philadelphia 76ers: It seems like every year the Sixers are trying to prove that “the process” wasn’t a big mistake, and they’ve failed to do so every time. Sure, Philly’s had some serious blunders in recent years like signing Tobias Harris over Jimmy Butler, or the whole Ben Simmons debacle, but this could be the year to turn it around. Embiid is going to be on a warpath after losing the MVP again last season, and this seems the perfect storm for a dominant season. If Harden can settle into an appropriate role on the team, and Doc Rivers can avoid coaching embarrassments, this team can be great. I think the 76ers are dying to be a legitimate title contender, and this is the year to do it. Be wary though, because this team could fall apart fast.

Keys: Embiid has to have an MVP season, Harden needs to play in role where he doesn’t just resort to isolation scoring, Maxey and Thybulle take steps forward

Ceiling: 3 seed, Floor: 6 seed

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Holy Moly! The last time Cleveland was relevant without Lebron was before I was born. This team is going to be very exciting to watch. They’re coming off a near playoff berth last year, where Garland and Allen both received their first All Star selections. This year, they’ll be even better, as Allen’s healthy, and they picked up Donovan Mitchell, without losing too many assets. Spida should fit very well on the Cavs, and will be an explosive boost in production. Cleveland legitimately has one of the best starting lineups in the NBA, and certainly one of the best young cores in the league. This team has ridiculous potential this season, and not much to lose as they have almost all young players on their roster. Watch out for the Cavs this year! 

Keys: stay healthy, get production from Lavert, Mobley & Okoro take big steps

Ceiling: 3 seed, Floor: 7 seed

  1. Brooklyn Nets: Oh Brooklyn… Making a prediction about your season is like trying to predict the weather on Jupiter, but I’ll give it a shot. For the Nets, you have to prepare for things to go haywire. There are so many variables for their season that could obstruct the seriously great team that they could be. I’m not going to pretend I know how many games Kyrie will play, or how Simmons will come back, but either way the Nets are serious contenders. They obviously have KD, and we know how he’ll play, and they have a solid, decent roster around him. If Kyrie plays most of the season, and if Simmons can return to his great passing and defensive days of Philly, the Nets could be a championship team. When Kyrie finds his way to the court, he is a legit top ten player in the league. They could also fall out of the playoffs. I do think they will be better this year because they won’t have to adjust to gaining and losing Harden midyear, but who knows what will happen.  

Keys: Kyrie plays consistently, Simmons finds his role, get good bench production

Ceiling: 2 seed, Floor: 9 seed

  1. Atlanta Hawks: Atlanta is skating the playoff-play-in border, but they have a decent shot at making it into the top five in the East. This is sort of an awkward year for the Hawks, because, while they improved over the offseason, the East is so good this year that it’s hard to see them being a contender. The addition of Dejounte Murray is huge though, and should work well with their roster. If Trae Young can continue to play at a high level, and they get good help from the players around them, Atlanta could sneak their way into a playoff run.

Keys: Dejounte Murray fits into starting lineup, Hunter and Collins improve

Ceiling: 5 seed, Floor: 9 seed

  1. Chicago Bulls: The Bulls were one of the most exciting teams coming into last season, only for a disappointing exit in their first round rout by the Bucks. Chicago didn’t make any big moves in the offseason, but they are still real playoff contenders. Derozan had a fantastic season last year, and both Lavine and Vucevic had good seasons. They have solid pieces around their starters in Drummond and Caruso, and if Lonzo can come back soon, they could crack the top six in the East.  

Keys: Lonzo comes back soon and stays healthy

Ceiling: 6 seed, Floor: 9 seed

  1. Toronto Raptors: As teams are trending towards the bottom and top of the league, favoring high draft picks and serious playoff runs over middle of the pack contention, Toronto remains a solid playoff contender. Even as the East gets better and better every year, the Raptors aren’t going away and have a bright future behind Rookie of the Year winner Scottie Barnes. Although they should be consistent behind VanVleet and Siakam, they don’t seem good enough to be a real threat come playoff time. 

Keys: continue developing young players

Ceiling: 6 seed, Floor: 9 seed

  1.  Washington Wizards: We have now reached what I consider to be the East’s huge dropoff. It’s hard for me to see any of the 10-15 seed teams making it higher than the 10 seed. The East is too good this year, and the following teams just can’t compete. The Wizards might be the best of the worst though. They just re-signed Beal to a five year deal, one of the biggest in NBA history, and they still have some good players around him like Kuzma and KP. For Washington this year, I’m really most excited for their throwback jerseys. 

Ceiling: 10 seed, Floor: 12 seed

  1.  New York Knicks: What more can I say about the Knicks that hasn’t been said for decades? They had a semi-successful season a couple years ago by their standards, but I can’t see them going back to that. Hopefully their younger guys can take a big step. Not much exciting going on for the Knicks this year.

Ceiling: 10 seed, Floor: 14 seed

  1. Orlando Magic: Orlando actually has things to be excited about in the near future. Their number one pick, Paolo Banchero is already showing great promise, and is certainly the favorite for ROY. They also have a good young core, and could take a step up in the next couple years. I’m excited to watch these guys play.

Ceiling: 11 seed, Floor: 14 seed

  1.  Charlotte Hornets: Yikes. Why does it seem like the Hornets are always in the news for some unsatisfactory thing one of their players did? Charlotte really doesn’t look good this season, and I don’t know where they go from here; hopefully a top draft pick. They have some good young talent from last year’s draft, but not much else.

Ceiling: 12 seed, Floor: 15 seed

  1.  Detroit Pistons: The Pistons also have a very bright future, with many of the best prospects from recent draft years. If they can continue to develop their young talent in Cunningham, Ivey, Stewart and Bayes, and draft well, they’ll be a fun team to watch in the future.

Ceiling: 11 seed, Floor: 15 seed

  1.  Indiana Pacers: While Indiana has Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, this feels like a transition year to an inevitable rebuild. They just gave up Sabonis, and they seem ready to start over, and take a shot at a top draft pick. If so, they do have good young guys like Halliburton, so all is not lost for the Pacers.

Ceiling: 13 seed, Floor: 15 seed

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