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The 2021/2022 NBA season is finally under way and the first games have already brought us the excitement and that familiar enjoyment of watching the NBA games.
So, while we are still at the beginning of the season, let’s take a look at some of the top teams in the Eastern Conference to see who has the highest chance of playing in the 2022 NBA Finals. You can also check our take on the Western Conference.
Milwaukee Bucks – The Defending Champions
It was a season to remember for the Bucks and their superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo as they overcame all obstacles to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy. This was the second title for the Wisconsin team, exactly half a century after the first one, and their first finals appearance since the face of the franchise was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The roster mostly remained the same, with PJ Tucker being the most notable departure. Meanwhile, the Bucks added Greyson Allen, George Hill, Rodney Hood, and a couple of rookies. So, it’s no wonder that the Bucks are the biggest favorites to get out of the Eastern Conference once again.
Brooklyn Nets – Health and Kyrie Irving
When a team has Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving on the roster, they are the favorites to go all the way. The Nets have that, at least on paper. The biggest question is – can they stay healthy and will Kyrie Irving actually play this season?
We’ve seen last season that the team struggled to stay healthy and the Nets were eliminated in the playoffs after both Irving and Harden missed games due to injuries. Even if their main stars stay healthy, the ongoing situation with Kyrie Irving and his stance on vaccination remains a problem for the team since Irving has been banned by the franchise from practicing with the team and playing in any games until he gets a Covid-19 vaccine.
Another problem for the Nets could be their depth since their roster seems to thin outside of the Big Three. The team also went through many changes this summer, with Dinwiddie, Shamet, Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan, and a few others leaving and Aldridge, Bembry, Millsap, Mills, and a few others coming in.
Philadelphia 76ers – Many Issues at Hand
Similarly to the Nets, the 76ers also have an ongoing situation with one of their main starts being out for reasons unrelated to basketball. Ben Simmons wanted to leave the team, but the franchise didn’t find a suitable trade partner this summer, so Simmons remained with the team. However, he is out indefinitely due to not being “mentally ready to play”. Resolving this situation will largely determine how 76ers’ season ends.
Another question that will be answered during the course of the season is whether Joel Embiid can stay healthy all the way. The center had a great last season and many considered him as a true MVP candidate, but he once again missed too many games to get the award. The 76ers roster didn’t suffer many changes, with the biggest rotation coming at the backup center position where Andre Drummond replaced Dwight Howard.
Atlanta Hawks – The Young Core
The “young core” in our title is a bit of a pun – the Hawks do have a very young core, led by Trae Young, the team’s superstar. The Hawks proved their quality last season when they reached the Eastern Conference Finals and put up a great fight against the eventual NBA Champions.
The roster didn’t change much either since only Snell, Goodwin, and Dunn left the team out of players who had any kind of role in their playoff run. Meanwhile, the Hawks added Gorgui Dieng and Delon Wright. So, the Hawks will rely on their youth and develop their core, which includes Hunter, Reddish, Collins, and Huerter, along with Young.
Dark Horses in the Eastern Conference
In addition to these four teams, there are a few others hoping to make a splash this season:
- Boston Celtics – The Celtics brought back Al Horford and added Dennis Shroeder and Josh Richardson to their existing core. However, Evan Fournier, Tristan Thompson, and Kemba Walker left the team, so it remains to be seen how the Celtics will look this season.
- Chicago Bulls – Trading for Nikola Vucevic last season clearly showed the franchise’s intent to compete for the title in the East, and their summer moves further add to that intent. The Bulls got Lonzo Ball in a trade and signed DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso.
- New York Knicks – The Knicks were a surprising addition to the playoffs last season, so the fans hope that the team can take a step further now. The roster went through some changes, especially the addition of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.
- Miami Heat – The 2020 NBA Finalists failed to repeat that success last season, but they seem ready to compete once again after the team signed the experienced playmaker Kyle Lowry this summer. The team also added PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris.