The NBA season is nearly upon us, which is a great thing. It is about time we stop talking about these scrimmages like they mean anything in the grander scheme of things. These tune-up games are great for guys to get back in shape, but people are looking forward to the real games. But what teams are going to get hot and win some games before the playoffs begin? Let us dive into the Eastern Conference and talk about who is going to win games and who will not
The NBA practice courts in Orlando (Credit: SB Nation)
9) Washington Wizards (2-6)
The Wizards are incredibly lucky to even be in Orlando, but it will be a short-lived experience. Bradley Beal has been an absolute monster this year but has had limited help with the loss of John Wall. The fact that Davis Bertans is not even competing is also a huge blow to Washington. The Wizards schedule is pretty tough on the back end, but they could pick up a couple of early victories. After dropping a game to the Suns I expect them to pick up back-to-back wins against Brooklyn and Indiana. That is all the joy Wizards fans will have though as they will lose the final five games before heading home.
8) Orlando Magic (3-5)
The "home team" in all of this madness is ready to go, despite no Al-Farouq Aminu in their lineup. Orlando is a pretty balanced team with seven players averaging double-digit points led by Nikola Vucevic. Orlando doesn't turn the ball over much, so when they play lesser competition they should have an edge. The Magic schedule is also not very tough outside of a Raptors and Celtics game in the middle of the stretch. Orlando will beat the Nets in one of their matchups, as well as the Pacers and Pelicans. With the Nets on their last leg, Orlando will pass them to take the seven seed in the Eastern Conference.
7) Brooklyn Nets (1-7)
This is the worst team in Orlando right now, but due to injuries more than anything else. Superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are still injured and Deandre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Wilson Candler will not be joining the team due to various reasons. So with Caris Lavert, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen leading the way this team will be hobbled. This many players being out is too much for the Nets to overcome, so the only game this team is winning is the one against the Magic. Bring on the Bucks for a sweep come playoff time.
6) Philadelphia 76ers (5-3)
One of the best teams on paper is coming into Orlando after an up and down season. The 76ers are incredible at home, but a disgrace on the road so anything could happen for this team. With this time off, the 76ers could come back ready to go and with some better team chemistry. The 76ers schedule is pretty frontloaded when it comes to their easy games. They should open up play in Orlando with four straight victories, as the Pacers are the toughest test they will face. On the back end, however, they face tough tests against Portland, Toronto, and Houston. Expect a lone victory over the Suns down the stretch before heading into the playoffs.
5) Indiana Pacers (4-4)
There was quite a bit of uncertainty heading into Orlando what Indiana team we would see. Victor Oladipo was out, but now playing with the team. Not only that, but Jeremy Lamb suffered a season-ending injury down the stretch so Indiana will be a tad hobbled. Indiana, like Philadelphia, has a front-loaded schedule outside of their opener against Philadelphia. Expect Indiana to defeat the Magic, Suns, Rockets (due to their size), and Miami in the regular-season finale. This means the Pacers will slip to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, where they will meet the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
4) Miami Heat (5-3)
While many people have not given the Heat much credit this year, this is a team to be feared. They have two all-stars in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. They also have young talents like Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn plus veterans like Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, and Goran Dragic. What is not in their favor is their schedule, as they face only one non-playoff team. That being said, the Heat will compete to the best of their ability every single night (cause that is the Miami way) and will stay afloat because of it. They will knock off the Nuggets, Celtics, Suns, Pacers, and Thunder to go above .500 in the restart and secure the fourth seed in the East.
3) Boston Celtics (6-2)
This pains me to say as a Lakers fan but the Boston Celtics have looked incredibly impressive. Jayson Tatum was on the verge of superstardom before COVID hit and he will only continue to grow. Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward are phenomenal pieces around him as well, so do not take the Celtics lightly. They will make a statement by knocking off the Bucks and Trail Blazers right away. After dropping a game to Miami they will defeat the Nets, Raptors, Magic, and Wizards. They will slip up against Memphis and Miami, but otherwise, they will cruise into the playoffs as the third seed.
2) Toronto Raptors (5-3)
Put some respect on the champ's name, as they sit three games up on the Celtics for the second seed. Pascal Siakam has ascended, Kyle Lowry is consistently solid and the rest of the crew have performed all season. Toronto faces no non-playoff teams, but that will not stop them from having an above .500 record after the restart. They will drop games to the Lakers, Celtics, and Nuggets, but will defeat every other opponent. This means they will hang onto that second seed and will face the Orlando Magic in the playoffs for a second straight season.
1) Milwaukee Bucks (6-2)
Milwaukee has been on cruise control for the majority of the season. They have the best record, score the most points per game in the league and are top five defensively. Giannis Antetokounmpo will almost certainly repeat as league MVP and Khris Middleton is flirting with joining the 50/40/90 club (currently is 49.9/41.8/90.8). Eric Bledsoe is a beast defensively and the role players have done their job thus far as well so I expect Milwaukee to keep on rolling. After losing to the Celtics in the opening game the Bucks will rattle off four straight wins. They will then close out the eight-game schedule with a loss to Toronto before defeating the Wizards and Grizzlies. Milwaukee will head into the playoffs with the number one seed and are certainly the favorites to represent the East in the playoffs.
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