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It’s been said the NBA season doesn’t officially start until Christmas rolls around. Well it’s 2020 and the NBA season will literally start during the Christmas season on December 22nd. 15 Eastern Conference teams will fight hard to supplant the Miami Heat as Conference Champions and play in the Finals for the NBA title.
Here’s a look at where they stand, what they’re doing different and what kind of chance they have.
A Fresh Look
The Wizards have a new back court combination. Incumbent star Bradley Beal will be joined by former league MVP Russell Westbrook. A trade of that caliber should catapult Washington into the playoff picture after fishing tenth in the East last season.
Imagine having two players who combine to score around 58 points per game. Beal and Westbrook can absolutely fill it up scoring wise, but can they find a common ground in shot taking? Throw in talented big man Rui Hachimura and Washington has a three price combo that will be hard to beat.
One thing we know about Westbrook is he plays hard every night. Him playing with a chip on his shoulder could spell doom for the rest of the East. With a motivated Westbrook and somewhat unstoppable Beal, the Wizards should make the biggest jump out of any team in the NBA.
The Hawks might have made the biggest revamp to their team. They added veteran guard Rajon Rondo, sharp shooting forward Danilo Gallinari and all around scoring threat Bogdan Bogdanovic. Atlanta has needed the influx of veterans after two or three years of playing with mostly draft picks and young inexperienced players.
Additionally, Atlanta might have the best bench in the NBA to go along with Trae Young, John Collins and defensive minded Clint Capela. With the added veteran leadership and the improvement of Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter in their sophomore season, the Hawks should be able to keep the buckets flowing.
The 119.7 points per game they allowed will need to get much lower if they hope to improve their win total. The offense is what they will ride into the playoffs.
The Hornets made a big splash by signing veteran Gordon Hayward to a huge contract. Hayward is a great scorer who shoots a great percentage (usually) from the three point line. Charlotte has been missing star power for years and the addition of Hayward and first round draft pick LaMelo Ball should have some eyes peeking in on them.
These moves might not catapult the Hornets to a playoff berth this season, however Hayward is oft-injured and is known for missing chunks of time during the season. It will take time for Ball to make an impact as well as former first round pick Malik Monk. Charlotte will need a bit of time over all to put it together but these moves have them trending in the right direction.
Teams To Look Out For
The Pacers have had a blue collar type feel to their team for the last four or five years now. Led by T.J. Warren, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, and Malcolm Brogdon, the Pacers don’t really have a household name your average person wound recognize. They play with teamwork and defense to get results and they’ve finished right around the middle of the pack of playoff teams in those years.
Indiana will have to find a bit more of a scoring punch. Whether it be Oladipo fully healthy or Sabonis and Brogdon taking another step, the Pacers desperately need a finisher. If they can continue to play top caliber defense and then figure out a way to put some more buckets in, they will be a tough out in the playoffs.
The Magic might turn a few heads in their bid to become relevant again. Led by center Nikola Vucevic and high flying forward Aaron Gordon, the Magic could spark a playoff run. The backcourt of former first round pick Markelle Fultz and Evan Fournier need to improve, especially when it comes to sharing the ball.
The Magic defense was surprisingly good last season, allowing only 108.3 points per game (ranked fourth in the NBA). Unfortunately they themselves averaged only 107.3 points per game. Orlando will have to find some more offense to be taken seriously as a playoff team.
The 76ers have become somewhat of an afterthought in the conference. Even with the tag team of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they haven’t been able to break through to a Finals bid. The team hopes new Head Coach Doc Rivers can put them over the top. Rivers will keep Simmons at one of the forward positions to get him some easier shots at the basket.
If Shake Milton and Seth Curry can provide some outside shooting, then the big duo of Simmons and Embiid should have more room to work closer to the basket. Philadelphia could be a top contender but they have to show the league they mean business and quit playing like amateurs.
It seems like the Celtics have had the same position in the East for a few years now: close but no cigar. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart have been there for a while and they added Kemba Walker last season. Three of those players average 20 points per game while Smart poses as their defensive stopper.
The reason why the Celtics can’t push through to the Finals has usually come down to the end of games. Costly turnovers, ill-advised shots and a confusion on who should be the go-to-guy have hindered the Celtics in the playoffs. Boston has one of the most talent laden teams in the NBA and if they can figure out their closer roles, they can win the NBA championship.
The Nets will have a drastically different look with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both finally healthy enough to be on the court. They also hired two time league MVP Steve Nash to be their Head Coach. These additions have catapulted the Nets to the favorites in the East.
With the two stars in town, players like Caris LeVert and sixth man Spencer Dinwiddie become complementary players. If Brooklyn can find some chemistry and some common ground between the two stars, then they will be hard to defeat come playoff time.
The Heat are a few months removed from one of the most improbable runs to the Finals. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic are flanked by sharp shooting youngsters, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson in the starting lineup. Miami plays with a lot of heart and determination to go along with their great defense and long range shooting.
Miami will need guys like Herro, Robinson and even Adebayo to take another step in their NBA development. They probably have the best chemistry out of all the contenders and will need that synergy in the playoffs. If the Heat get bigger contributions from their young players, than the Eastern Conference might have a back-to-back winner on their hands.
The Bucks have made the playoffs with the best record in the league the previous two seasons and have been bounced out early both times. Two-time MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is joined by Kris Middleton and newcomer Jrue Holiday. Milwaukee’s biggest problem has been finding another player to make plays and score down the stretch.
Opponents take an approach of forcing Antetokounmpo to take long range shots, which is not his game at all. If Holiday and company can provide another scoring punch anywhere on the court, then maybe Antetokounmpo can find some more room to operate. The Bucks desperately need to cash in on these great regular seasons before they become a team that’s deemed not built for a playoff run.
The Raptors surprised everyone last season, finishing second in the conference coming off a championship the previous year. Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and returning free agent Fred VanVleet will have their work cut out for them.
Toronto has a strong starting lineup but their bench leaves much to be desired. If the Raptors want to get back to the top of the East, they will need a real increase from their big three, especially come playoff time.