NBA Season Preview- Eastern Conference

Nick Hedges , Reporter

It’s October, which means the NBA season is upon us. The Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the nation by upsetting the Golden State Warriors in last year’s NBA finals, winning Cleveland’s first championship in any sport since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964. Will LeBron and the Cavs repeat as champs, can Golden State, led by Steph Curry and newly arrived forward Kevin Durant, chalk up the league and win their second title in three years, or could there be another team to challenge for the crown? We are soon to find out, in what should be an exciting new season of NBA basketball. Here is our NBA Season Preview for the Eastern Conference. The West will be published later next week.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

15. brooknets Brooklyn Nets
Key Players: 
G Jeremy Lin, C Brook Lopez
Finish Last Year: 14 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: After a disappointing season last year, things aren’t looking bright in Brooklyn. One of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the league, the Nets will struggle for every win they get. The team is capable, however, of avoiding the dreadful last place in the East, if all goes better than expected. Unfortunately, considering the talent on the team, the Brooklyn Nets will have to limp through another difficult rebuilding year this season.

14. philadelphia76ers2 Philadelphia 76ers
Key Players: C Joel Embiid, C Jahlil Okafor
Finish Last Year: 15 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: #TrustTheProcess will look to progress well this year in Philadelphia. The Sixers will feature young talent all around the court, especially up front, where several former top draft picks will feature. The team looked promising at first but suffered a major setback with the loss of number one pick Ben Simmons to a major foot injury. Lacking depth and top-notch ability in the back court, the Philadelphia 76ers will show signs of greatness at times, but this season will be a major struggle for the team, which will look to dig up its own grave after the last couple of seasons.

13. orlando_magic_wordmark_logo_2008-current Orlando Magic
Key Players: 
SF Jeff Green, C Nikola Vucevic
Finish Last Year: 11 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: The Magic have been rebuilding ever since Dwight Howard left the team several years ago. This year, they have arguably their best crop of talent since then, with Jeff Green, Nikola Vucevic, and newly acquired Serge Ibaka in the fold. After losing PG Victor Oladipo in the trade that got them Ibaka, the Magic will look for answers in the back court, which will probably be their weakness. While they are talented and solid up front, the back court will struggle to compliment that, leading the Magic to another disappointing season.

12. bucks Milwaukee Bucks
Key Players: F Giannis Antetokounmpo, G Matthew Dellavedova
Finish Last Year: 12 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: The Bucks will look to build on glimpses of success from last season. The Greek Freak Antetokounmpo will look to lead Milwaukee back into the playoffs, with new help coming through the acquisition of PG Matthew Dellavedova from Cleveland. If these two play at their best, accompanied by other quality players like Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe, the Bucks could sneak into the playoff picture. However, a general lack of depth on the team makes it hard to believe the team will barge into the playoffs in an Eastern Conference that is stronger than it has been in years.

11. charlotte-hornets-logo-21 Charlotte Hornets
Key Players: SF Nicolas Batum, G Kemba Walker
Finish Last Year: 6 (eliminated by Miami in seven game first round series)
Season Outlook: Charlotte probably had a better year than they expected last year, making the playoffs as the six-seed and barely losing their first round series to Miami. The Hornets bring back the face of the franchise in Kemba Walker and a huge contributor to their success last year in Nicolas Batum. Outside of those two, however, it’s difficult to predict who will play the most minutes, with several players capable of starting, but none stand out. New center Roy Hibbert will probably factor into the equation, along with second-year forward Frank Kaminsky. In a year when the East will be much stronger than usual, the Hornets will struggle to find a winning combination and edge their way into the playoffs.

10. pistons Detroit Pistons
Key Players:
C Andre Drummond, PG Reggie Jackson
Finish Last Year: 8 (eliminated by Cleveland in four game first round series)
Season Outlook: The Pistons will once again look to inch into the playoffs much like last year, relying on production from C Andre Drummond to get there. What remains to be seen is where Detroit will get its production outside of Drummond. Last year, G Reggie Jackson came up big, fueling the team’s run into the playoffs. Will Jackson return with another solid year? If not, the Pistons will have to find production somewhere else to make it back to the postseason.

9. wizards Washington Wizards
Key Players:
G Bradley Beal, G John Wall
Finish Last Year: 10 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: Led by electric backcourt duo John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wiz will look to push into the postseason a year after a disappointing miss. After Beal re-signed with the team on a lucrative deal, the sense out of DC is that the Wizards are back on track. Outside of Wall and Beal, however, their source of production is hard to be seen. If they can find a third consistent source of quality, look for the Wizards to try and barge into the playoff picture. Without that, however, they will narrowly miss again.

8. pacersIndiana Pacers
Key Players:
F Paul George, PG Jeff Teague
Finish Last Year: 7 (eliminated by Toronto in seven game first round series)
Season Outlook: The Pacers return, looking to improve on a campaign that saw them barely miss out on the second round of the playoffs. New PG Jeff Teague will surely bring fresh speed and quickness to the Pacers, while Paul George will look to retain his superstar status. With a solid supporting cast that boasts players like G Monta Ellis and C Al Jefferson, the Pacers will be poised to put their foot in the playoff picture door.

7. knicks New York Knicks
Key Players:
F Carmelo Anthony, PG Derrick Rose
Finish Last Year: 13 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: Phil Jackson rained the changes in the Big Apple this offseason, acquiring former MVP Derrick Rose from Chicago. The Knicks, while talented, will have to work through pretty serious chemistry adjustments, especially for F Carmelo Anthony, who will have to adjust to a new team with better talent than he is accustomed to. Rose will also be vital to their success. If he can return to the form he was in at the beginning of his career, the play in New York could be special. Ultimately, everything will have to fall into place for the Knicks to land in the playoffs.

6. bullsChicago Bulls
Key Players:
G Jimmy Butler, G Dwyane Wade
Finish Last Year: 9 (missed playoffs)
Season Outlook: The Bulls narrowly missed the playoffs last year and will look to make it back there this year. With the homecoming of G Dwyane Wade and the acquisition of G Rajon Rondo, Chicago made headlines this offseason. Still, the team belongs to G Jimmy Butler. The Bulls will live or die on Butler’s success. If Butler plays as expected, look for Chicago to be a major player in the playoff picture.

5. heatMiami Heat
Key Players:
G Goran Dragic, C Hassan Whiteside
Finish Last Year: 3 (eliminated by Toronto in seven game second round series)
Season Outlook: The post-LeBron Heat surprised many with a third place finish in the Eastern Conference last year, missing out on a date with Cleveland in the conference finals by one game. The Heat will have to emulate the same success they found last year through youngsters C Hassan Whiteside and F Justise Winslow. With one of the most consistent PG’s in the game in Goran Dragic, the Heat look prepared for another successful season in South Beach.

4. hawks Atlanta Hawks
Key Players:
C Dwight Howard, F Paul Millsap
Finish Last Year: 4 (eliminated by Cleveland in four game second round series)
Season Outlook: If the Hawks want to retain the same success they’ve been having, they’ll have to find a way to replace the production of F Al Horford, who shipped up to Boston during the offseason. The arrival of C Dwight Howard will help, but he’ll need assistance from F Paul Millsap and others, like G Dennis Schroder. If the Hawks can successfully move on from Horford, look for the Hawks to fight for a position atop the Eastern Conference.

3. celticsBoston Celtics
Key Players:
F Al Horford, G Isaiah Thomas
Finish Last Year: 5 (eliminated by Atlanta in six game first round series)
Season Outlook: Speaking of Al Horford, his new team in Boston checks in at number three in the East. The addition of Horford definitely makes them a much more threatening team, with star point guard Isaiah Thomas still running and gunning. If the Celtics can find a consistent starting five, Boston will be a very dangerous team that could threaten the beasts of the East.

2. raptors Toronto Raptors
Key Players:
G DeMar DeRozan, G Kyle Lowry
Finish Last Year: 2 (lost to Cleveland in six game conference finals)
Season Outlook: The 6ix showed up in massive fashion last year, putting a pretty big scare into Cleveland in the conference finals. Showing glimpses of championship form, the Raptors simply ran out of gas in the series against LeBron and the Cavs. This year, they will continue to lean on G Kyle Lowry and G DeMar Derozan for the bulk of their production. Those two present arguably the best backcourt duo in the East. However, Toronto will still find itself a step behind the Cavaliers if they can’t find a solid number three. Nonetheless, expect Toronto to return to the heels of Cleveland, challenging them atop the East.

1.  cavsCleveland Cavaliers
Key Players:
G Kyrie Irving, F LeBron James
Finish Last Year: 1 (won NBA finals over Golden State)
Season Outlook: The comeback from 3-1 down. The step-back dagger by Kyrie. LeBron’s legendary chase down block. Believeland looked on in joyful disbelief watching the events unfold as Cleveland became the first team to come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win the NBA Finals. The Cavs broke down the favored Warriors, breaking Cleveland’s dreadful sports curse. Not much will change this year, as the team will return to the same formula that won them the championship last year. While winning the Eastern Conference is nothing short of expected, repeating as champs is far from it. The West presents several formidable challengers, led by the refueled Golden State Warriors. Can Cleveland once again shock the world and repeat?