For the past few decades, the Eastern Conference has always been viewed as a relatively ‘weak’ conference in the NBA. That narrative will have changed by the end of this season. The Eastern Conference has always been relatively easy to predict, however, it’s going to be tougher this time around so I’ll try my best.
2021-22 NBA Eastern Conference Standings Prediction
1. Brooklyn Nets (59-23)
Honestly, I felt like giving this team 60 wins. Their team is so stacked that its kind of disgusting at this point. I’m not trying to take anything away from Milwaukee but had Kyrie Irving and James Harden been healthy, the Bucks aren’t the champs. Regardless, here we are. The Nets did nothing but significantly improve their overall roster by adding solid players like Paul Millsap and Patty Mills. On top of what they already have, the only thing stopping them from getting the number one seed is injuries. I do believe that they are going to continue load managing, but their team is way too stacked to put them below the first seed.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (57-25)
The Bucks are very capable of getting the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. That being said, I do think that they’re going to experience a little bit of a hangover. I don’t think that it will be devastating, but the Bucks can’t have any sort of hangover if they want that first seed. For the most part, their roster is the same as last year (with the exception of P.J. Tucker). Giannis Antetokounmpo will always have an MVP-caliber season. Just based on that alone, the Bucks will always contend for one of the top seeds in the conference and I think projecting them to be the second seed is fair for them.
3. Miami Heat (53-29)
Last year was considered a ‘disappointment’ for the Miami Heat. They were the former Eastern Conference champs. After taking the Lakers to 6 games in the 2020 NBA Finals, the Heat underachieved and got bounced out in the first round last year. Say whatever you want to say, but the Heat and Lakers were the most affected from the shortened off-season. They were the two teams that had the shortest off-seasons and it showed by the number of injuries the Heat suffered. Miami were aggressors this off-season by adding quality players like Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker, and Markieff Morris in order to bolster their roster. I also believe that players like Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro will have a bounce-back season. When people talk about title contenders in the NBA, don’t leave out the Heat.
4. Boston Celtics (51-31)
I don’t know why people sleep on Boston. The Celtics have had a solid roster year after year, and it got even better since they added solid players like Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, Al Horford, and Enes Kanter. On top of that, they have three great and established players in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. Despite whatever struggles the Celtics may have gone through in the past, this season is going to be different. Their roster is deeper than it has been in recent years and I believe that it will be good enough for a top-four seed in this Eastern Conference.
5. Philadelphia 76ers (49-33)
It was kind of hard ranking the 76ers in this standings prediction considering how we don’t know how the Ben Simmons drama will end. Regardless, Joel Embiid is going to an MVP-caliber season once again and I think their top-notch defense (2nd in defensive efficiency) will continue winning them games. They didn’t do much with their roster except for replacing Dwight Howard with Andre Drummond. Other than that, they still have a talented roster from top to bottom. Whether Simmons stays or not, I think Philadelphia will contend for a top-five seed.
6. Atlanta Hawks (48-34)
After making the Eastern Conference Finals last season, it might seem weird putting them at the sixth seed this year. It’s not that the Hawks got any worse. In fact, you could make the argument that given how young this team is, they’re going to significantly improve this season. So why do I have the Hawks at the sixth seed? The entire conference made significant upgrades to their respective rosters during the off-season, and the Hawks weren’t one of them. Trae Young could definitely be an MVP candidate this season, but that won’t translate into a top seed in the Eastern Conference. In summary, other teams made upgrades and the Hawks did not, hence the sixth seed projection.
7. Chicago Bulls (46-36)
This was probably the toughest team making a prediction for. Chicago could either exceed expectations and be top five in the Eastern Conference, or they could even miss the playoffs for all I know. That being said, I believe this roster is good enough to make the playoffs, but at a lower seed. Everyone wants to get caught up with the big names like Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, and DeMar DeRozan. Offensively, they have the talent but we don’t know how that will translate onto the court. What we do know is that they aren’t very good defensively. I think seventh in the conference is fair for them. For all I know, it could be generous.
8. New York Knicks (45-37)
I could’ve easily put the Knicks ahead of the Bulls. After surprising many last year, I think they could stabilize themselves as the eighth seed in the conference. Despite losing players like Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton, they were able to replace them by adding Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. Because of how surprising of a leap they made last season, I don’t expect them to build on that and win 50 games. The Knicks got exposed in the post-season last year, so expect them to work on those flaws throughout the regular season. I think 45 wins for them is fair.
9. Charlotte Hornets (44-38)
I think it’s safe to say that the Hornets will contend for a playoff spot once again. They didn’t change their roster much so they should get better throughout the season since they already have that established season. Players like LaMelo Ball, P.J. Washington, and Terry Rozier should all take leaps next season. Charlotte was one of the more exciting teams to watch last season, and if it weren’t for Ball’s wrist injury, Charlotte probably would have made it into the post-season. Once again, I expect them to be an above .500 team so having them around ninth is fair for them.
10. Indiana Pacers (43-39)
Don’t let last season deceive you. This is a solid Pacers team and if it weren’t for injuries last year, they could have made the post-season. Indiana was one of the teams in the NBA that was most affected by injuries when it comes to the lost win shares metric. If the Pacers can stay healthy throughout the season, they should find themselves at least in the play-in tournament come May. Rick Carlisle is back in Indiana so it should be an interesting team to keep an eye on. Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner are all a part of a solid foundation. When talking about teams in the Eastern Conference, don’t sleep on Indiana.
11. Toronto Raptors (40-42)
After losing Kyle Lowry in free agency, I think it’s safe to say that Toronto’s time being in the playoffs has come to an end for now. Given how improved this conference is, I think the Raptors are the odd man out. They do have great young players like Gary Trent Jr., Chris Boucher, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet to work with though. That being said, it’s going to be tough for them next season since they’re still trying to find that ‘franchise’ player moving forward. Siakam has been disappointing for a while after showing flashes of being the potential franchise player. Regardless, this team is still solid and they’re well-coached. 40 wins are fair for them.
12. Washington Wizards (37-45)
Maybe I’m being too harsh on Washington. For all I know, they could easily exceed my expectation and make it to the playoffs. That being said, I need to see it before I believe it. They have some really solid pieces like Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell. On top of that, they have some young talent like Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, and Deni Avdija who could all make solid strides this season. They have the talent offensively, but will they mesh together? Defense has been an issue for Washington, as they ranked 20th in defensive efficiency last season. They have the talent, but I’m not sure if it’ll translate to wins.
13. Detroit Pistons (27-55)
Detroit is going to be one of those teams that aren’t going to be very good but are going to be fun to watch. I think the Pistons were smart getting Jerami Grant and with adding the number one pick in the draft in Cade Cunningham, I think they’ll have the potential to reach around 30 wins. A move I really liked was how Detroit signed Kelly Olynyk during the off-season. For Cunningham, he won’t have many expectations in terms of turning the team around right away so I think his transition into the NBA will be a smooth one. Overall, I like what Detroit has going on for them but since the conference got significantly better, I see them looming around the 13th seed.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (25-57)
Cleveland has some solid pieces like Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, Darius Garland, and Evan Mobley. Despite that, they haven’t been able to bring that talent together to produce wins. Like a few other teams in this conference, they have the talent offensively but defensively is where the problem lies with this team. Cleveland ranked 25th in defensive efficiency out of the entire NBA last year, and I don’t expect them to get much better this year in that department. There have been trade rumors suggesting that Sexton will be traded. What about Kevin Love? This team is all over the place. Do they have nice pieces? Yes. But I don’t think that’s going to do much for them in the win-loss column.
15. Orlando Magic (19-63)
To be completely honest with you guys, I don’t know if the Magic will ever be good again in my lifetime. Every single year, I’m writing the same thing about them. They haven’t found their franchise player yet. They have some solid players like Jalen Suggs, Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., and Markelle Fultz, but that’s about it. Defensively, they’re pretty bad (26th in defensive efficiency). Are they better offensively? Not even close (29th in offensive efficiency). I don’t really know how you could put any team in the NBA below them. Best case scenario for the Magic is a 25-win season with Fultz and Suggs taking significant leaps, but other than that, they don’t have much to work with.
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