What to Expect from the 2018-2019 NBA Season (Eastern Conference)

Ben Dawson

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Ladies and gentlemen, it is finally that time of year again. Summer has come and gone, the leaves are beginning to fall, and a new season of the NBA is quickly approaching. After what was one of the most riveting off-seasons in recent memory, the upcoming campaign looks to have the potential to be one for the ages! To get you ready for tipoff on October 16th,the  Centreville Sentinel’s resident basketball “expert”, yours truly, has broken down the top ten teams in each conference and unraveled each teams chances of bringing home a championship.

 

Starting with the Eastern Conference:

 

1.Boston Celtics

          (Last seasons record: 55-27)

 

Image result for boston celtics 2018

Photo:bostonglobe.com

 

Last year, the Celtics lost their All-Star forward Gordon Hayward to a season ending injury just five minutes into the season. Then, starting point guard Kyrie Irving was forced to miss the last 2 months due to knee surgery. The Celtics proceeded to make it all the way to the conference championship, and were one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals. This illustrated just how deep Boston is, all the way down the bench.

 

A healthy Kyrie Irving is a top ten player in the league, and is a good preseason candidate to win this season’s MVP award. Surrounding Irving is arguably one of the best young cores of talent the league has to offer. At just 21 years old, Jaylen Brown has already shown that he is capable of playing way beyond his years. Same goes for 20 year old Jayson Tatum, who was forced to play a major role in the playoffs last year after the injuries to Irving and Hayward. Tatum stepped up and led the offense for the majority of last year’s playoffs, and is already showing potential to become a major star in the league.  Don’t forget 6 time All-Star Al Horford, either. One of the best shooting big-men, Horford is a threat everywhere on the floor. Boston also has one of the deepest benches, with talent like Terry Rozier, who started in Irving’s absence and led the team like a true starting caliber point guard.

 

Bottom Line: The city of Boston is chomping at the bit with this team, and anything shy of a Finals appearance will most likely be a disappointment. The Celtics and the Golden State Warriors are seemingly the only two teams who will be favored in almost every matchup in the upcoming campaign.

 

  1. Toronto Raptors

 (Last season’s record: 55-27)

 

Photo: raptorshq.com

 

Expectations were high up North last year, but the Raptors ultimately fell short as they were eliminated at the hands of LeBron James for the third year in a row. With James now in the Western Conference, however, this could be the year the Raptors make their first ever Finals appearance.

 

Toronto may have lost star player Demar Derozan, what they got in return may be even better. In this summers biggest blockbuster trade, the Raptors acquired superstar Kawhi Leonard. Leonard (above) missed nearly the entirety of last season, but when healthy averages almost 20 points-per-game, is a 2 time defensive POY, and even has a Finals MVP trophy on his resume.  Leonard will be joining a team led by point guard Kyle Lowry, who is 4 time All-Star in his own right. Toronto’s main core of role players are all returning as well, which could be crucial during the long season. If Leonard can return to his full form, the duo has potential to carry the Raptors to a top seed in the Eastern Conference.

 

Bottom Line: With a new coach and a new superstar in town, Toronto is looking to establish themselves atop the Eastern conference, and, for the first time in a long time, have a realistic chance of bringing a championship to Canada.

 

  1. Philadelphia 76ers

(Last seasons record: 52-30)

 

Related image

Photo: PhiladelpiaHerald.com

 

After many years of painful rebuilding and horrific losing seasons, the 76ers finally are competitive again. Stocking high draft picks has given the team a plethora of young talent, and Philly is now a serious threat in the East.

 

The centerpiece of the franchise is Joel Embiid, one of the best centers in the NBA. Embiid made his first All-Star team last year, and the 7 footer anchors the team down low. Ben Simmons is the team’s other young cornerstone, and took home the Rookie of the Year trophy last season. The tandem is surrounded by a very solid group of talent, as the roster is nearly identical to last year’s squad that made it all the way to the Conference Semifinals, bringing back sharpshooter JJ Reddick and last year’s number one overall pick, Markelle Fultz. Philadelphia did bring in a new GM over the summer in former player Elton Brand, which is worth noting and will be interesting to monitor near the trade deadline.

 

Bottom Line: The City of Brotherly Love once again has a team to get invested in for the long haul, and this season should be a rewarding one for 76ers fans. Injuries have proven to be a major problem for this team in the past, but should they stay healthy, Philly should be trusting the process.

 

  1. Milwaukee Bucks

(Last season’s record: 44-38)

Photo: leadertelegram.com

 

The Bucks snuck into the playoffs as the 8th seed last year, but were bounced out in the first round by the Boston Celtics. Hoping to take the team to the next level this year, Milwaukee hired a new coach and have invested fully in the “win now” philosophy.

 

The Bucks are led by super-athlete Giannis Antetokounmpo (above). The “Greek Freak” is 6’11, freakishly fast, and has quickly become recognized as a one of the best players in all of the NBA. If he can improve his jump shooting and develop a decent 3-ball, you may be looking at the most unguardable player in the league. Giannis is a front-runner for the MVP this year, and the team’s success will be synonymous with his performance.  In order to advance further on the playoffs, the rest of the supporting cast will need to step up. Khris Middleton is a great 3 point shooter who averages almost 40% from beyond the arc, and Eric Bledsoe is a well-established veteran point guard, but the Bucks lack major depth elsewhere. The drafting of Donte Divincenzo should help, who shot into stardom during the NCAA Final Four this past March.

 

Bottom Line: Antetokounmpo is nearly unguardable, and should single-handedly elevate the Bucks into the top tier in the Eastern Conference. If the other starters can play well enough to take defensive attention away from their superstar, look out for Milwaukee come playoff time.

 

  1. Washington Wizards

(Last season’s record: 43-39)

Photo: thesportsdaily.com

 

Basketball in our nation’s capital has been thriving as of late, as the Wizards have made the playoffs 4 times in the past 5 years. However, they have yet to make it past the second round. The DC fanbase is itching for a deep playoff run, and the Wizards once again have the looks of a team capable of providing one.

 

Washington is home to one of the best backcourts in the league, with All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal both averaging over 20 PPG. The duo has proven they can carry their team to postseason wins, however their biggest weakness has shown to be the ability to stay healthy. Teammate Otto Porter signed one of the most luxurious deals in NBA history in the offseason, as he inked a 4 year, 106 Million dollar contract. The front office wouldn’t pay a player that kind of money without believing they could help the team win in the long run.  Adding to the front office activities was the signing of free agent center Dwight Howard. The big man is an 8-time All NBA selection and a 3-time Defensive POY who will fill a huge role on a team that has lacked a solid center for some time.  

 

Bottom Line: A huge free agent signing, and an established trio of veterans with playoff experience spells a recipe for success in DC. Can they break the curse and make it past the second round?

 

  1. Indiana Pacers

(Last season’s record: 43-39)

Photo: sportspyder.com

 

The Pacers played the role of ultimate underdog last season, and made it to the playoffs as the 5th seed in the conference. Nobody really saw it coming, but Indiana quietly was a very solid team with one of the best defenses in the league. Without any major changes to the roster, the Pacers hope to replicate the surprise breakout and become a serious threat in the East.

 

Last season’s success was made possible by the sudden emergence of the superbly talented Victor Oladipo. After serving mostly as a role player while playing in Oklahoma City, he was traded to the Pacers in 2017. Oladipo played at an elite level last year, making the All-Star team, winning the Most Improved Player award, and leading the league with 2.5 steals per game. To help Oladipo, the Pacers signed veteran guard Tyreke Evans, and resigned center Myles Turner, who has potential to become a pivotal part of the team’s success down the stretch. The trio should be able to keep the team competitive in most games.

 

Bottom Line: The Pacers are no longer an underdog, and have a budding superstar on their hands. While they may have some trouble keeping up with the top teams in the conference on a nightly basis, don’t count out Indiana as a contender to push them to the brink come playoff time.

 

  1. Miami Heat

(Last season’s record: 44-38)

Photo: MiamiHerald.com

 

Last year was fairly mediocre for the Heat, as they squeezed into the playoffs but were quickly bounced out in the first round by the 76ers. This year, the farewell tour for Dwyane Wade will likely overshadow most of what the Heat do on the floor. Wade is a 12x All-Star, 3x NBA Champion, and also owns a Finals MVP trophy. Announcing that he will retire at the end of the upcoming season, the future Hall of Famer will garner most of the attention down in South Beach.

 

As for the rest of the squad, determining who will help compliment the aging Wade will be priority number one. Goran Dragic is blossoming as a solid point guard, but is more of a floor general than a top tier scorer. Once touted as a dominant big man in the league, Hassan Whiteside averaged career lows in points, rebounds, and blocks last season. The most promising talent on the roster is Dion Waiters, but the shooting guard is coming off foot surgery and is unlikely to be ready to be available for the start of the season in mid-October. The Heat’s major strength, however, is their depth. Miami has quality depth at all five positions, which could, and should, propel them to a playoff spot.

 

Bottom Line: Dwyane Wade’s final season will be a wild and emotional ride, and the Miami faithful are hoping to cap off his illustrious career with a bang. Should the Heat make the playoffs, the energy and adrenaline surrounding Wade and the rest of the team will make them a tough matchup.

 

  1. Detroit Pistons

(Last season’s record: 39-43)

Photo: NBA.com

 

The Pistons may have finished 2 games under .500 last year, but they were only 4 games off of a playoff spot. Detroit is bound to improve this year and is in a weakened Eastern conference, which means all signs point towards vying for a spot in the postseason.

 

Despite not being a playoff team last year, Motor City is certainly not looking to be in rebuild mode. The front office made a huge splash at the trade deadline, acquiring a big name power forward in Blake Griffin. Griffin was a 5x All-Star with the Los Angeles Clippers, and is at the top of the league when it comes to playing “above the rim”. Pairing him with center Andre Drummond creates one of the best big-man tandems in the league. Drummond is a true paint protector, standing at 7’0 tall and twice leading the league in rebounds, averaging an absurd 17 rebounds per game. Detroit looks to be very weak on the wings, with a glaring lack of shooting depth and no other players besides Reggie Jackson averaging above 10 PPG.  With a decent amount of cap space available, the Pistons may be a team to watch around the trade deadline, as the front office may try to bring in a high caliber playmaker.

 

Bottom Line: While the Pistons may not be the deepest team in the conference, there is enough experienced talent in the frontcourt to push for spot in the playoffs. There are a range of possible outcomes for this team, and what the front office does to help support Griffin and Drummond will determine what side of the spectrum Detroit will fall.

 

  1. Charlotte Hornets

(Last season’s record: 36-46)

Photo: abs-cbmnews.com

Despite not winning a playoff series since 2001, the Charlotte faithful still remain optimistic that their team has what it takes to make a run this year. To the tune of a new coach and a solid incoming crop of young rookies, this could be the year Buzz City makes some noise in the East.

 

The Hornets ride and die off the play of their point guard, Kemba Walker. The UConn product is one of the top floor generals in the league, but can’t carry the team to the playoffs single handedly.  In an attempt to get Walker help, Charlotte drafted two standout college players, in Miles Bridges and Devonte Graham. While unproven in the NBA, both shined at their respective colleges and will likely be thrust into key roles in their rookie season.  The Hornets were also involved in one of the most unforeseen offseason acquisitions of recent memory. Tony Parker, a 4x NBA champion who spent 17 seasons with the Spurs, signed with Charlotte this summer. He’s been in the league for nearly 2 decades, but will be a key piece off the bench.

 

Bottom Line: The Hornets hit the refresh button this offseason, and there is hope once more for the city of Charlotte. A young nucleus to go along with an upcoming Walker and the wily veteran Parker, this is not a team to brush away when thinking about the  playoffs.

 

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers

(Last season’s record: 50-32)

Photo: New-Herald.com

 

The Cavaliers are coming off the thirst straight Finals appearance, sandwiching a championship win in 2017 between losses in ‘16 and ‘18. Barring a miracle or a major acquisition, Cleveland fans should not expect a fourth straight trip this year. Losing one of the greatest basketball players of all time certainly won’t help your chances when it comes to winning games.

 

The Cavaliers are now entering the post – LeBron James era, after he left for Los Angeles this offseason. James was the one to single handedly carry the team to the Finals three years straight, and the team is now faced with the unenvious task of trying to replace him. Kevin Love is now the only real proven talent on the team, and will be  forced to be the team’s main offensive weapon. Same goes for rookie Collin Sexton, who Cleveland drafted 8th overall in this year’s draft. At only 19 years old, he will likely be thrown straight into a high volume role in the starting lineup. As for the rest of the team, the Cavs are one of the oldest teams in the league with an average age of nearly 29.  Aged veterans like Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson, and Rodney Hood will have to contribute more than ever.

 

Bottom Line: It is unlikely The Cavaliers will be able to be anywhere near the level they were on with LeBron James, and they will now have to rely elsewhere for a chance at the playoffs. Staying pace with the top tier teams could prove to be a problem, but it is possible they could sneak into the postseason if they can end with a record near .500.

 

Over the last few years, The Eastern Conference has developed a reputation as the “weaker” of the two conferences, and 7 of the last ten NBA Champions have been from the West. With a lot of big name stars departing and headed out West, the East is wide open and looking for a new representative in the Finals.

 

Stay tuned for a preview of the Western Conference.

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What to Expect from the 2018-2019 NBA Season (Eastern Conference)