NBA Restart: Eastern Conference Predictions

Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo, Gannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons and Kemba Walker
Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo, Gannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons and Kemba Walker
Illustration: Eric Barrow (Getty Images)

The official NBA restart is inching closer and closer.

With scrimmage games taking place over the past few days, we have gotten a chance to assess every team competing in the NBA bubble before the league officially begins its campaign to crown a champion.

Today, we look at the Eastern Conference Teams who made their trip down to Orlando and predict how their seasons will finish.

Let’s get to it.

Can check out the Western Conference here.

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Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards

Rui Hachimura
Rui Hachimura
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Washington Wizards

Expectations: None, absolutely zero

Without former All-Star guards Bradley Beal and John Wall joining the team in Orlando due to their recoveries from respective injuries, this Washington team has as much of a chance to advance in the playoffs as Charles Barkley has to hit a hole in one on any golf course in America. In addition to the absence of both star guards, Davis Bertans decided he would sit out the Wizards’ restart. Bertans had become an integral member of the team’s frontcourt this season.

While the Wizards may be the worst team record-wise to enter the bubble, and lack the services of three of their best players, they do have young talent that has the potential to grow a lot during this experience and can benefit from the absence of Beal, Wall, and Bertans, most notably lottery pick Rui Hachimura and college standouts Mo Wagner and Shabazz Napier.

Playoff Projection: N/A (They’ll grab a flight to D.C. right after the buzzer sounds on their 8th regular season bubble game.)

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Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic

Mo Bamba
Mo Bamba
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Orlando Magic

Expectations: You can expect this Magic team to fight extremely hard and possibly improve their seeding going into the playoffs. With the absence of a few players from other teams in the Eastern Conference, the Magic have a prime opportunity to possibly win a few games against a higher seed like Toronto or Boston in the playoffs.

They still don’t have enough to make a long run, though, even in this unprecedented format. Nikola Vucevic still needs to solidify himself as a dominant force in the league and Aaron Gordon must become a consistent scoring option and take that next step along with other young talents like Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba.

Playoff Projection: First-round exit

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Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn Nets

Caris LeVert
Caris LeVert
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Brooklyn Nets

Expectations: The Nets are similar to the Wizards, arriving in the bubble without some of their best talent. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Spencer Dinwiddie, and DeAndre Jordan will all be absent from the squad. However, the Nets bring sharp-shooting veterans like Garrett Temple and Joe Harris to the bubble with emerging young stars like Caris LeVert and defensive standout Jarrett Allen.

They’ll have enough talent to hold off the Wizards for a playoff spot, but won’t threaten any top seed from a relatively smooth first-round victory.

Playoff Projection: First-round exit due to sweep or gentleman’s sweep.

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Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid
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Philadelphia 76ers

Expectations: If Philly ever found a way to get the best out of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid when they are on the court together, they could be a serious Finals contender. This roster has the versatility and length to lock down opponents and score at ease when everything is clicking. The problem is that Philly has never found a way to make it all click consistently.

Simmons’ blatant unwillingness to shoot in the past has contributed to the Sixers on-court chemistry issues, especially with Embiid on the floor. Even with Simmons taking a few jumpers in the bubble, I don’t see the remedy for all the Sixers issues coming in Orlando. Depending on their seed they may be able to finesse a first-round victory if they can sneak up a spot or two. They’ll be able to give a top Conference team a sweat in the playoffs, but that’ll be all.

Playoff Projection: Tough semi-final exit

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Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers

Victor Oladipo
Victor Oladipo
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Indiana Pacers

Expectations: The return of Victor Oladipo gives the Pacers a much-needed boost to their hopes in Orlando. Even as he still works off the rust from a devastating leg injury in 2019, Oladipo has played extremely well in the Pacers’ bubble scrimmage games. The combination of him, Malcolm Brogdon, and T.J. Warren will be tough for any opponent. In addition, interior play from Myles Turner could help be a boost for the team out of Naptown.

However, Domantas Sabonis’ foot injury has forced him to leave the bubble, and the team is not sure about whether the All-Star big man will return. Losing Sabonis as another scoring threat will significantly impact the Pacers. While the Pacers will be scrappy, they won’t have enough to make noise in this NBA restart.

Playoff Projection: Hard-fought, first-round exit

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Miami Heat

Miami Heat

Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler
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Miami Heat

Expectations: The Heat have become one of the scrappiest, most surprising teams in the league this season. Led by All-Star Jimmy Butler, and with the emergence of first-time All-Star Bam Adebayo and young standouts like Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, and Tyler Herro, the team out of South Beach exudes a grit, toughness, and confidence that will prove to be beneficial for the team’s success in the bubble.

If the Heat can make shots consistently in Orlando, they will be an extremely difficult opponent to play. However, without another go-to option to help Butler, the heat could potentially run into trouble against teams that limit their ability to shoot the three.

Playoff Projection: Competitive first-round exit (probably a 7-game series)

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Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

Jayson Tatum
Jayson Tatum
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Boston Celtics

Expectations: The Celtics have a versatile roster that is perfectly suited for the bubble. They have many players that can create and get their own shot, while also having the ability to guard multiple players on the defensive end. Everyone knows about the progression of new All-Star Jayson Tatum, but Jaylen Brown is arguably just as skilled and more athletic. He will soon be making that jump to an All-Star-caliber player. Marcus Smart adds a level of toughness to their group, and they arguably have the best head coach in the conference in Brad Stevens.

The only trouble Boston could run into is if star guard Kemba Walker continues to struggle with nagging injuries. But even without Walker, the Celtics are still a dynamic young team with playoff experience.

Playoff Projection: Eastern Conference Champs, NBA Finals appearance

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Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors

Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry
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Toronto Raptors

Expectations: Toronto is an extremely solid team that is built similarly to Boston, with guys who are versatile and can guard different positions. Pascal Siakam has been an impressive leader for the Raptors in his first All-Star season and guards Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet help give the Raptors a much-needed edge to their team.

Yet, the loss of Kawhi Leonard will prove to be too much for the guys from the North. Even though their roster is built well for the bubble, they still lack the same talent that other top teams in the East have.

Playoff Projection: Semifinal exit

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Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo
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Milwaukee Bucks

Expectations: Reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has led the Bucks to an extremely impressive season so far. They have the best record in the league and were cruising along when the league paused in mid-March. The organization has done a good job in recent years of putting other smart players around Antetokounmpo that help complement his game. Shooters like Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews and even the Lopez twins who can space the floor and hit jumpers have helped take the Bucks to the next level.

The problem with the Bucks arrives when teams can start shrinking those driving lanes for Giannis and can also recover to those shooters. Teams like the Celtics, Raptors, and Sixers who have long and versatile perimeter defenders can cause problems for this team in the playoffs. Antetokounmpo should have no problem getting past the first two rounds, but if he sees a team that can play consistent help-and-recover defense well in the Eastern Conference Finals, it could be a wrap for the Bucks’ title hopes.

Playoff Projection: Eastern Conference Finals loss

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