Photo credit: Philadelphia 76ers/Twitter, Brooklyn Nets/Twitter
It’s the most wonderful time of the year again for NBA fans as the best basketball teams in the world battle it out for the coveted playoff spot. Even though this season was shortened to only 72 games, it was jam-packed with a lot of events.
From the many injuries to the condensed scheduling that went on during a worldwide pandemic, the 2020-2021 campaign was one for the books.
Fortunately, it was well worth it for some of the teams that already clinched their spot in the postseason. Now they have to worry about the playoffs which begin on May 22, Philippine time.
After living in the shadows of Western Conference teams in the past, it’s quite clear that the Eastern Conference has stepped up its game. Several beasts from the East have emerged and made the division highly-competitive compared to previous seasons.
While there are still eight playoff spots available in the East, only the Top 6 are guaranteed since the 7th and 8th spots will be up for grabs in the playoff play-in tournament.
READ: All bets are off! An NBA play-in tournament preview
The top six teams in the East are pretty much decided by now so all that’s left is to determine their final ranking after the regular season.
How did they get here? Joel Embiid—enough said. The Process put in the best season of his career with a high-flying performance worthy of an MPV nod.
The arrival of head coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey certainly turned things around in the City of Brotherly Love, as they assembled a formidable unit around Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Speaking of the Australian point forward, Simmons is a favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year. Tobias Harris’ fine play, meanwhile, definitely proves that he should have been named an All-Star this season.
Philly also has playoff-tested veterans like Danny Green and Dwight Howard, while the dependable Seth Curry is always there to get buckets.
READ: Steph vs. Seth! Let’s talk about the Curry brothers
How far do you think the Sixers can go this year?
The Nets were actually the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the East and lorded the division for most of the season. However, a rough patch as of late had them sliding over to second place, which ain’t too bad either.
The Brooklyn Nets were expected to be playoff contenders from the start since they finally had a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The arrival of James Harden via that blockbuster trade in February also made them instant title favorites.
READ: The James Harden deal completes the Brooklyn Nets big 3 and hypes up the NBA nation with the news
The team lost one of its best players, LaMarcus Aldridge, as he left for early retirement, but they still arguably have one of the most loaded rosters the league has ever seen.
READ: LaMarcus Aldridge retires and we look back on his best NBA plays
It’s going to be a championship-or-bust type of season for the Nets. Brooklyn will be playing the Celtics next since the latter won against the Wizards during the play-in game.
Photo credit: Milwaukee Bucks/Twitter
The top of the East is familiar territory for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. They have actually gone under the radar this season, which isn’t exactly a bad thing.
READ: Steph, Dame, Giannis and the rest of team LeBron dominate the NBA All-Star weekend
Milwaukee has experienced its share of ups and downs, but it seems like they finally found the right guys to surround All-Stars Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Jrue Holiday has been a godsend for coach Mike Budenholzer on both ends of the floor.
Speaking of coach Bud, his job security might be hanging on the balance come playoff time. After all, the Bucks experienced two disappointing playoff exits for the past two seasons under his watch.
Photo credit: New York Knicks/Twitter
The Knicks are practically the darlings of the league entering the postseason. After all, the Mecca of Basketball is finally back after a seven-year playoff dry spell. The arrival of head coach Tom Thibodeau brought back the no-nonsense approach of the successful Knicks teams of the ’80s. Plus, the growth of Julius Randle to a bonafide superstar got Madison Square Garden buzzing once more.
READ: The Knicks are relevant again thanks to Julius Randle
Defense pretty much has been the Knicks’ calling card all season. They have topped almost every defensive category, which will definitely come in handy when the game heads toward the postseason.
Photo credit: Atlanta Hawks/Twitter
The Hawks are also back in the postseason following an amazing turnaround during the second half of the campaign. Atlanta figured in a nasty losing streak right before the All-Star break and a lot of pundits already wrote them off.
Injuries also cost them during that stretch as Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic both missed some valuable time. The Hawks seemed ready to wave the white flag until coach Nate McMillan took over last March.
The Hawks racked up eight straight wins after putting McMillan in charge and have gone 23-11 ever since. Clearly, he is the real MVP of Atlanta this season.
Photo credit: Miami Heat/Twitter
Like the Hawks, last year’s Cinderella team also had a slow start during the 2020-2021 season. Injuries also messed with the Heat’s lineup early on so they weren't even in the East’s top 10 during the first half of the season.
Fortunately, once Jimmy Butler shook off the injury bug, things started clicking again in South Beach. The Hawks may have been overshadowed by the higher ranking teams from the East, but it would be foolish to count them out come playoff time.
Butler’s second-in-command, Bam Adebayo, has also been playing terrific basketball and believes he should win Defensive Player of the Year by season’s end.
Plus, head coach Erik Spoelstra has more than enough playoffs experience with two NBA titles under his belt. Can Miami defy the odds once again win it all this time around?
READ: Erik Spoelstra becomes sixth NBA coach with 600 wins for one franchise
Do you think the 2021 NBA champion will come out of the East this season?