Championship Contenders: Eastern Conference

2023 Eastern Conference Championship Contenders
Photo Credit: Halftime Productions

As we slowly creep closer and closer to the 2022-23 NBA season, excitement is beginning to build around the league. The new year brings new hope and possibility for franchises all around the league, especially for these Eastern Conference championship contenders

For some teams, the new year presents another chance at chasing the illustrious goal of an NBA title. For others, it involves hope as their franchises hope to finally turn the corner. In this article, we will take a look at the Eastern Conference, and take a look at which teams have the best chance to be contenders for an NBA Championship.

Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Tier 1: True Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Celtics, Bucks, Heat

These three teams all have the best chance to come out of the Eastern Conference, and it’s far enough to clearly separate them from the rest of the conference.

First, we have the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are clearly capable of being in this category, with them being the team to come out of the Eastern Conference last year. They didn’t lose any major pieces, and were even able to add Malcolm Brogdon to the fold this offseason. They should enter as the favorites to come out of this conference.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat should be considered the same. Neither team lost a key player, and both have been actively looking to add talent this offseason, albeit unsuccessfully — for now.

The Bucks nearly knocked the Celtics off last year without Khris Middleton. The Heat, on the other hand, were a missed-three-pointer from Jimmy Butler away from making the Finals last year. Both teams should be considered favorites.

Tier 2: Fringe Eastern Conference Championship Contenders

Nets, Cavaliers, 76ers

These three shouldn’t be considered favorites, but they all do still pose a real threat to make it out of this conference. The Brooklyn Nets have been surrounded by drama all off-season, but as of now it looks like they’ll be able to hold onto Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Those two alone pose a threat, and with the right squad around them they can certainly make some noise.

The Cleveland Cavaliers just made a splash move, trading for Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell, a proven star who has performed very well in the playoffs throughout his career, will join a very talented young corps. There isn’t enough star talent on the roster yet for them to be in tier one, but this team is extremely talented.

As for the Philadelphia 76ers, the perennial playoff disappointing team will have another crack at it this year. This time, James Harden and Joel Embiid will likely get to play a full season together. If Philadelphia can put it all together in the playoffs this time around, they’ll be a real problem.

Tier 3: Playoff Contenders

Bulls, Hawks, Raptors, Knicks, Hornets

These five teams should still be around come April, but they don’t have everything it takes to truly be championship contenders in the Eastern Conference — yet.

The Chicago Bulls started 2021 strong, but faded as the year went on, and haven’t made any major upgrades this summer. The Atlanta Hawks added Dejounte Murray, and they’re the only team in this tier that has a legitimate argument to be in Tier 2. Unfortunately, the team around Murray and Trae Young isn’t quite good enough yet.

The Toronto Raptors grabbed a playoff spot last season, but were quickly bounced by the Sixers. This unit has a ton of young talent, and they could be a true contender very soon. The New York Knicks added Jalen Brunson, but their inability to add any other star power leaves them down in this tier.

As for the Charlotte Hornets, well they seem to be the same team from last year. With the Bridges issues, and their silence on the market this offseason, they’ve shown no signs of improvement.

NBA Schedule Leaks: Most Exciting Matchups

Photo by Harry Howe/Getty Images

On Wednesday at 3 P.M. Eastern Time, the full, official NBA schedule for the 2022-23 season will be released. However, thanks to the fact that NBA insiders exist, we’ve gotten a sneak peak at some of the biggest matchups throughout the season. Let’s take a look at some of the most intriguing games in the new season.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day is universally known in the sports world as NBA-day. For many years now the NBA has dominated the sports world on one of the biggest holidays, with exciting matchups every year. This season will be no different.

This year’s slate has headlines written all over it. There will be rematches of last year’s playoffs with the Bucks playing the Celtics and the Warriors hosting the Grizzlies. The Bucks and Celtics have been crowned as the last two Eastern Conference champions, with both teams expected to contend again this year. The Warriors and Grizzlies have had some very public bad blood since their playoff series last year, and this game should have no shortage of storylines.

The remaining meetups on the slate are the Knicks vs. 76ers, Nuggets vs. Suns and the Mavericks vs. Lakers. These games all have a large amount of star power. Overall, almost every team playing on Christmas day has the potential to reach the NBA finals, so we should see some exciting performances.

Opening Night

Opening night is one of the biggest days on the NBA calendar, as it marks the return of meaningful basketball. This year, opening night will feature two huge matchups. The defending champion Golden State Warriors will play Lebron James and the Lakers. Before that, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers will kick the new season off.

The Warriors will receive their rings, and will begin a new year against the Lakers for the second straight year. Last year that happened in Los Angeles, but this time the two squads will meet in San Francisco. In the other game, the Celtics and 76ers will clash. This game brings a ton of star-power, and both teams have the potential to win the Eastern Conference as a whole.

Other Exciting Matchups on the NBA Schedule

On October 21st, the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic will face off in Georgia. This will be a significant matchup because it will be the first time Dejounte Murray and the first overall pick, Paolo Banchero will play against each other. Those two have been quite public with their recent beef on social media, making for an exciting game as the two start to settle it on the court.

On October 19th, the second night of the season, the New Orleans Pelicans and Brooklyn Nets will square off in New York. This will mark the return of two stars who have missed time; Ben Simmons and Zion Williamson. Both players have seen themselves stuck in the spotlight recently, but will soon finally have a chance to get back on the court.

Finally, we have the battle for Los Angeles. The matchups between the Lakers and Clippers are always contentious, but they matter more now that both teams are competitive. The two southern California squads will face off four times, on October 20th, November 9th, January 24th and April 5th. These three matchups are some of the most interesting on the NBA schedule.

Prospect Draft Profile: Jabari Smith Jr.

Thursday night, the Warriors knocked off the Celtics 103-90 to win the NBA Finals. With the season now officially over, the next major event on the basketball calendar is the NBA Draft. With the draft coming very soon, on June 23rd, it’s time to start taking a look at some of the top prospects. First, we have Jabari Smith Jr.

Smith was a known talent before the 2021 season, but he wasn’t a preseason candidate for the number one pick. Jabari then leaped onto the scene last season, and he’s considered by many to go to Orlando with the first pick. Smith is a tantalizing prospect physically, and his potential is through the roof. Let’s take a look at some of his strengths.

Jabari Smith’s Strengths

One of the most compelling traits that come with Smith is his shooting ability relating to his size. Smith is a big guy, standing at 6’10”. With that size, his shooting touch is remarkable. He has great form and was consistently able to knock down shots at Auburn. There is a legitimate case to be made that Smith is the best shooter in the entire draft class. If a team is looking for a big player that can space the floor, Jabari is that guy.

Jabari Smith can shoot, but he doesn’t back down in the post either. Smith is a very well-rounded player in general. He moves well off the ball as well, setting screens for his teammates and such.

Defense isn’t Jabari’s best game, but it’s impressive nonetheless. He’s able to switch onto guards when a screen is set, which is very important in the modern NBA. His size and wingspan give him an edge against any smaller offensive player, and he’s well-rounded at the very least on defense in general.

Jabaris Smith’s Weaknesses

While Smith is a wonderful shooter, he struggles a bit to find his own shot. At the height of 6’10”, it would always be hard for a player (barring Kevin Durant) to create his own shot of the dribble. Still, if Smith is looked at as the number one option it is something he must improve. Smith isn’t immune to knocking these shots down, though:

As is common for players who struggle to create their own shot, Smith’s ball-handling can be improved too. Jabari likes to push the pace, but at Auburn, he did occasionally lose control of the ball on the fast break. Fortunately, both of these issues are things that can definitely be improved at the NBA level.

Jabari Smith’s NBA Outlook

Jabari Smith is a popular candidate to go as the first overall pick, and it would make a lot of sense. The Magic’s current starting frontcourt consists of Wendell Carter Jr. and Jonathan Isaac. Neither of those two have lived up to their full potential and getting Jabari alongside Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, and Franz Wagner would be a great young lineup.

As for Smith, no matter what team he goes to, he could be looked at as a power forward. In some lineups, he could even see time at small forward. The NBA is a very free-flowing and positionless game nowadays, and due to Smith’s excellent catch-and-shoot skills, he could make sense in one of those positions.

Smith should develop into an all-star, and there is good reason to look at him as a franchise player as well. Jabari is a big, tall guy with very sneaky athleticism. That athleticism allows him to be a force on the defensive end, and he contributes more than enough on offense to warrant the number one selection.

Celtics beat Warriors 116-100, Lead NBA Finals 2-1

@brockhoff55 recaps Game 3 of the NBA Finals ahead of Game 4 tonight. Who will take this one home?

After two dynamic and exciting games to kick off the 2022 NBA finals, the Warriors and Celtics headed across the country to play two more in Boston. Boston took game one, and game two was even until the third quarter Warriors took over. Both of these teams looked pretty even heading into a very important game three.

Game Recap

The Celtics got off to an extremely hot and high-scoring start in this one. Boston put up 33 points in the first quarter while holding Golden State to just 22, good enough for an eleven-point lead after one. Jaylen Brown had over half of the Celtics’ first-quarter points, with 17 of his own.

The second quarter was just as high scoring, except for both teams this time. The Celtics improved off their first quarter with a whopping 35-point second quarter, and the Warriors nearly matched that with a 34-piece of their own. Boston went into halftime with a 68-56 lead.

As always, the Warriors stormed out of the gate in the third quarter, and immediately made it a game, even taking the lead late in the period. The Warriors put up 33 in the third, but the 25-point effort from the Celtics was enough to keep a four-point lead in the fourth.

A combination of a sensational defensive effort from Boston and Stephen Curry exiting early with an injury helped Boston to a 16-point win, and the series lead. The second half was much more back-and-forth than the first, but excellent games from Tatum, Brown, and Smart helped the Celtics hold on to win. Boston now leads the NBA Finals two games to one.

Stat Leaders

Speaking of those three, they collectively made NBA history. Tatum, Brown and Smart were the first three teammates with 24+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 5+ assists in an NBA finals game since 1984. Those three also combined for 77 points altogether.

Aside from scoring, Celtics’ center Robert Williams was exceptional. Williams had 10 rebounds, four blocks, and three steals. Steph led the Warriors with 31 points, and Klay Thompson had 25 of his own. Draymond Green really struggled during this game, scoring just two points and fouling out in the fourth quarter.

Neither team shot terribly well, with the Warriors shooting at a 38% clip, compared to 37% for Boston. Boston’s real advantage came on the glass, outrebounding Golden State 47-31.

Highlights

What’s Next?

The Celtics lead the NBA Finals 2-1, and they’ll look to make it 3-1 on Friday night. That game will take place at 9:00pm eastern time on Friday night, on ABC.

2022 NBA Finals Series Update

The basketball world was greatly anticipating this Warriors vs. Celtics Finals matchup, and so far the series has completely delivered. Boston took care of business in Game 1, stealing a necessary game on the road. Golden State responded accordingly with an emphatic Game 2 victory. What do the first two games tell us about what to expect from Game 3 on Wednesday? Here is your NBA Finals update ahead of Game 3.

Game 1

The key takeaways from Game 1 were that the Celtics are extremely tough mentally, and if you leave their guys open they can make shots. The Celtics weathered a shooting barrage from Stephen Curry in the first quarter in which he set an NBA Finals record for three-point shots made in a single quarter with six made 3s.

Steph doing this is 6 times in a quarter is enough to break the spirit of most teams.

Despite that, Boston found themselves down by only 4 at the end of the first quarter. They held the Warriors to only 22 points in the second quarter and entered halftime with a two-point lead.

Even the great Celtics defense couldn’t stop a vintage Golden State 3rd quarter in which they outscored Boston by 14 points. Boston showed that mental toughness again by keeping level heads. They were rewarded with a very impressive 4th quarter in which they hit nine three-point shots and outscored the Warriors by 24 points. Even though it was a quiet shooting night for Jayson Tatum, the Celtics’ run in the 4th was sparked by a couple of great plays from Jaylen Brown.

These two plays from Jaylen Brown came at a pivotal moment in Game 1 and completely swung the momentum towards the Boston Celtics.

Game 2

Game 2 showed us that the Golden State Warriors are exactly who we thought they were. They came out with the fire you would expect from former champions. They set the tone early and came away with a resounding victory.

This was a vintage Draymond Green game. His line for the night – 9 PTS, 7 AST, 5 REB, 1 STL, 1 BLK. He set the tone physically and emotionally for the Warriors as well. He picked up a technical foul after getting chippy with Grant Williams early. Some argue that he should have picked up a second after some extracurricular activity with Jaylen Brown later in the game.

The Warriors’ attitude was completely different in Game 2. In the first game, we got Steph Curry high-fiving and smiling after his brilliant first quarter, in this game it was all business. Fun and games Steph was not in the building – he was clinical and he delivered two fantastic shots in the 3rd quarter that were the death blow to the Celtics’ comeback chances in the game.

When Steph is hitting shots like this 30 footer you can probably just start warming up the bus.

Gary Payton II made his return from injury in this game as well, and he proved his value to this team yet again. Three of the top five plus/minus lineups for the Warriors in this game included Payton II according to PBP Stats.

Game 3 Prediction

Game 3 of this series will take place on Wednesday, June 8th in Boston. The Celtics have not lost two games in a row yet in this year’s playoffs. My prediction is that this streak will not be broken on Wednesday night. Boston’s role players have all played better in front of their home crowd, I expect the juice from the fans in the TD Garden will propel the Celtics to a Game 3 win. However, the Warriors have won 35 road playoff games since 2015 with this core of players (StatMuse), so history tells us not to be shocked if they head into Boston and steal Game 3 on the road.