However, Erik Spoelstra’s side were crushed by the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals, losing the series 4-1 as Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray ran riot to guide the Nuggets to their first title. Out of the last ten teams to emerge from the Eastern Conference Finals, only three have gone on to win the NBA title, suggesting that there is an imbalance of power between the two conferences.
The Golden State Warriors juggernaut was responsible for four of those championships, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers three times and then the Boston Celtics in the 2022 NBA Finals. The Toronto Raptors were able to defeat the Warriors in 2019, while the Milwaukee Bucks overcame the Phoenix Suns in 2021 in rare triumphs for the Eastern Conference, but defeating the Western Conference outfits has been a challenge.
Could that change in 2024 and beyond? There are a slew of talented teams in the East that are ready to make the charge again, and we’ll now look at which sides are best placed to capture the NBA crown and perhaps forge a dynasty that has not been seen by an Eastern Conference team since the Chicago Bulls’ run in the 1990s.
The Celtics attempted to make a comeback for the ages in the Eastern Conference Finals. After going down 3-0 in the early stages of the series, Joe Mazzulla’s men won the next three games to send the Eastern Conference Finals into a game seven decider. But, the Celtics failed to deliver amid an injury to Jayson Tatum early in the game, allowing the Heat to secure the victory to take them into the NBA Finals.
Boston has retooled their roster in the off-season, trading 2021/22 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies in a four-team deal to acquire Kristaps Porzingis. Jaylen Brown has also committed his long-term future to the Celtics by penning a huge $305 million deal, the richest in NBA history.
Brown and Tatum are arguably the most talented tandem in the Eastern Conference, with the latter in the running for the MVP award last season. But Boston has had issues surrounding them with enough talent to ease the burden in the playoffs. They begin the season as the leading contenders in the odds from the leading sportsbooks to win the Eastern Conference.
A starting line-up of Tatum, Brown, Porzingis, Al Horford, and Derrick White certainly has the credentials required with Malcolm Brogdon and Rob Williams off the bench. If the Celtics hold their composure and perform to their talent, their title drought could end in 2024.
The Bucks had a disastrous end to the season after placing as the top seed entering the playoffs. Mike Budenholzer paid the price for his side’s premature exit in the first round of the post-season, suffering a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Heat. Budenholzer guided the Bucks to their first NBA crown in 50 years in 2021, but a first-round loss was enough for the Milwaukee hierarchy to move on from their title-winning coach.
Adrian Griffin has the task of ensuring that Milwaukee remains one of the most dominant teams in the East, and the presence of Giannis Antetokounmpo makes them contenders to reach the NBA Finals. Giannis enjoyed yet another MVP-caliber season, but his back injury in game one of the series against the Heat exposed the lack of depth in the Bucks’ line-up.
Milwaukee has a lot of solid players, but they could not raise the standard against the Heat without Giannis. The roster has not changed much and they will be relying on Giannis to lead their charge again. Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis, Brook Lopez, and Jrue Holliday are decent complements around Giannis and their consistency has been a huge part in the Bucks’ success. But, there is a lack of young talent that could prevent another title challenge.
Spoelstra proved yet again that he is arguably the best coach in the NBA, inspiring his team to take down the Bucks, New York Knicks, and Celtics on their way to the NBA Finals. The Nuggets and the NBA crown were a step too far for his team, but they certainly performed well above expectations. Spoelstra alone gives his side an edge on the sideline ahead of Mazzulla and Griffin, whose inexperience could loom large over the campaign.
Miami has boosted its core with veteran moves for Kevin Love, Josh Richardson, and Thomas Bryant. The star power of Jimmy Butler remains crucial to the Heat’s success, but to get over the hump and win their first title since 2013 will require improvements from the young players on the roster such as Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. If they can become consistent operators on the court it will ease the pressure on Butler.
The experience of Love adds another senior voice with championship experience to the ranks. Miami doesn’t appear to have the consistency to challenge for the top seed, but again they’ll be the team that no one wants to face in the playoffs.
The Sixers’ season ended in familiar disappointment, suffering a defeat in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals for the fifth time in the last six years and the third season in a row. Even though Joel Embiid was named the NBA MVP, his injury against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs played a decisive role in the Sixers’ defeat to the Celtics. Struggling with a knee injury, he could not elevate his game alongside James Harden as both players had games to forget in the decider at the TD Garden.
Doc Rivers was fired in the aftermath of the defeat and has been replaced by Nick Nurse, who guided the Raptors to victory in 2019. Nurse has the challenge to reinvigorate an aging roster, who failed to rise to the occasion under the spotlight. If he can fire up Embiid and retain Harden then the Sixers have a chance to compete in the East.
But there needs to be a complete overhaul in the attitude of the team. Tyrese Maxey is an exciting prospect and Nurse has a good history of developing point guards. There are the tools there and it would exciting to see the Sixers turn the corner. On the other hand, history is against Nurse so he needs to perform something special to get an underachieving team to fulfill their potential quickly because the roster is not brimming with long-term prospects.
The Knicks are a team to watch after their rise under Tom Thibodeau last season, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round before losing to Miami. They’ve got a lot of promising talent led by veteran Julius Randle. If they can take a step forward this term and develop consistency, the Knicks could be the outsiders in the East.
The Cavs too are a team that is improving quickly with a host of young stars. Darius Garland and Evan Mobley were extremely impressive, while Donovan Mitchell enhanced his reputation. They do need to refine areas of their game, but the Cavs are another sleeper team that could put a few noses out of joint if they can get it right over the course of the campaign.