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2021 NBA Playoffs Prediction: Eastern Conference Top 10 Ranking

Philadelphia 76ers v Los Angeles Lakers
Philadelphia 76ers v Los Angeles Lakers
Miles Lockhart
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As the NBA enters its last thirty games, we have put together our predictions for which teams we believe will make-up the Eastern Conference's top-ten sides come the end of the season.

In recent weeks, the East's three powerhouses have shown they are genuine contenders for the championship this season against the best the West has to offer, while those 7 games behind the Nets battle for the remaining playoff berths.

Brooklyn has assembled one of the most terrifying offensive trios in NBA history but will have a tough time overcoming the Philadelphia defense should they collide in the postseason.

Meanwhile, shrewd moves by Miami and Chicago at the trade deadline have put them in a position to compete.They will be no pushovers in a postseason matchup.

2021 NBA Playoffs Prediction: Ranking the top ten teams in the Eastern Conference

Both the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors have dominated the NBA's Eastern conference over the past few seasons. However, the Raptors have had a dramatic fall from grace this year.

Meanwhile, the Bucks are going to have to get past either the 76ers or Nets to claim a first Conference title in the playoffs.

Let's take a look at our predicted top-ten among the NBA's East.

#1 Philadelphia 76ers

Tobias Harris has had to be Philly's star in Embiid's absence
Tobias Harris has had to be Philly's star in Embiid's absence

Having led the Eastern Conference standings for the majority of the season, the Philadelphia 76ers are expected to obtain home-court seeding going into the NBA playoffs.

Doc Rivers has come into Philly and is getting the best out of stars Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris. Embiid is putting up MVP-calibre numbers, averaging 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds a night. Harris is putting up 20+ points and has led the Sixers since the All-Star break in Embiid's absence.

During their seven-game run without the Cameroonian star, the Philadelphia 76ers have gone 6-1. Although it won't be possible to pick up an NBA championship with Embiid out, the Sixers have shown they are damn hard to beat with the league's second-best defense and have the rotation pieces to go all the way this year.

#2 Brooklyn Nets

James Harden has had to lead the Brooklyn Nets without Irving and KD
James Harden has had to lead the Brooklyn Nets without Irving and KD

The expectation is that the NBA Eastern conference standings will come down to the wire with the Brooklyn Nets constantly on the Sixers' heels. It goes without saying that the Nets have what every team wants - three dominant, future Hall of Fame scorers.

Holding the Nets back from the top spot for us, however, is their defense and injury history with KD and Kyrie Irving.

Keen not to rush Durant back, the franchise is taking his rehab extremely seriously. They have been coasting through most games without him as Harden and Irving consistently put on MVP-level scoring displays.

Since the NBA All-Star break, both have put up 40+ point nights, with Irving doing that twice, while the front office have acquired Blake Griffin just to make life easier.

Come the playoffs, the Nets will be a different beast, though they can't always rely on their elite offensive talent. They will need to balance out their game at least to a greater extent than what's currently on display.

#3 Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks leader Giannis Antetokounmpo
Milwaukee Bucks leader Giannis Antetokounmpo

Currently on a roll, it appears there is nothing stopping the Milwaukee Bucks at the moment. Of their past 14 matchups, the Bucks are 13-1, lifting them to a 29-14 record from 16-13.

That single loss came against the Nuggets and is the only indicator as to why Milwaukee may just miss out on the top-2 spots in the NBA's east. Although they have looked back to their best, during that 14 game spell, 9 of their opponents had losing records at the time of tip-off.

Playing against the NBA's elite sides has been where the Bucks have struggled this season. The Jazz, Nuggets and Nets have all scored big on Milwaukee and will undoubtedly be a worry for coach Budenholzer come the postseason.

Still, with Antetokounmpo returning to his MVP form, they look unstoppable at the moment and will push Philly and Brooklyn all the way.

#4 Miami Heat

Victor Oladipo was traded to the Miami Heat this week
Victor Oladipo was traded to the Miami Heat this week

With only one game off 4th currently, we believe the Miami Heat will lead the East's chasing pack come the playoffs. Pat Riley pulled off the move all Heat fans were expecting when he brought Victor Oladipo in at the deadline on Thursday.

He simultaneously managed to keep sharpshooters Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, strengthening the team considerably.

Although they have dealt with injuries and inconsistency all season, bringing in the former All-Star to play alongside Butler and Adebayo puts Miami right back into the mix to compete in the playoffs.

They have rediscovered their defensive form and have a system Oladipo will fit perfectly into. They've conceded the sixth-least points per matchup over the last ten games despite losing five of those.

#5 New York Knicks

New York Knicks' Reggie Bullock
New York Knicks' Reggie Bullock

The boldest prediction on this list will probably excite Knicks fans. Tom Thibodeau has sparked some magic back into the illustrious franchise and has his young side competing for New York's first playoff appearance since 2013.

All season, the Knicks have flirted above and below the .500 record, a record that could even be enough to get them into the postseason. However, we believe they have what it takes to stay above and challenge Miami in a defense-fuelled first round matchup.

Thibodeau has re-focused the Knicks' attention on defense, which currently ranks 4th in the NBA. They give up the least field goals and points per game and are ranked inside the top ten for offensive rebounds and 3-points allowed.

Combine that with exciting young guard RJ Barrett and All-Star Julius Randle, and you have a winning team on your hands. The sky really is the limit for this young Knicks team.

#6 Boston Celtics

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics

Having had a disappointing season so far, the Boston Celtics come into our top 10 in sixth. While they have two All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the C's have just lost Daniel Theis to Chicago and are now no longer physical or bigger in the paint.

At least Danny Ainge didn't trade away defensive leader Marcus Smart. Boston are currently a bottom-7 defensive side, which Smart's absence hasn't helped. They will have to drastically improve their performances if they are to avoid the play-in games.

#7 Chicago Bulls

Orlando Magic v Indiana Pacers
Orlando Magic v Indiana Pacers

The Chicago Bulls were one of the biggest winners in this year's NBA trade deadline, which lands them on 7th in our final conference predictions. Bringing in Nikola Vucevic from Orlando was a major coup for the Bulls. This pairs the All-Star center alongside Zach LaVine, while also acquiring rotation pieces Daniel Theis and Al-Farouq Aminu.

That puts the Bulls' season expectations into a new sphere, looking up instead of down and will do the world of good at persuading LaVine to stay with the franchise in the future.

With a tightly packed East around them, Chicago are going to have to seriously up their defensive stature - something Vucevic will assist with.

The Bulls' new big man ranks 2nd overall for defensive rebounds in the last ten matchups with 10.1 a night and made up for 20% of the Magic's steals in that time.

#8 Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets Devonte' Graham
Charlotte Hornets Devonte' Graham

Competing for the second play-in place in the East we believe will be the Charlotte Hornets. Thriving on the pick-up of Gordon Hayward in the offseason and rookie of the year candidate LaMelo Ball, the Hornets have surprised many NBA fans and currently hold 4th place.

However, with Ball potentially out for the rest of the season, we expect Charlotte to fall yet have enough talent to make it to the postseason. In the two games since his injury, the Hornets have beaten both the Spurs and Rockets on the road, with Terry Rozier taking control and averaging 24.5 points.

Both he and Hayward will be pivotal in Charlotte's hopes of making the play-in.

#9 Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers T.J. McConnell
Indiana Pacers T.J. McConnell

A side many expected to do well this season have struggled of late. Indiana have fallen to 9th in the East where we expect them to stay after losing 10 of the past 16 matchups.

Although they are likely to compete with those tightly packed above them, it is difficult to gauge how the rest of the Pacers' season will go given their recent slump.

TJ Warren is out for the foreseeable future and Domantas Sabonis has not had the kind of scoring support he needs to help the Pacers compete. It is too late now but the Indiana front office really could have made some moves prior to the trade deadline - especially if they wanted to keep Sabonis happy going forward.

#10 Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks v Los Angeles Clippers
Atlanta Hawks v Los Angeles Clippers

It's been a funny old season for the Atlanta Hawks. Filled with excitement from their offseason trades, poor defense and creative differences between Trae Young and John Collins saw head coach Lloyd Pierce dismissed.

In came Nate McMillan, who, in his opening 10 games, has led the Hawks up to fifth in the East, winning 8 of those matchups.

Bringing in Lou Williams was a great deal and will give Trae Young additional rest, knowing Williams can lead an Atlanta second unit on the floor. However, with their lack of experience and All-Star talent beyond Trae Young, it could be difficult for the Hawks to breach the East's top ten in the long-run.

Edited by Rohit Mishra
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