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2022-23 NBA season preview: 6 Eastern Conference contenders

New Orleans Pelicans v Miami Heat
New Orleans Pelicans v Miami Heat

With the NBA season less than 24 hours away, we present six teams that will fight for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Who are the 6 Eastern Conference contenders for the 2022-23 NBA season?

#1 Miami Heat

The Miami Heat are coming off an impressive season that saw them miss the NBA Finals in a painful Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals (4-3).

Miami had the chance to win the game, but Jimmy Butler missed a crucial three-pointer, and the Celtics sealed the deal and closed out the series.

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This year, the Miami Heat are aiming for nothing less than a return to the NBA Finals. They look perfectly capable of doing so. Led by Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, the franchise has its sights set on the NBA championship.

Udonis Haslem returned to the team for one final season, and his presence will be vital, especially in the locker room. Tyler Herro has signed his contract extension, and the Heat are expecting him to take over this season.

The playing condition and physical shape of Kyle Lowry will also be key, as Miami wants the veteran guard to play at the high standards he played during the Toronto Raptors’ 2019 championship run.

Max Strus, Victor Oladipo and Duncan Robinson will have a crucial role coming off the bench, and Erik Spoelstra’s roster looks deep at the moment, despite the departure of defensive specialist P.J. Tucker, who joined the Philadelphia 76ers.

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The Heat are still searching for his replacement and have been linked to Jae Crowder, who could leave the Phoenix Suns as early as the season opener (October 18). His signing would be the perfect replacement for Tucker.

Overall, the Miami Heat tip off the season as one of the favorites to come out of the East and reach the NBA Finals. They have a deep and talented roster and can go all the way if they remain healthy and have a lot of players in top condition.

In their NBA season opener, the Miami Heat will host the Chicago Bulls at FTX Arena this Wednesday, October 19.

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#2 Brooklyn Nets

With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving staying with the team, the Brooklyn Nets are hopeful they will eventually fight for the NBA championship this season.

What a turbulent offseason this was for the Brooklyn Nets. The Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving saga headlined the team’s summer, with both superstars seeking a way out of the team via a trade.

However, they both returned to the franchise. Now, Brooklyn looks ready for a redemption season and a trip to the NBA Finals.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are motivated to prove doubters wrong and have a stellar season with the Nets, the first one since they joined the squad in the summer of 2019.

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At the same time, Ben Simmons' debut gives an extra weapon to head coach Steve Nash, as the former All-Star can play both point guard and center in small-ball lineups.

Nash hopes Simmons will create a Big Three with Durant and Irving and will play at the high standards he was playing during his early years with the Philadelphia 76ers.

During the offseason, Brooklyn added valuable role players to bolster its second unit in Royce O’Neale, Markieff Morris and TJ Warren, while sharpshooters Joe Harris, Seth Curry and Patty Mills offer another dimension to the Nets’ playing style.

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets

The presence of Cam Thomas and Nic Claxton gives more depth to the roster, but Steve Nash knows that the trio of Durant, Irving and Simmons will determine the team’s success.

For the first time since signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets have a golden opportunity to emerge as a title contender and challenge for the championship.

If they fail again, though, drastic changes should be expected next summer. For the time being, the squad has its sights set on the start of the season.

The Brooklyn Nets will host the New Orleans Pelicans in their season opener at Barclays Center on October 19.

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#3 Philadelphia 76ers

After failing to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for another season, the Philadelphia 76ers hope they will redeem themselves this year.

The elimination from the Miami Heat in six games in the Eastern Conference semi-finals hurt the franchise, but the Sixers aim to come back stronger this season.

James Harden signed a two-year extension and remained with the team. He took a paycut, so the Sixers could bolster their roster. As a result, defensive specialist P.J. Tucker joined the squad, along with Danuel House Jr. and Montrezl Harrell.

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All three of them are excellent on- and off-ball defenders, and their additions will be vital to the team’s effort to play better defense.

Expect Tyrese Maxey to play at an All-Star level, while Matisse Thybulle and Tobias Harris will have a key role as well.

Of course, the duo of James Harden and Joel Embiid will determine the team’s success, but the signs are positive for the time being. Harden worked on his physical conditioning this offseason and will start the season in much better shape.

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For his part, Embiid has recovered from the postseason injuries he suffered and is now fully healthy and ready to take over for the franchise.

The superstar duo and Tyrese Maxey can help the Philadelphia 76ers eventually come out of the East and reach the NBA Finals.

Head coach Doc Rivers knows that the team’s championship window will not be open forever. Therefore, the Philadelphia 76ers start the season in a win-now mode.

The Sixers know they will face tough competition in the Eastern Conference, but expect them to be among the favorites for a Top-4 finish.

The Philadelphia 76ers kick off their 2022-23 season campaign with a trip to Boston to take on the Celtics at TD Garden this Tuesday, October 18.

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Philadelphia 76ers Media Day

#4 Boston Celtics

With an excellent performance in the second part of the season and an impressive rally from the bottom tier of the standings, the Boston Celtics won the East and had a deep playoff run, playing in the Finals and losing to the Golden State Warriors in six games (4-2).

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This year should be no different for Boston, which aims for a second straight championship run in its quest for a record 18th NBA title.

The 17-time NBA champions didn’t make many changes to their roster during the offseason and focused on bolstering the second unit.

Signing Malcolm Brogdon, Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari looked like the perfect moves for Boston, but Gallinari’s knee injury could cost him the entire season.

As a result, the Celtics will keep their options open in the market for a veteran forward that can fit in the system and cover Gallinari’s absence.

At the same time, Brogdon is an upgrade to a Celtics team that struggled in its last three NBA Finals games against the Warriors. His ability to space the floor and initiate the offense makes him valuable to the squad.

The former Indiana Pacers guard can thrive in a Sixth Man role with the franchise, and that will certainly help Boston remain a contender in the East.

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The same goes for Griffin, who could be a valuable option in the frontline coming off the bench, as starting center Robert Williams will be out for two to three months after having a knee procedure.

In addition, the Boston Celtics had to deal with Ime Udoka’s case, who violated the team’s rules and got suspended for the entire year.

Udoka had an affair with a female employee of the organization, which is a violation of the team’s rules, and will not coach the Boston Celtics this season.

Following the official announcement, coach Udoka shared a statement where he accepted the franchise’s decision and apologized for letting the squad down.

Assistant coach Joe Mazzulla was named the interim head coach and has taken over the team for the entire season.

Just like with Draymond Green and the Warriors, the question is whether this issue will affect the locker room and how the franchise will react to that.

For the time being, the Boston Celtics seem to have left these turbulent days behind and are getting ready for the start of the NBA season.

Given the additions of Brogdon and Griffin and with the core remaining together, the franchise tips off the season as a favorite to come out of the East for a second straight season.

The Boston Celtics kick off their season with a battle against fellow East contender Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden on Tuesday, October 18.

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#5 Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks enter another NBA season as a title contender, with Giannis Antetokounmpo set to lead the way once again.

The Bucks are coming off a season that saw them fail to defend the title they won in 2021, as they were eliminated in a hard-fought series against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi-finals (4-3).

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The Bucks had a quite offseason. They kept their core intact and re-signed Bobby Portis and Jevon Carter, bringing in versatile forward Joe Ingles, who is recovering from a knee injury.

Khris Middleton will most likely miss the start of the season, as he is recovering from injuries to his wrist and knee that he sustained during the postseason. Pat Connaughton will also miss the first three weeks with a right calf strain.

Expect Giannis Antetokounmpo to do it all on the floor for another season, but he will need help to get the Bucks all the way.

Jrue Holiday will have a key role, as always, since joining the squad, while three-point shooting will be crucial for the team’s success.

If they remain healthy, a Top-4 finish is a likely outcome for Milwaukee, just like last year, but the question is whether they can come out of the East, given the tough competition.

The Milwaukee Bucks tip off the regular season with a road game vs. the Philadelphia 76ers this Thursday, October 20.

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#6 Cleveland Cavaliers

The addition of superstar guard Donovan Mitchell has transformed the Cleveland Cavaliers into a title contender.

Last season, the Cavaliers were one of the pleasant surprises in the league, even though they were eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in tournament and missed the postseason.

Head coach JB Bickerstaff created a young and talented team led by Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Cleveland was one of the top teams at the start of the NBA season.

Ricky Rubio’s serious knee injury hurt chemistry. Some ups and downs late in the NBA season also cost the team the direct qualification for the playoffs.

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This year, though, things look different. Donovan Mitchell's arrival may be what the Cleveland Cavaliers need to return to NBA title contention for the first time in the post-LeBron James era.

During the NBA offseason, Rubio remained with the squad, while veteran big man Robin Lopez joined the team on a one-year deal.

Star point guard Darius Garland has signed a max rookie extension, while the same is expected to happen with Evan Mobley, too.

Cleveland Cavaliers Introduce Donovan Mitchell
Cleveland Cavaliers Introduce Donovan Mitchell

With the presence of Jarrett Allen, Cleveland now has its Big Four and tips off their NBA season with high expectations.

The chemistry between Garland and Mitchell will be key and will offer another dimension to the team’s playing style.

Expect Kevin Love, Caris LeVert and Cedi Osman to have a significant role coming off the bench, with the Cavs having a deep and talented roster.

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Direct qualification for the playoffs should be the minimum target for the Cleveland Cavaliers this NBA season, while a Top-4 finish is also likely, should their Big 4 build chemistry.

In their season opener, the Cleveland Cavaliers will travel to Toronto to play fellow title contender, the Raptors, this Wednesday, October 19.

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Edited by Windy Goodloe
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