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The Dickinsonian

The student news site of Dickinson College.

The Dickinsonian

The student news site of Dickinson College.

The Dickinsonian

Eastern Conference Preview: Celtics Conference to Lose?

Since winning the championship in 2008, the Celtics have made the playoffs every year except one. However, the storied franchise has yet to bring the championship back to Boston. This is year seven for Jayson Tatum and year eight for Jaylen Brown. Tatum is a bona-fide star, but the one knock on him is that he hasn’t been able to deliver in the playoffs, when it matters the most. The Celtics’ depth is arguably the best in the league. Veterans Derrick White, Kristaps Porzingis, Jrue Holiday and Al Horford all complement the star scorers very well. The narrative is that it’s the Celtics ring to lose. The C’s confidence is high but so are expectations. Jayson Tatum needs to rise to the occasion. 


The seven playoff teams from the East behind the one-seed Celtics had records separated by a mere four games. 


The only team in the Eastern Conference currently capable of knocking out the Celtics is the Knicks. The Knicks have had three top five finishes in four years under Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. This year has been the best so far, as they secured the two seed and reached the 50 win mark. It’s been the most successful season for New York since 2013. The Madison Square Garden faithful have not been treated to a conference final appearance in this century, but New York fans are always hopeful. The hope this year is warranted. The Knicks have their first real star since the Carmelo Anthony days. When the Knicks signed Jalen Brunson last season, the narrative was that it was an overpay and a terrible contract. Instead, the Brunson deal is retrospectively one of the best ever. Brunson played at an MVP level all season, providing countless clutch buckets for the Knicks, basically whenever they were needed. Brunson was the best player in the Eastern Conference throughout the second half of the season. As long as he’s on the floor, the Knicks have a shot. The Knicks are a complete team. They play tough, aggressive defense and make their opponents work for their points. The team has bought into Thibodeau’s style of play. Their closeness on and off the court is apparent and it makes them an easy team to root for. The Knicks fought for the two seed, even knowing it meant they would have to play a tougher first round matchup. The Knicks are ready to shine on the big stage. 


A team of Giannis and Dame must’ve dominated…right? The duo has not worked out the way it was expected to for the Milwaukee Bucks this year. The two are both very ball-dominant players. It’s tough for both players to have the exact role they want. Lilliard averaged 24 points a game in the regular season, an eight point decrease from last year and his least in a qualifying season since 2015. Antetokounmpo was his usual dominant self. However, he will be sidelined to start the series and it’s unclear when he will be able to return. You’d figure that when Giannis is out, Lilliard will go back to his Trail Blazers self. But it has not worked out that way. Even when he is the clear one option, he hasn’t been the dominant scorer NBA fans are used to. Still, this team can be dangerous if they can stay afloat until Giannis comes back and Dame can be the player he has proven himself to be.


The Cleveland Cavaliers claimed the four seed for the second straight season. The backcourt duo of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland is elite on both sides of the ball. Mitchell can score with the best, especially when he gets hot. Mitchell and Garland are both talented playmakers. They set their teammates up, often after forcing a turnover. Their frontcourt is Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.. The two seven footers are excellent rebounders and rim protectors. Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff used his bench for the last game of the season, leading to their loss and the #4 seed. The Cavs chose to play the Magic. It’s hard to believe that choice won’t give Orlando extra motivation. 


The Orlando Magic, led by Paolo Banchero, are young and hungry. After winning Rookie of the Year in 2023, Banchero improved in his sophomore season. He became a much more efficient scorer and improved as a facilitator. Franz Wagner also had his best season. The 22 year old averaged just shy of 20 points per game. The Magic have a lot of young talent and there is a lot to like about them but they are a year away. With the way their young players have improved, I am confident they will be back stronger in 2024-25.


The Pacers, the lower seed, are favored against the Bucks. Tyrese Haliburton runs Indiana’s offense. Hali led the league in assists, averaging just under 11 per game. He averaged more than a whole assist more than the second place finisher. Pascal Siakam was arguably the league’s most noteworthy mid-season acquisition. He provided a much needed second talented scoring option. Myles Turner, now in his ninth season, is still a feared presence on the interior. The Pacers’ depth is their strength. They have a lot of guys who can be trusted to play key minutes. If the Pacers make a run, their loaded bench will have to play a role. 


The 76ers initially collapsed after Joel Embiid went down with a torn meniscus. However, an eight game winning streak to end the Sixers’ season propelled them into the first Play-In game. When Embiid was out, Tyrese Maxey carried the load. Maxey took total control of the offense and proved he can be the number one option on a team. Maxey’s leap to superstardom propelled him to being the heavy favorite for the league’s Most Improved Player. In a back and forth Play-In game, the Sixers bested the Heat. Nicholas Batum was the hero of that game, which gave Philadelphia the seven seed. If Embiid is healthy, the Sixers are a dangerous team, even for the two seeded Knicks. 


The Miami Heat got the last playoff spot in the East. The Heat lost a Play-In game to the Sixers but their bigger loss was that of Jimmy Butler. Butler is a different beast in the playoffs but he is a beast that won’t be unleashed this year as he suffered an injury in the Play-In game. The Heat will now rely on Tyler Herro to pick up the slack on offense. Even with their experience and Coach Erik Spoelstra’s playoff success, a Butler-less Heat will have a very tough go of it against the Celtics.

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