Ever since acquiring long time Rockets star, James Harden, the Brooklyn Nets have been outright favorites to win the Eastern Conference. As good as their big three in Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving is, are they really unstoppable? I don’t think so. I think teams with veteran head coaches, excellent shooting, and elite defensive play will give the Nets problems. Here are the three eastern conference squads that I really think can hang around with Brooklyn.
The Sixers have exploded this season under Doc Rivers. Joel Embiid has blossomed into a 50 point game threat and MVP Candidate, Ben Simmons has been elite defensively, and Tobias Harris scores at will when Philly needs him most. They might not have the bigger names, but don’t sell the Sixers short in terms of star talent.
Outside the core, this team is really sound all around. They have talented shooters in Danny green and Seth Curry, bench scorers in Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey, and they have elite defenders in Embiid, Simmons, and Matisse Thybulle (with a 2nd ranked defensive ranking in the league). With some better depth, defensive play, and Embiid as the clear cut most dominant big between Philly and Brooklyn– the 76ers really have a shot to oust Brooklyn in what would likely be an Eastern Conference matchup.
Many NBA fans probably think the Heat’s Finals run in the bubble last season was a fluke, and it certainly seemed that way with a really shaky start to the 2020/21 season for Miami. However, the Heat have locked themselves in for a playoff spot and have had the best record in the NBA since April. Once, again, Miami is heating up at the perfect time.
What stands out in terms of a potential matchup with Brooklyn, I think the Heat’s hardnose defense and lethal shooting ability is what sets them apart. We all know Harden, Durant, and Kyrie can get hot from outside, but the Heat have elite shooters that could keep them within reach in an offensive duel with players like Duncan Robinson (41% from 3), Kendrick Nunn (37%), Goran Dragic (37%), Tyler Herro (36%), and Trevor Arizan (35%). Plus, we’ve all witnessed the rise of Bam Adebayo as an offensive star and Jimmy Butler explode in huge post season games.
What really sets Miami apart from Brooklyn is their defensive play. They rank 10th in defensive rating, and have guys in Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala and Bam Adebayo who can lockdown their man on any given game. Stopping the big Brooklyn three is extremely difficult, but Eric Spoelstra has experience taking away/limiting star players in the postseason, and I could definitely see him outcoaching a rookie head coach in Steve Nash.
Since they haven’t completely dominated the East as they have the past couple years, they media hasn’t talked about the Bucks as often it seems. However, Giannis and company have still be very efficient defensively (8th in the NBA in defensive rating) and are still sat at 3rd in the East right now. Quietly, they’re one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
With an elite scoring core in Giannis and Kris Middleton, the Bucks have a chance to win against just about anybody. Plus, they had added star guard Jrue Holiday who has been their best crunch time player on both sides of the floor this season. Plus when you consider their depth with guys like Donte DiVincenzo, Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, Jeff Teague, P.J Tucker, and Brook Lopez– it’ll be tough for a thinner roster like Brooklyn to keep up with bench points.