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The Team To Beat In The NBA Eastern Conference Is Not Who You Think It Is

The Damian Lillard trade has been the offensive splash NBA fans have been waiting all offseason for. After speculation that he'd land in Miami, Lillard was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks to team up with former MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.


The Bucks were bounced in the first round by the Miami Heat, who knocked off the prior year's NBA Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics to reach the finals. But who's the best team going into 2023?


The Case For The Bucks


Damian Lillard is a superstar who can score, facilitate, and make big plays in the clutch. Antetokounmpo has been a top-five player for several years now. Add a 6'8" shooting guard Khris Middleton, and you have a scary triumvirate leading the Bucks.


One thing that can get in the way of all championship hopefuls is injuries. All three stars are in their 30s, each with a past of nagging injuries. Antetokounmpo will likely be managed early this year as he comes off knee surgery in June. Middleton has also had multiple injury issues, so he will likely be managed throughout the year.

Despite that, this group will need time to develop chemistry and learn how to play with each other most effectively. They are littered with veterans including center Brook Lopez, so expect Milwaukee to deal with adversity rather well. With Lopez and Antetokounmpo, they are one of the best rim-protecting teams in the league. Their perimeter defense without Jrue Holiday may be questionable. The hype is there, but how it all comes together is still to be seen. I'm not fully sold on this new edition of the Bucks quite yet.


The Case For The Celtics


Boston has changed a lot this offseason as well. Initially highlighted by the trade of former defensive player of the year Marcus Smart, general manager Brad Stevens clearly has a new vision for his team. Acquiring Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday has created an infinitely high ceiling for this group.


How they use this talent will become interesting. Head coach Joe Mazzulla mentioned that they haven't figured that part out yet, but he's excited about the flexibility they have. Losing Robert Williams eliminates some flexibility with multiple starting-caliber centers. Despite that, Holiday is a massive upgrade over Malcolm Brogdon, giving the Celtics arguably the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference. Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, and Jrue Holiday all have all-star potential, playing well on both ends of the court.


The Celtics have the best group 1-6 than any other team in the NBA. Injuries and lack of depth will factor in at some point, but as long as they can withstand that, they are poised for a tremendous year.


Conclusion


All in all, the Celtics finally have some continuity with their head coach. They've had three consecutive seasons with a different head coach, including last year when Joe Mazzulla was trusted into the role right before the season's beginning. The continuity of coaching, with the leadership swaying towards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, is good for the Celtics.


Milwaukee still has too many question marks, especially after falling on their face in the first round of the playoffs last year. Barring any serious health issues, Boston should easily earn the No. 1 seed and be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.


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