Malcolm Gladwell wrote a New York Times bestseller book, Blink about you trusting your gut instinct. We’ll take a quick glance at the upcoming 2020-21 NBA season, but with a Gladwell-inspired Blink perspective in this Eastern Conference Preview.

Greek Freak Jimmy Butler Eastern Conference NBA Preview odds
The Greek Freak (left and the Milwaukee Bucks are fighting for the Eastern Conference title against Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat. (Image: Kim Klement/Getty)

No team won more games than the Milwaukee Bucks (116-39) in the previous two seasons, yet the Greek Freak and the Bucks have no championships to show for their efforts. They were knocked out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals in back-to-back years.

Will this finally be the year the Bucks win the Eastern Conference and secure a spot in the NBA Finals? Or will rookie head coach Steve Nash guide Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the Brooklyn Nets to an Eastern Conference crown?

  • Milwaukee Bucks +230
  • Brooklyn Nets +275
  • Boston Celtics +650
  • Miami Heat +650
  • Philadelphia 76ers +900
  • Toronto Raptors +1200
  • Atlanta Hawks +4000
  • Washington Wizards +5000
  • Indiana Pacers +6000
  • Orlando Magic +6000
  • Chicago Bulls +10000
  • Charlotte Hornets +10000
  • Detroit Pistons +25000
  • Cleveland Cavaliers +25000
  • New York Knicks +25000

Our gut thinks the Bucks will finally get over the hump and secure their first Eastern Conference crown since 1974. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets will fall short of the public’s lofty expectations.

The Eastern Conference features five teams with new head coaches: Nash (Nets), Doc Rivers (76ers), Tom Thibodeau (Knicks), Billy Donovan (Bulls), and Nate Bjorkgren (Pacers).

Contenders: Bucks and Heat

Which two bona fide title contenders will be slugging it out in the Eastern Conference finals? And which four will be pretenders? A quickie Blink analysis suggests the Miami Heat will return to the Eastern Conference Finals to defend their crown against the hungry Bucks.

Milwaukee Bucks… Jrue Holiday (secondary scoring option and defensive stopper) is the versatile stud the Bucks need when it gets down to the nitty and gritty in the playoffs. Now that the Greek Freak got the bag, it’s time for the ring.

Miami Heat… The Heat are still one key player away from winning a championship. In the meantime, they still have a core group returning from last season, including Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. And, don’t sleep on Kendrick Nunn. Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler are a winning combination in the postseason. No reason they can’t win the east once again.

Pretenders: Nets, Celtics, 76ers, Raptors

Close, but no cigar.

Boston Celtics… The Celtics lost Gordon Hayward, but still have all five returning starters from last postseason. Like a three-leaf clover, the Celtics have a three-headed monster with Jayson Tatum (23.4 ppg), Kemba Walker (20.4 ppg), and Jaylen Brown (20.3 ppg). Aside from that, they’re not deep, especially after losing Gordon Hayward to Charlotte.

Brooklyn Nets… Much like the hipster-fied parts of Brooklyn, the Nets look awesome on Instagram, but they lack real substance. It’s all sizzle and no steak. Kyrie Irving’s health and mind games will be two huge question marks. If Kevin Durant doesn’t lose a step after returning from a ruptured Achilles, they could go deep into the playoffs. Steve Nash is another question mark. He was an awesome point guard, but has never coached in the NBA. Nash made a wise move by hiring his ex-coach, Mike D’Antoni as an assistant.

Philadelphia 76ers… Doc Rivers will try to win a title in Philly with Joel Embiid, but not this year. They need help aside from Tobias Harris and Ben “Invisible in the Playoffs” Simmons. If the Sixers trade Simmons and Shake Milton for James Harden, they could make a run.

Toronto Raptors… The Raptors will start the season in Tampa Bay due to the strict COVID-19 protocols by the Canadian health ministry. Pascal Siakim had an awful postseason. He’ll be on a mission to avenge his honor. Fred VanFleet wisely stuck around instead of ruining his career by signing with the Knicks.

Middle of the Road: Hawks, Wiz, Pacers

These upstart and mediocre teams could break either way and secure one of the last playoff spots, or they could get stuck on the playoff bubble.

Atlanta Hawks… The Hawks won less than 30% of their games last season. Trae Young lit it up over the past two seasons, and he now has his strongest supporting cast to date with John Collins, Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, De’Andre Hunter, and Cam Reddish.

Indiana Pacers… The new coach’s nickname is Bjork. Victor Oladipo had more time to heal from his leg injury. Domantas Sabonis, a fantasy hoops stud, is really the team’s heart and soul. The Pacers also have the Holiday brothers — Justin and Aaron — coming off the bench to lead the second unit.

Washington Wizards… It’s the Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook Show now that the Wiz traded John Wall to the Houston Rockets.

Orlando Magic… When Nikola Vucevic, who is another fantasy stud, is your best player, then you don’t really have a shot at picking off the Greek Freak and the Bucks.

Chicago Bulls… Billy Donovan does some of his best work with upcoming teams. Zach LaVine is ready to blast off. Coby White, with the best hair in the NBA, will start at point guard. Wendell Carter, Jr. could be a double-double guy this season. Lauri Markkanen is great, but not durable.

Better Luck Next Year

Only eight teams from the Eastern Conference will advance to the playoffs, and these bottom-feeders don’t have a chance at the postseason. Like Sun Tzu said, “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” In this instance, these teams are losers before the first opening tip of the season.

Charlotte Hornets… It will be another long year in Buzz City. They gave an injury-prone Gordon Hayward a $120 million contract, but he already broke a finger on his shooting hand in the preseason.

Detroit Pistons… LaVar Ball summed up the Pistons best when he called them “raggedy as hell” after they cut his son, LiAngelo. Blake Griffin played only 18 games last season because of a raggedy knee.

Cleveland Cavaliers… Collin Sexton, Kevin Love, and Andre Drummond are a solid three-on-three squad. But how about the rest of the team? JB Bickerstaff took over mid-season last year after John Beilein resigned.

New York Knicks…  The Knicks were among the worst teams in the NBA over the past three seasons, but this year is gonna be different — until it’s not. The Knicks hired the defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau. Maybe Thibs can turn around the culture and finally lead them to a playoff berth? Maybe in 2022, or 2023?

For more NBA coverage, check out OG’s 2021 preview for the Western Conference.

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