The NBA has changed quite a bit since the bubble. The biggest difference since the 2020 playoffs lies with the Miami Heat.
The Heat ended the year going to the Finals and losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. Now to find the Heat, you’ll have to scroll down to the 12th seed in the East. A 9-14 start is not what most expected of the cream of the Eastern conference crop from just a season ago.
Three teams trying to make a name for themselves in the playoff race this year are the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and the New York Knicks. These three have been notorious for struggling in the regular season with little to no chance of making the playoffs every year.
This year, though, things are different. Filling out the last three spots of the top eight in the East, these underdogs have a real chance of snatching a playoff berth for the first time in a while.
At the top of the East, we find the Philadelphia 76ers, followed by the Milwaukee Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets. Philly came out of the gate sprinting with 17 wins. Finally, they seem to be meeting expectations from the “Trust the Process” they enacted so long ago. It really feels like it could be Philly’s year.
Joel Embiid has been performing at an incredible level that, if continued, might just land him an MVP. The Bucks had a slow start but seem to be trending up. In weeks to come, expect them to make a run on stealing that number one seed from the 76ers. Another team that could easily jump to first is the Nets, who seem to almost be breaking the rules with such an effortless offense attributed to three All-Stars in Kevin Durant, newly acquired James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Shocking no one, the Lakers have been on fire to start off the year. LeBron shows no sign of slowing down plans to get back-to-back championship rings. The true shock is that the Lakers are not at the top of the West. That spot belongs to none other than the Utah Jazz. With 19 wins and only five losses, they have the most wins and fewest losses in the NBA.
This is new territory for Utah. Normally a middle-of-the-pack team, the Jazz are on a tear, and it’s no fluke. The Jazz play great team basketball with a formula that has put them at number one in a stacked conference.
Only time will tell. But for now, just enjoy seeing new faces at the top.