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With suspense in Sixers and Nets, Bucks look to dominate in Eastern Conference

With suspense in Sixers and Nets, Bucks look to dominate in Eastern Conference

The Brooklyn Nets look like title favorites, to such an extent that James Harden found it necessary to remember that they are not the reigning champions.

In fact, they have never achieved a championship.

“We are not the target. The defending champs are the target, ”Harden emphasized. “They are the ones who won last year and we try to emulate the example.”

But it’s easy to forget about the Milwaukee Bucks. They own the NBA crown, but are not surrounded by the drama of other candidates in the Eastern Conference.

Ben Simmons’ plight in Philadelphia and Kyrie Irving’s plight in Brooklyn have made headlines in the run-up to the season.

Those two teams finished on top of Milwaukee in the regular season. However, the Bucks kicked out the Nets in the second round of the playoffs and ended up claiming their first NBA title in half a century.

Giannis Antetokounmpo traveled to his native Greece to celebrate. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holidey went to Japan, and they also won an Olympic gold medal.

Now, they are together again and they work discreetly in search of revalidating the championship, in the middle of all the noise that is around.

The Nets will not allow Irving to play or practice with them until he is vaccinated, instead of allowing him to play only the away games while he is still unable to perform in New York, due to the order that athletes be immunized against COVID- 19 there.

Kevin Durant and Harden could be weapons enough for Brooklyn, which has other good players. But the Nets and their rivals know the team wouldn’t be the same without Irving’s talents.

The 76ers, who had the best record in the East last season, have been without Simmons all preseason. The star guard hopes to leave through a trade, but he finally made it to Philadelphia this week.

Here is a forecast of how the teams will look at this conference:

DIRECT TO THE PLAYOFFS

1. Brooklyn – Durant and Harden have won the MVP and points leader award. If they both stay healthy, the Nets wouldn’t even need to complete their trio of stars.

2. Milwaukee – If Antetokounmpo dominates like he did in the Finals, he could win his third MVP trophy in four years.

3. Miami – The Heat have not recovered the form they showed when they played the NBA Finals in the “bubble.” But he had more rest and is more talented after a longer hiatus.

4. Philadelphia – The 76ers could be first with Simmons or eighth without him. So it will be better to place them in half for now.

5. Atlanta – Trae Young and the improved Hawks are on the rise after reaching the East finals.

6. New York. The Knicks added more scoring ability to what was already one of the best defensive teams during the first season under Tom Thibodeau.

TO THE MINI TOUR

7. Boston – The fact that Al Horford is wearing green again could benefit the Celtics.

8. Chicago – Count on Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball to make a lot of spectacular plays.

9. Indiana – The Pacers would have made a good decision to have Rick Carlisle join a locker room where friction between the players and the coach abounded last season.

10. Charlotte – The Hornets were tough on anyone last season, when Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward were healthy at the same time.

FEW POSSIBILITIES

11. Toronto – Being home again would improve the Raptors’ competitiveness, even without Kyle Lowry.

12. Washington – Lost the great individual talent of Russell Westbrook but could improve with newcomers like Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyle Kuzma.

13. Cleveland – Collin Sexton and Darius Garland will provide the shots that will yield some wins, but not enough.

14. Detroit – Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick, will take his place on a team that has several good guys.

15. Orlando – The Magic traded their best players last season. It seems that he is years away from fighting.

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