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Since the mid 2000s, the Eastern Conference in the NBA has widely been regarded as the weaker of the two, with the Western Conference boasting a number of powerhouse teams that have come into their own this past decade. The biggest of those teams include the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, and, recently, the Denver Nuggets.

In addition to those four, the West also consists of the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, and the Utah Jazz, just to name a few. This group of teams already poses a serious threat on any calendar, and has led many people to simply gloss over the Eastern Conference, not giving those teams the credit that they deserve as of late.

Since LeBron James’ departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers, joining the Lakers out west, the Eastern Conference throne was there for the taking. The scramble that would become the fight to claim that throne was something few experts expected. Out front are three major contenders this year that could easily hold their own with any Western Conference team, those being the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers.

Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo is nothing short of a monster on the court, combining his 6’11” frame and his impressive speed to fly past defenders and post an average of 27 points per game. His strengths paired with those of Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, and Eric Bledsoe make the Bucks a team few would feel confident going up against.

Head coach Mike Budenholzer played an important role in turning Milwaukee into a championship-contending team, which he did almost overnight. Drafting Antetokounmpo, Brogdon, and then acquiring a supporting cast of experienced players worked as ideally as anyone could hope for. Their team chemistry seems to be uncompromised, which is rare so early on, but a genuine sign of a team poised to make a deep playoff push.

Toronto Raptors

Signing Kawhi Leonard in exchange for DeMar DeRozan was a controversial, but extremely intelligent move by Toronto. Leonard has arguably been the most consistently great player in the league for years now, and his presence in the Raptors’ locker room, combined with that of Kyle Lowry, was the push they needed to become playoff contenders. Recently, the team added Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin to their roster, making them one of the deepest teams in the East.

The home-court advantage Toronto has is real, and threatening. They currently sit in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference (behind the Bucks), giving them a strong chance of having home-court advantage throughout the postseason.

Philadelphia 76ers

The saying “trust the process” has been used throughout Philadelphia for a few years now, and is one that has truly delivered, perhaps even more than most would have expected. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have been literal All-Stars for the Sixers since joining the team, and the acquisitions of Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and JJ Redick only made them that much more effective. The process seems to be near completion.

This team is young, and has shown its ability to dominate opponents many times throughout the 2018-19 season, giving them one of the highest ceilings in the East. Another team with an impressive depth chart, Philly acquired Boban Marjanovic through the Harris trade, and has T.J. McConnell, Jonathon Simmons, and Amir Johnson (to name a few) as a supporting cast. This gives them the ability to always have at least 2 starters on the court at all times; something that often translates to postseason endurance.