Orlando Magic stuck in between: Eastern Conference Power Rankings

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Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics, Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic
Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics finally had their breakthrough into the NBA Finals. But they lacked the precision in the end to finish the job. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Preseason Eastern Conference Power Rankings

Title Contenders

18. . . . Boston Celtics. 1. team

It is hard to start anywhere but with the defending conference champions.

Despite some obvious flaws that popped up during the course of their playoff run and certainly in the NBA Finals, they still did the job. The Boston Celtics beat the defending champion, Milwaukee Bucks, in the conference semifinals and outlasted the tough Miami Heat, in a bit of revenge for their 2020 Eastern Conference Finals loss.

The Celtics have their stars in place with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They have a clear defensive identity with their ability to switch 1 through 5 even while pairing their two big men in Al Horford and Robert Williams. They are defensive terrors with their length, versatility and smarts (including Marcus Smart).

Boston did not rest on its laurels this offseason either.

The team went out to solve some of its offensive shortcomings, grabbing Malcolm Brogdon from the Indiana Pacers and Danilo Gallinari from the Atlanta Hawks. Both should give the Celtics some needed shooting and the ability to play small.

Boston did not sacrifice much defense and returns all of their rotation players. There is no reason to think the Celtics cannot make another deep playoff run.

Milwaukee Bucks. 2. team. 89. . .

The Milwaukee Bucks were probably stewing all offseason thinking of what could have been.

If Khris Middleton does not get injured in their first-round series with the Chicago Bulls, the outcome of the NBA in 2022 might have been very different. Even without Middleton, the Milwaukee Bucks took the Boston Celtics to seven games and had a chance to close out the series at home in Game 6. Milwaukee ran out of steam and Boston was finally able to bottle up Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks did not get the chance to defend their title. Doubt their ability to bounce back at your own risk.

Milwaukee has perhaps the best player in the league still in Antetokounmpo. And the team certainly has the continuity factor playing in its favor. That is more than enough to get the team into title contention yet again.

The Bucks return virtually every player from their roster last year — notably re-signing Bobby Portis. But they lost some key role players in the process. The team added Joe Ingles, who should be a great cultural fit. But he will be out until at least the winter or spring recovering from a torn ACL.

The Bucks should still be considered a top contender. But the team may not be one of the top seeds as they pace themselves again through the season.