NBA's Eastern Conference shows two favorites and plenty of contenders

The NBA's Eastern Conference might finally be able to challenge the longtime dominance of the West. Heading into the 2021-22 season, it's shaping up as two teams to beat and plenty of contenders:

1, Brooklyn: Even if Kyrie Irving never plays, Kevin Durant and James Harden alone make the Nets the team to beat. They added Paul Millsap, LaMarcus Aldridge and Patty Mills over the summer.

2. Milwaukee: The Bucks seemed vulnerable at times during their championship run, but stayed healthier than some other teams. Will the good fortune continue?

3. Miami: The short offseason took its toll, but expect Jimmy Butler and the rest of 2020 East champs to regroup for another run. The Heat added Kyle Lowry and will keep hoping Victor Oladipo finally stays healthy.

4. Philadelphia: Hard to tell which way this one is going to go after Ben Simmons asked out, then came back. Joel Embiid might be the league's most unstoppable player, but who knows what the chemistry will look like?

5. Atlanta: Trae Young showed last year he can carry a team to the conference finals. The Hawks could be better this year, considering their best defender, DeAndre Hunter, missed the playoffs.

6. Boston: It's crazy how many pieces the Celtics have lost the last few years. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are still here, while Dennis Schroder replaces Kemba Walker.

7. Bulls: How good can the Bulls be after their radical makeover? That might be the biggest variable in the East.

8. New York: Coach Tom Thibodeau worked another miracle, lifting the Knicks to the No. 4 seed. But it seemed like New York had more chemistry than talent. Maybe Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier can help.

9. Indiana: On paper, the Pacers lineup looks tough, with Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert, etc. Staying healthy has been the defining problem.

10. Charlotte: LaMelo Ball made a quick splash, winning rookie of the year. The Hornets need some consistency from guys like Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington.

11. Toronto: The Raptors are trying to rebuild on the fly, keeping championship pieces like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet and adding rookie Scottie Barnes.

12. Washington: Russell Westbrook was one and done in DC. Now Spencer Dinwiddie is Bradley Beal's new backcourt running mate.

13. Cleveland: Cavs have a nice young nucleus, led by guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, but not much veteran help. If Lauri Markkanen can get back on the upswing, it will help.

13. Detroit: The Pistons got good performances from Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey last season. Working in No. 1 draft pick Cade Cunningham could be a slow process.

14. Orlando: The Magic is basically starting over, as two Top 10 picks (Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner) join center Wendell Carter Jr.

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Even if Kyrie Irving never plays, Kevin Durant and James Harden alone make the Nets the team to beat. Associated Press
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