Contenders and Pretenders in the Eastern Conference: Are the Knicks a true threat?

The Knicks are a top team in the East.

New York Knicks, Jalen Brunson
New York Knicks, Jalen Brunson / Dustin Satloff/GettyImages
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Pretender: Indiana Pacers (37-30)

Tyrese Haliburton is great. Pascal Siakam was a good acquisition. The Pacers have returned to the playoff conversation, and deservedly so.

However, Indiana's defense will be the main reason the team falls short in the postseason. The Pacers hold the 25th-worst defensive rating in the league (118.4) and the second-best offensive rating (120). They average 123.1 points per game, but that won't be enough for their first series win in 10 years.

If Indiana was a well-rounded team, the Pacers would be scary.

Contender: Milwaukee Bucks (43-24)

The Bucks aren't listed as a pretender because of Giannis Antetokounmpo. As long as he's healthy, Milwaukee is a threat. There's a reason he's a two-time regular-season MVP and a one-time NBA Finals MVP.

Many thought the Bucks were a lock to win their second championship in franchise history when they traded for Lillard. It turns out that it doesn't matter how much offensive firepower you have; defense is still important. Their struggles on that end, as well as their midseason coaching change, make Milwaukee unreliable.

The Bucks will get a boost when Khris Middleton returns. As surprising as it wouldn't be if they were ousted in the first round (again), it wouldn't be surprising if they fought their way to the NBA Finals. Again, you can't count out Antetokounmpo.