Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA preseason kicks off tonight and the New York Knicks are riding high.

The team and its fans should be excited ahead of the new season. New York won 47 games last year en route to the East Semifinals. The Knicks lost to eventual Eastern Conference champs Miami, but weren’t complacent like they were two years ago. They’re running it back the right way, having extended Josh Hart and added a much-needed shooter in Donte DiVincenzo.

However, matching or even exceeding last year’s win total won’t be easy. DraftKings puts their over/under at 44.5, a healthy estimate considering what to expect this season. Everything from injuries to regression to the mean. All things considered, the Knicks are in a good position to make the playoffs again.

But the East is more competitive this year, thanks to a pair of new sheriffs on two regular title contenders. The Knicks definitely have their work cut out for them, so who stands in the way between them and a deep playoff run?

Milwaukee Bucks. Damian Lillard has departed Portland for, literally, greener pastures. He made the move in a three-team deal which saw Milwaukee send veteran Jrue Holiday to Portland. Not only is Lillard the more traditional scoring point guard the Bucks need to complement Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he posted a 4.7 VORP last year to Holiday’s 2.8. In baseball terms, that’s a 12.7 WAR replacing a 7.5.

Add the Bucks’ size and army of floor spacers, plus new coach Adrian Griffin, and the top seed in the East is theirs to lose.

Boston Celtics. And speaking of Jrue Holiday, he was in Portland for about ten minutes before shipping east to Boston (cue music accordingly). His scoring and defense alongside Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum could finally bring the Celtics’ play into the 21st century. Now, add former Knick Kristaps Porzingis.

Barring another coaching meltdown from Joe Mazzulla, Boston should rest easy at or near the top of the East again.

Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland rocks thanks to native New Yorker Donovan “Spida” Mitchell, who exploded for a career-high 28.3 points per game in his first year with the Cavs. He’s joined by a great supporting cast, namely point guard Darius Garland. However, though talented, Cleveland’s 51 wins last year in a fairly weak division aside from Milwaukee. They’ll still make the playoffs and be good, but not 51 wins good.

Miami Heat. We conclude with the Knicks’ longtime rival, who joined New York last year as the only No. 8 seed to make the NBA Finals. They lost to the Nuggets but Jimmy Butler made it clear. His team, though untraditional, was better than its seeding. Even without key role players like Cody Zeller and Max Strus, this is a tough defensive team that can get hot in a hurry.

Throw in Erik Spoelstra’s chess-like coaching that ultimately sunk the Knicks last year, and the Heat’s flame will still burn bright in 2024.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.