By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
BASN’s NBA Previews: A Look At The Eastern Conference
NEW YORK — Yesterday, we took a look at the Western Conference playoff race. Today, I’ll take a quick look at the upcoming Eastern Conference postseason race.
The Atlantic Division will no longer be the Little Sister’s of the Poor and Brokenhearted anymore that’s for sure. Barring injuries to any of the newly acquired gunslingers and high octane scorers the AD should be fun for a while, not to mention very competitive.
For instance four 20 point scores from the West have migrated to the East, (Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Rashard Lewis and Zach Randolph). The first three went via the trade route and Lewis as a free agent to the Orlando Magic.
Consequently, no one in their right basketball mind should even suggest that the Northwest Division featuring the like of the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and the Lottery bound: Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trailblazers and Seattle Sonics are better overall than any of the divisions in the Eastern Conference.
CELTICS (52-30): The glory days in Bean Town may return with the newest addition of the Big Three with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joining the likes of Paul Pierce to formulate what should constitute a very potent offensive attack. The bench or lack thereof may be a cause for concern however. If Ray Allen goes down for any extended period of time there’s really no one that can fill it up from the outside like he can. Eddie House is a terrific shooter, but he can be guarded. Glen “Big Baby” Davis will be a person to keep your eyes on however.
RAPTORS (48-34): The Raptors came from oblivion to surprise the NBA with a first place finish in the Atlantic and did Canada proud as well. Well the division is quite tougher now and the Raptors aren’t a surprise anymore. Barring injury, they should still be a first round and out playoff team. Carlos Delfino and Jason Kapono will make life better for Chris Bosh. And Andrea Bargnani should fare a lot better after being over the shock and trauma of being the first overall pick in last season’s draft.
NETS (47-35): New Jersey’s version of the Big Three is Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. Kidd is getting older but he seems to still be getting better. The Nets want to cut down his minutes but how can they when the backups seem to always either go down with injury’s or they’re just not good back ups to start with. A healthy return to form in Nenad Kristic will make matter run rather smoothly also. And don’t discount the importance of free agent signee macho forward Jamaal Magloire. The one time All-Star should find new life getting passes from Kidd. Antoine Wright should have something to prove after not getting his contract extended thus making him an unrestricted free agent next summer.
KNICKS (43-39): Trouble or drama always seems to find its way to MSG, (Madison Square Garden) the place where the Knicks play their home games. I could be the coach, the players or even the owners. But, there’s no denying this years version with the addition of Zach Randolph and his 23 points per game and 10 plus rebounds per game. Will he be able to stay out of trouble is a big question. People ought to stop questioning whether or not Randolph and center Eddy Curry can work together. Well why not? One is a center and the other is a power forward. It’s not like eons ago when then coach Hubie Brown tried to make Patrick Ewing who was a true center into a power forward to play alongside Bill Cartwright. Randolph is a power forward; has been and always will be. Beside he has a deft touch from the outside. Keep an eye on Rookie Wilson Chandler.
SIXERS (29-53): The boys from Philly have the least talented team in the division but they have arguably the second best point guard in the division in last year trade acquisition Andre Miller, who runs the show impeccably. Some say that the Sixers became more of a team once Allen Iverson left. Burning question though is can their big guy Samuel Dalembert stay healthy for a long period of time. That is a cause of concern. This will be a long season and don’t be surprised if Miller is traded to a contender ala the Miami Heat sometime around the trade deadline.
The Central Division has had a representative in the NBA Finals three times in the last five years. Will the Chicago Bulls make it back to the land of glory this year for the first time since His Airness retired?
PISTONS (55-27): The regular season has been pretty sweet for the Boys from Motown. It’s the winning of the whole enchilada that has been the problem; and this despite numerous visits to the playoffs and Conference Final appearances. Will the infusion of young talent make the difference? A trimmed down and healthy Rasheed Wallace and rookie Rodney Stuckey could be real difference makers for this team that should come out of the East.
BULLS (51-31): The Bulls despite not having a true low post presence appear to be onto something special. But, they may rue the day they passed on 7-footer Spencer Hawes who was picked by the Sacramento Kings. If Kobe comes and is teamed up with Luol Deng as has been rumored then the bulls really be interesting. It will also be interesting to see how Kobe and head coach Scott Skiles will get along after the honeymoon period is over. Joakim Noah could loom large if he’s not included in any trades. But, he and last years rookie surprise Tyrus Thomas do basically the very same things.
BUCKS (42-40): This Milwaukee team resembled a MASH unit last season. Few teams in the NBA had as many injuries to key personnel as the Bucks. With everyone back and with a new coach in Larry Krystkowiak given a full training camp, this team will surprise a lot of people. Michael Redd and Charlie Villanueva will continue to put up big numbers as will scoring point, Mo Williams. Rookie Yi Jianlian could turn out to be better than advertised and Desmond Mason will help in the defense department. Center Andrew Bogut could be primed for a breakout year.
CAVALIERS (42-40): The James Gang made it to the NBA Finals in an upset over the Pistons. But, with the unsigned core players in Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic from last years squad, depth and chemistry may be a major cause for concern. Also the immediate happiness of LeBron if the team starts to lose and lose big can be a cause of major concern. The Cavs were a horrible 1-6 in the preseason. Also he and his other superstar friends, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony re-upped with their respective teams; the Cavs shouldn’t take things for granted. Larry Hughes if he’s healthy can make a huge difference as will the immergence of NBA Final’s star, Daniel Gibson.
PACERS (28-54): This franchise seems to always have some sort of turmoil with its players (off the court). There is talent however; it’s just a matter of who stays and who goes. Will Jermaine O’Neal force a trade or if he stays, will he remain healthy for a better part of the season? They have a new coach in retread Jim O’Brien who vows to install an up-tempo offense, but will that make any difference. Perhaps a healthy Jamaal Tinsley could make matters easy. Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Troy Murphy along with Ike Diogu could form a formidable frontcourt but it won’t enough.
The Southeast Division high-flyers and scores aplenty; but it also seems to have the teams with the worst cases of the injury bug to their prime time players too. Are they healthy enough to be a force again remains to be seen.
MAGIC (50-32): Jeff’s brother Stan Van Gundy took the Orlando job just after University of Florida coach Billy Donovan accepted and then passed on it leaving the Magic scrambling for a coach. That may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the team where Mickey Mouse lives. Why? Because historically no matter how successful a coach in college was it didn’t translate to the same in the NBA. Rashard Lewis signed with the Magic for super-duper star money to team up with super stud Dwight Howard, but is he really worth it. After all, although his jump shot is lethal, he’s not a great rebounder and is a below average defender. J.J. Redick should begin to come of age this season. The Magic barring injury should enjoy a division title for the first time since the Shaq age.
WIZARDS (49-33): One mustn’t forget that for the first half of the season the Wiz was the dominant team in the East. Their Big Three version (Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamision) was potent. So much so that Coach Eddie Jordan was awarded as the head coach for last season’s All-Star game in Vegas. But, after that the team turned into another version of a MASH unit. The question now is their stars fully recovered their season ending injuries? A healthy Arenas and Butler will push the Magic for division supremacy. Rookie Nick Young is a dunking machine with lots of moxie and should make the Wizard rotation very interesting. Jamison is in his contract year so look for big numbers from him also.
HEAT (40-42): The Miami guys are getting older and more brittle before our very eyes. Shaq is said to be in terrific shape while Dwayne Wade is still on the injured list. The Heat had made a significant move to improve the roster until recently, let’s just see if that move doesn’t backfire. Ricky Davis came back to the Heat but will he bring the heat. He’s an explosive scorer but with that be enough to stave off Lottery-ville until Wade returns in December. Udonis Haslem will have more freedom to score now that Antoine Walker has been shipped to Siberia, oops, I meant Minnesota.
HAWKS (35-42): These young flying birds from Atlanta are tired of missing the playoff party. The team is vastly improved and its athletism is off the charts overall; but will that be enough to push the team over the hump and thus save head coach Mike Woodson’s job? Rookie’s Al Horford and A.C. Law were big winners and big scorers in college. Horford seems to be more NBA ready than any of the early entry new jacks so look for big things and possible Rookie of the Year award contention along with Seattle’s Kevin Durant. Law will do wonders also for the point guard starved Hawks. Smith who was not extended a contract should be quite hungry and Marvin Williams who more than likely came out a year or two too soon out of the University of North Carolina should be primed for a big season.
BOBCATS (30-52): The team that Michael Jordan bought into and built has been decimated by injuries. Stud center Emeka Okafor hasn’t played an injury free season yet and the Bobcats just lost Adam Morrison and Sean May to season ending leg injuries. Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace will put up big numbers and perhaps make highlight reels aplenty. But will that be enough to compensate for the lack of big man depth remains to be seen. Matt Carroll, who Michael Jordan loves, should continue his stellar play as Morrison will not be around to eat up his minutes in the rotation. The Lottery will be their home once again.
Conference Champ: Pistons .