By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
When The East Is In The House
ALABAMA — Okay let’s be realistic. Who in their right mind thinks an Eastern Conference team will win the NBA Championship? No one. Unless you reside in the Boston or Detroit areas, there’s no reason to even dream of a title this year. Or is there? Let’s look at the contenders and pretenders.
Boston Celtics: The Celtics are the East’s flag bearer heading into the post season. They have the starting ingredients to make a double-decker chocolate cake, but can their young bench continue to play veteran-like basketball?
Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce form the most lethal trio in basketball and while their scoring and unselfishness are well documented, less publicized is their defense; spearheaded by Garnett.
If Rajon Rondo, Glen “Big Baby Davis and other role guys like Leon Powe can continue to come up big in key spots, Boston is nearly infallible in the East. The addition of veteran guard Sam “I Am” Cassell will prove invaluable in a tight series.
Detroit Pistons: What Boston boasts in explosiveness from their big three is matched only be the Pistons. In fact, I might even be inclined to say Detroit’s big three of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace may be better. Boston’s lack of playoff experience could be its ultimate downfall, but it may come down to bench play.
In Motown it starts with defense, especially on the perimeter. Rookies Aaron Afflalo and Rodney Stuckey are big, physical guards, while Lindsey Hunter provides playoff savvy; length and timely shooting that give the Pistons the advantage head-to-head. I’d still like to see Wallace post more often though.
Orlando Magic: All-Star Dwight Howard has become the most dominant big man on the east coast with his combination of size, skills and tenacity around the basket. But is Orlando ready to become a beast of the east? Quietly, Hedo Turkoglu has been an assassin from the perimeter and has fit in nicely as the four-man. Along with swingman Rashard Lewis, the Magic have plenty of scoring.
But can they defend? I don’t know, but what they have proven is that they can win on the road. They have an impressive road record and have beaten both the Celtics and Pistons twice. Bottom line is Orlando’s backcourt scares me a little. I’m not sure if Jameer Nelson and Keith Bogans scare opponents though.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Before the Cavs picked up Ben Wallace, Wally Sczerbiak and Delonte West; I had this team in the pretender’s category. But the Cavs have proven they’re at least willing to slug it out with the East’s big boys. The key acquisition is not the aging Wallace or Sczerbiak; both are looking at their best days in the rear view mirror.
West was the trump card in the deal and instantly provided the offensively challenged Cavs and big point guard that can spread the ball around and take pressure off the league’s most complete player, LeBron James. Now that James doesn’t have to set everyone up including himself, he can be fresh in the fourth and facilitate when he wants to and not because he has to. LeBron has done more with less and I don’t think they score enough, but James can carry them deep.
Washington Wizards: Is it possible that this team whose two best players, Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas, have missed a combined total of 84 games this season still be in position for a pretty good seed in the playoffs? Well, they do play in the Eastern Conference.
Beyond that, with Arenas and Butler coming back just in time for the playoffs and All-Star forward Antawn Jamison clicking on all cylinders, Washington has the best threesome surpassed only by Boston. The Wiz has a shot to do some damage to the upper tier teams. If nothing else they can prolong a series or two against the favorites.
Philadelphia 76ers: Yeah, that’s right, the Sixers. If they qualify for the playoffs Mo Cheeks has to be Coach of the Year. We’re talking about a team who finally gave up on A.I. last season and shipped him to Denver. Traded its best shooter in Kyle Korver and oh yeah, did I mention they fired GM Billy King? After all of that they’re still in great position to secure a playoff spot.
Currently, they are a six-seed and breathing down the neck of fifth-seed Washington. It all starts with forward Andre Igoudala. The high-flyer leads the team in scoring. Andre Miller sets the table, but also chips in 17 ppg. Sam Dalembert is a defensive force in the middle; Philly plays inspiring defense that keeps them in games, despite not turning you over. Still, the Sixers struggle at times in the half court on offense and have virtually no playoff experience.
Okay, we all know it will come down to Boston and Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Wizards have the fire power to compete. Cleveland has LeBron. Enough said. Orlando is young and hungry. Philadelphia is the hottest right now.
It should be interesting, but the heavyweights will prevail. After that…who knows.