Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NBA Preview: Eastern Conference

Like I've said all along, I'm doing an NBA preview post this season. And this isn't some joke to me. I've done some thorough research this year courtesy of several preview magazines and my newfound ability to watch hours upon hours of NBA TV. This season, with the help of NBA League Pass, I will become completely enthralled with everything NBA, and as many of you know already that means a lot of Wizards and a lot my favorite player, Gilbert Arenas.

And since this is going to be long, I'm separating it into an Eastern Conference post and a Western Conference post. Speaking of which, this is the season I think the East finally takes some steps toward regaining some credibility in regards to to the West. Looking back now, Lebron James' ridiculousness aside, I think it's a total joke the Cavs made the finals last year. They were literally a one-man team. Give them credit, they won the conference, but the fact they won just goes to show how bad the East was.

The rankings here reflect how I think each team will be seeded come playoff time. That means it isn't necessarily in order of each team's records. This is going to be comprehensive so if you want to see how I think the playoffs will fall out, go check the bottom of this post immediately. I'm also going to include a player on each team that I think will step up and take a step back int he upcoming campaign. So if you want to actually know something about the greatest league in the world....

Eastern Conference preview
1. Chicago Bulls
Luol Deng showed he can carry a team last postseason when he absolutely destroyed the Miami Heat. Ben Gordon can put up 20 points whenever he wants. But their calling card hasn't changed one bit. Scott Skiles gets this team to play ridiculous defense. There aren't many teams that can take it to the rim on a consistent basis when Tyrus Thomas and Ben Wallace are patrolling the lane. The Bulls might have the best front court depth in the East, having added Joakim Noah and Joe Smith to go alongside Wallace, Thomas and Andres Nocioni.

Frontcourt depth is nice, but when they are all average at best on the offensive end, it's a problem. Without a premier offensive stud, the Bulls desperately need a third scorer to complement the solidness of Deng and Gordon. Kirk Henrich isn't that guy and should be the sixth man if the Bulls could have their way. That being said, the defense night in and night out will get them the best record in the east. But the playoffs depend on a dependable scorer.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Tyrus Thomas
Player That Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Ben Wallace

2. Boston Celtics
They're the talk of the NBA having added KG and Ray Allen. Everybody's considering them the new "Big Three". And rightfully so, considering each scored atleast 22 points per game last season. There's only two problems, though. They have no one besides their big three...and I don't think there's enough shots for the three of them to coexist. For this to work, someone is going to need to take a backseat. You can have two stars who demand the ball, but having three is next to impossible. There's just not enough shots to go around. Paul Pierce is someone who demands the ball to be successful. Ray Allen needs the ball off screens to get that shot off. So that leaves KG. Will he defer to win a title even though he's probably better than both Allen and Pierce.

If he does, there's no telling how far this team can go. Nobody will be able to match up with this trio (not even this biased Wiz fan can say Gil, Caron and Tawn are better than them). Oh, let's not ignore the fact that the Celtics have no one to back up Rajon Rando at point guard. And despite his promise to be a better shooter this year, I can't get past his 20 percent clip from 3-point range last year. Rando probably won't hurt their chances until conference title time, though.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: James Posey
Player That Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Rajon Rando

3. Washington Wizards
Now, I know what you're saying to yourself. How can we take thi seriously when we all know what a ridiculous home team bias Mark has? But I'm not saying they will have the third-best record, I'm just predicting the Wiz kids to win the Southeast Division, which would put them in the third slot come postseason time. No one can deny that before the injury bug hit them, the Wizards had the best record in the Eastern Conference. Their style of play creates huge issues for teams like the Bulls and Pistons. Besides Boston (if the cohesion works) boasts a better scoring trio than Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, and Gilbert Arenas. Add in my prediction of an Andray Blatche emergence, and this is a conference contender in my opinion.

There are certainly some issues, though. Will this team actually play defense for more than a game at a time? Can Gilbert return from his knee injury (he's been a little too passive to me this offseason)? Now, with Etan Thomas likely gone for the season with heart issues, the Wiz must rely solely on Brendan Haywood in the post to contend with the likes of Garnett and Shaq. Remember, Haywood sits down to pee, so that's a huge issue. But I have an inkling the D will be a little better and Gilbert will round into top form about a month into the season. The lack of any inside difference maker (unless Blatche does something remarkable) could be their downfall.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Andray Blatche
Player That Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Brendan Haywood

4. Detroit Pistons
They've got the same team as last year, only a year older. It seemed like this group gave up in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs last year. That being said, the hunger has to have returned given the amount of criticism they got from the Detroit media this offseason. This is probably the Stones last chance to realistically make it to the NBA Finals. If they can stay healthy, though, they know how to win basketball games and should be in the thick of things in the East. But the age factor really concerns me injury wise.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Rodney Stuckey
Player That Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Jarvis Hayes

5. Miami Heat
They've still got Shaq and Dwayne, so they will be a force to be reckoned with if they can make the playoffs. But Wade will likely miss a good chunk of the early part of the season, and Shaq hasn't shown he can play an 82-game season in quite some time. They added Ricky Davis last week after getting anal-ravaged by the Bulls last year. I can see guys like Wade and Shaq finally getting him to put his greediness aside for once. Hopefully, they can sneak into the playoffs because we all know if Dwayne and Shaq are healthy, they can carry a team to the NBA Finals.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Ricky Davis
Player That Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Smush Parker

6. New Jersey Nets
This just goes to show how improved the east should be this year. The Nets are just getting completely lost in the shuffle. They've got Jason Kidd, VC, and Jefferson — all three of whom can score 25 on any given night. If Nenad Kristic can finally get healthy (that's a big if) that's four very capable players in the starting lineup. The keys to the season are going to be the play of Jamaal Magloire and Vince Carter. If Magloire can create that defensive precense desperately needed to combat Garnett and the like, this team could very likely go a long way. And if Vince doesn't settle for too many jumpers, his game is as good as anyone's in the NBA. That being said, Kristic is still on the shelf, and we all know VC has no balls around the basket.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Jamaal Magloire
Player Who Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Marcus Williams

7. Toronto Raptors
This team is good, scary good if they can stay healthy. The only problem is the key to the Raptors success is Chris Bosh and he's been hurt a lot this preseason. he says he's healthy, but for some reason my gut tells me he's going to miss some time this year because of nagging stuff. Andrea Bargnani showed last year why he was a No. 1 pick, displaying potential to be quite the complement to Bosh. I'm expecting a big jump in production from him. Is it enough to make them one of the elite? I don't see it. They're one player away.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Andrea Bargnani
Player Who Will Get Lot of Coach Frowns: Jorge Garbajosa

8. Cleveland Cavaliers
Yeah, I know you might have let out a deep gasp at putting the defending conference champs this low, but you had to see it coming with my intro to this. They added virtually nothing in the offseason, and still haven't settled contract disputes with Anderson Varejao or Sasha Pavlovic. I have zero respect for Mike Brown the offensive coach, and I'm still not sold on LeBron being a 48-minute player the entire regular season. They're counting on Daniel Gibson producing like he did in the playoffs, but he came down to earth against the Spurs in the Finals Yes, LeBron can get this team to the playoffs again. But last year was more a product of everyone sucking ass than the Cavs being any good.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Larry Hughes
Player Who Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns:Donyell Marshall (the fact he still gets minutes boggles my mind)

9. New York Knicks
Oh yeah, they got Zach Randolph. Another player who demands the ball in the low post to go alongside Eddy Curry. But the Knicks say they like it on opposite sides of the paint, so it will work. I don't buy it and I'm definitely not sold on the whole Zach Randolph is going to stay out of trouble now that he's moved away from the dangerous streets of Portland, Oregon and into the tranquility of New York City. They have the talent to make the playoffs, but there's too many egos to massage, and not enough role players. The Steph-Crawford-Curry-Randolph quartet could work with the right coach, say Phil Jackson, but Isiah Thomas is notorious for being a fucking moron (I love how I just said thas if no one knew that).

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Jamal Crawford
Player Who Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Quentin Richardson

10. Charlotte Bobcats
If the Bobcats had the roster they have now in the 06-07 season, they would make the playoffs. But like I said, the east is much improved. But so are the Boobcats (hehe) with the addition of Jason Richardson. Apparently Michael Jordan is trying to re-create the old Bulls squads with this year's Bobcats. I can see Emeka Okafor as the Horace Grant and Raymond Felton as the B.J. Armstrong. Although they lost the prottypical John paxson when Adam Morrison went down to an ACL tear, they've still got newly-overpaid Adam Carroll to knock down the open jumper. I'm even willing to accept that Gerald Wallace could fill a Scottie Pippen-like role with his deep as shit southern accent and garbage-around-the-basket socring ability. But J-Rich as MJ. About the only thing he's got going for him is the same number as his airness. Sorry Boobcats. I don't see a playoff bid just yet.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Walter Hermann
Player Who Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Raymond Felton

11. Orlando Magic
Everyone was giving them shit for signing Rashard Lewis to that absurd deal, and I must admit they did overpay for him. But lost in the shuffle was the fact the Magic added a bonafide 20-point a game scorer to go alongside Dwight Howard. And as I walked to class today I started thinking about what that combo could do in the East this season. At first I was optimistic about the possibilities for a team with an up-and-coming-star in Howard. But the cupboard's pretty bare after that. Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick are slotted as their starting guards. And as much as I like J.J. he shouldn't be starting in any NBA lineup right now. No guards, means not playoffs this year in the revamped east.

That's DHoward kissing the rim in high school. WOW!

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Pat Garrity
Player Who Will get Lots of Coach Frowns: Carlos Arroyo

12. Milwaukee Bucks
Their season went down in flames because of Michael Redd's injury last year. redd's back and fresh off an incredible shooting display at the FIBA thing this summer with Team USA. They added Desmond Mason and always-reliable Bobby Simmons is back healthy again as well. The season will come down to the development of former No. 1 Andrew Bogut. He's been a pretty big bust so far, and if he doesn't make dramatic steps this year, his time in the 'Wauk might be dwindling down.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Charlie Villaneuva
Player Who Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Yi Jianlin

13. Philadelphia 76ers
Talent-wise this is the worst team in the conference. I pretty much don't like anything about the roster except Kyle Korver's shooting ability. Andre Miller has always been good, but blah. Andre Igoudala is a better version of Brent Petway (not a compliment). Their big free agent aquisition was Reggie Evans. REGGIE EVANS! But dammit, they won a bunch of games with this roster full of no-talent assclowns. I just can't pick them lower than this given how scrappy they played. They'll be like the Nationals were in the NL this season.

Player Who Make Me Look Smart: Willie Green
Player Who Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Rodney Carney

14. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers just straight suck now. Their "star" is on the decline and will likely be traded before the deadline this season. Jim O'Brien was brought in to coach this collection of decent players, but there's just no star. That's a problem in a star-driven league like the NBA. Jamaal Tinsley is not the right point guard for O'Brien, who says he wants to go uptempo even though we all know he's one of those 'we gotta play defense' coaches. Bad team, just a bad team. Expect Marquis Daniels to be the starter eventually.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Marquis Daniels
Player Who Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Troy Murphy

15. Atlanta Hawks
This team has had so many God damn high draft picks go to waste over the years it's getting kind of ridiculous. Their roster is littered with high selections who have done next to nothing so far. Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Shelden Willaims. Just horrendous...I like Joe Johnson. Smart move by him leaving Steve Nash.

Player Who Will Make Me Look Smart: Acie Law
Player Who Will Get Lots of Coach Frowns: Josh Smith

How the playoffs will go down
Bulls vs. Cavs -- Bulls in 4
Pistons vs. Heat -- Heat in 5
Celtics vs. Raptors -- Celtics in 3
Wizards vs. Nets -- Wiz in 5

Bulls vs. Heat -- Heat in 7
Celtics vs. Wizards -- Celtics in 6

Celtics vs. Heat -- Heat in 7

I feel like by giving the Heat the No. 5 seed, I've accounted for the prolonged absense of DWade in the opening month of the season. That being said, his legs should be well rested after nearly a season on the shelf. When it comes down to it, in a playoff series with DWade healthy, I just don't see anyone being able to stop him. It would help if Shaq had one of those well-timed renaissance seasons, too. I realize this isn't a popualr pick, with many thinking the Heat are done (which they very well could be). But I just have a problem — a mental block if you will — with picking against a healthy Dwayne Wade.

Western Conference Preview coming tomorrow despite the season starting in a couple hours.

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