With the NBA starting in a couple days, I’ll be giving you my team-by-team breakdown, starting with the Eastern Conference.
Boston – The original “Big Thee” isn’t getting any younger. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are 34, 35 and 36 respectively. The loss of Jeff Green hurts. Still, I think the C’s have another year in them to make a run to a division title and the playoffs. Once they make the playoffs? That could be a different story.
New York – The Knicks clearly have the talent at the top to compete with anyone, their concern has to be depth. The addition of Tyson Chandlers is huge and should impact the entire team’s defensive attitude. This team should definitely be an improvement over what we saw at the end of last season now that they’ve had some time to play together.
Philadelphia – The Sixers showed promising signs in last year’s game four against the Heat. It’s a team with some good young talent led by Jrue Holiday. I don’t think they have enough to compete with the top two in the Atlantic yet, but it’ll be another playoff year.
New Jersey – There are way too many questions to put the Nets any higher. They might end up with Dwight Howard by the end of the season, but it’s by no means a given. And what dent will they have to make in their own already thin talent pool to get him? Deron Williams can only do so much.
Toronto – Pretty clearly the choice for the bottom of this division. When Andrea Bargnani is your top scorer, you know there’s a lot of room for improvement. The bottom of the Eastern conference is really bad, and the Raptors may be the worst.
Chicago – The Bulls are a serious title contender. The addition of Rip Hamilton will be huge, and Derrick Rose will only get better from his MVP season last year. Boozer, Noah and Deng make up a very solid frontcourt that has a year of playing together under their belts. The Bulls have the best chance to take down the Heat in the East.
Indiana – The Pacers are my sleeper pick in the East. They quietly made some nice moves in the offseason, headlined by the acquisition of David West. With Tyler Hansborough, Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison, this young team will continue to improve offensively. Especially in the Central Division, this is a squad that can win a lot of games. I don’t think hosting a playoff series is out of the question.
Milwaukee – After Indiana, there’s a huge drop-off in the Central. The Bucks don’t have any consistency between Andrew Bogut’s injury problems and Brandon Jennings being Brandon Jennings. It’s going to be (yet another) rebuilding year in Milwaukee without getting much of anywhere.
Detroit – The glory years seem a long time ago in Detroit. Pistons fans don’t have much to look forward to this year. Between an abysmal defense and a new coach, the Cavaliers are the only thing keeping the Pistons out of last place.
Cleveland – It’s going to be another long year for the post-LeBron Cavs. Kyrie Irving should be fun to watch (if he can stay healthy) but they really don’t have much more. It’s looking like another good chance at the number one pick.
Miami – It’s championship or bust for the Heatles. Last year they got a bit of a pass, it being their first year together, but this year there’s no excuse. The addition of Shane Battier will help, but it’s really all up to LeBron James. He absolutely has to be better than what we saw in the finals last year, and I think he will be.
Atlanta – The Hawks are stuck where they’re good enough to be in the playoffs pretty securely, but an entire level below the East’s top teams. They’ll pick up some good wins, but they won’t be consistent enough to make too much noise.
Orlando – Given the likelihood that Dwight Howard will be gone by the trade deadline, it’s hard to come up with an clear prediction of the Magic. They have good, but aging, shooters and they play defense well. But without Howard, putting the pieces together to win a playoff series could be difficult.
Washington – The Wizards should be better – but not by much. I don’t see John Wall struggling as much as he did last year, but he doesn’t have a ton of talent around him. They’ll compete with the Bobcats for last place in the Southeast.
Charlotte – I think Kemba Walker will be have a good rookie year, but when your starting center is a 6-8 Boris Diaw you’re going to have some issues in the NBA. Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace are gone, so the Bobcats are my pick for the worst record in the League.
Predicted Conference Stanings:
1. Miami Heat*
2. Chicago Bulls*
3. Boston Celtics*
4. Indiana Pacers
5. New York Knicks
6. Philadelphia 76ers
7. Atlanta Hawks
8. Orlando Magic
9. Milwaukee Bucks
10. New Jersey Nets
11. Detroit Pistons
12. Washington Wizards
13. Cleveland Cavaliers
14. Toronto Raptors
15. Charlotte Bobcats
Heat over Magic
Bulls over Hawks
76ers over Celtics
Knicks over Pacers
Heat over Knicks
Bulls over 76ers
Heat over Bulls