NBA Playoffs 2012: One Problem Each Eastern Conference Contender Must Fix Now
Every team in the NBA's Eastern Conference has its problems that it must fix in order to represent the conference in the NBA Finals this season. Certain teams have smaller problems that are better defined as tweaks, while other teams have full-blown problems that could result in a fatal downfall if not addressed.
As of now, the East has two teams in the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat that are definite favorites to meet up in the Eastern Conference finals with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake. If certain second-tier teams can address their problems, the Bulls and the Heat could be dethroned.
With teams having around 20 games left to play in the regular season, there is time to fix problems and go into the playoffs streaking.
New York Knicks
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Linsanity has been great for the New York Knicks and basketball in New York City, but Carmelo Anthony is far and away the best player on the Knicks roster. In order to compete in the East, the Knicks need to run their offense through Anthony.
Through his 29 games with the Knicks this season, Anthony is averaging just 21.2 points per game, his lowest point total since his second year in the NBA, and shooting a career-low field-goal percentage at .401.
Anthony needs to get to the rim, a strength of his game throughout his career, in order to get to the free-throw line. As of now, Anthony is attempting 6.6 free throws per game, which would turn out to be the second-fewest attempts per game in a season since his rookie year.
With an aging roster, the Boston Celtics have struggled to match up with opponents athletically, as exemplified by their poor rebounding numbers. The Celtics are in the bottom five of the league in terms of rebounds per game with 39.1 rebounds per game.
If the Celtics expect to compete in the East, they will need to rebound the basketball in order to get more possessions. The Celtics are also fifth from the bottom in terms of points per game, averaging just 90.5 points per game.
The Celtics have an offense capable of scoring more points with Rajon Rondo running the point and scorers in Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. In order to win, they need to get more points on the board, and the way to do that is to steal possessions by rebounding.
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According to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Slam Online), Josh Smith wants to be dealt before the trade deadline. The Hawks have played well this season and are comfortably in the sixth seed in the East, but to succeed down the stretch and in the playoffs, they need to take care of the Smith situation.
Whether it is trading Smith or working with the player to make up for whatever is going on, the Hawks need to make a decision and act swiftly. This team cannot win with an unhappy superstar on the roster.
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The Indiana Pacers have been one of the biggest surprises this NBA season with a talented young core of players. In order to win in the playoffs, the Pacers will need to start winning some games against the NBA's elite.
The Pacers did beat the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic this season but have also lost to the Bulls, Hawks, Heat, Magic, and 76ers, all playoff-caliber teams.
With such a young team, the experience will come as the Pacers get to play in more and more games with playoff-like intensity, but until they can prove they are capable of competing with the best, they still have a ways to go.
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The biggest issue for the Philadelphia 76ers this season has been their inconsistency scoring the basketball. With the NBA's stingiest defense, giving up just 87.1 points per game, the 76ers just need to consistently put up over 90 points, a number they are more than capable of.
The 76ers have scored under 80 points six different times this season but also reached more than 110 points twice. The 76ers defense will keep them in games, but the offense will need to improve consistently for the team to win a seven-game series.
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If the Orlando Magic trade Dwight Howard, they have little hope to contend in the East this season. In order to be a contender in the East, the Magic need to go out and get Monta Ellis from the Golden State Warriors before the deadline.
A pairing of Howard and Ellis could be lethal in the East and take the Magic from just outside the top tier in the East to squarely inside that realm. Ellis has been extremely underrated next to the Bay and could flourish alongside Howard.
A move could also convince Howard to stay in Orlando past this season and help the Magic compete in the East for the next few seasons.
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The Miami Heat have arguably been the NBA's best team through this point in the season, despite Chicago having a better record. If the Heat are going to repeat as Eastern Conference champions, they will need to do a better job in fourth-quarter, clutch situations.
So much has been made about LeBron James' inability to close out games, but the Heat as a team have struggled, as shown by Udonis Haslem's missed jumper last week. Whether it's James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Haslem, the Heat need to do a better job of converting with the game on the line.
The other solution to the problem is to just blow teams out and not have to worry about game-winning shots, something the Heat have gotten better and better at doing.
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If the Bulls, who currently hold the NBA's top record, are planning on heading to the NBA Finals, they will need to do a better job getting offense outside of Derrick Rose. The league's reigning MVP, Rose is going to be productive each night, but the Bulls are at their best when they don't need to rely entirely on Rose.
Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer will need to consistently score points between the two. They are averaging 30.7 points per game combined and will need to continue putting up those numbers, if not score more points. With great defense, any additional offense to Derrick Rose will make the Bulls even more dangerous than they already are.