NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference Expectations

Akshay MadhavanContributor IApril 16, 2009

BOSTON - JUNE 17:  The Boston Celtics celebrate with the Larry O'Brien Trophy after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Five of the 2008 NBA Finals on June 17, 2008 at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In a rare personnel miscalculation, Joe Dumars traded his team’s engine (Chauncey Billups) for the volatile Allen Iverson, and oh how the Pistons have fallen.

A year after finishing with the league’s second best record and making their now customary trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, they’ve had a 20 game drop to finish with the eighth seed in the East and barely make the playoffs.

While expectations are low, this team still retains a lot of its weapons from years before. Nobody thinks they can dislodge the mighty Cavaliers, the NBA’s best team, but nobody would be surprised if the Pistons showed some resilience and took this series to a hard fought six or even seven games.

Chicago Bulls

In being handed a playoff matchup against the defending champion Celtics as opposed to the Orlando Magic, Chicago has only itself to blame.

With a team that was only sometime ago considered on par with Portland for young talent, the Bulls have no excuse for finishing the season with a .500 record.

Their post-season expectations mirror their underachieving regular season as guard Kirk Hinrich beautifully captures when he says: “We’re excited to be in the postseason. We’re going to try to get ready.”

Philadelphia 76ers

Their season ended the day Elton Brand was ruled out for the remainder of it.

Having contrived to avoid the Celtics in the first round, it is possible that they might have a chance of an upset of the young, but still formidable Magic.

While they are 0-3 against the Magic this year, Iguodala (who led the league in averaging almost 40 mins a game) and co. should really want to prove themselves as worthy of a sixth seed, and a team better than its .500 record might suggest.

Miami Heat

D-Wade gets a chance to put some icing on his already legendary comeback and this team only goes as far as he does.

If there is a one man team in the NBA, this is it, and if there is one man you don’t want to face in the post-season, that would be Wade.

The comparisons to the 2006 Lakers squad on Kobe’s shoulders have been made ad nauseam, but the Heat don’t have to play the Phoenix Suns in the first round (Lakers took a 3-1 lead and then lost the next three).

We can all expect some fireworks in their series against the Hawks, and anything from then on is a bonus.

Atlanta Hawks

A year after pushing the Celtics to seven games in a first round matchup, more was expected of the Atlanta Hawks than they’ve managed to deliver.

That said, they’ve secured home court for their first round series and have drawn a team (see above) that, besides a certain No. 3, cannot do them much damage.

They should be looking to cruise through round one and then repeat last year's round one performance in round two.

That would be a pretty decent post-season outing.

Orlando Magic

While they’ve lost some crucial games they could’ve won over the course of the season, third seed sounds about right for this team.

They have the most dominant big man in the game today in Dwight Howard, and with a near 60 win season, there will be expectations.

Philadelphia shouldn’t pose much of a challenge, but Orlando aspires to more than just a second round appearance. It all hinges on how badly Dwight Howard wants it.

When he’s playing at his best, this can be a very dangerous club.

They should expect to give both Boston and Cleveland a run for their money.

Howard needs to show he can get it done in the post-season.

Boston Celtics

For a defending champion, they’ve been a bit under the radar this year, thanks to some high profile injuries and a season for the ages in Cleveland.

At the same time, this is a 62 win team and remains one of the best defensive clubs in the league.

Anything short of a repeat performance will be considered a letdown considering it is apparent that their championship window was only a three year stretch.

Ray Allen is 32 and KG, at 31, is showing the signs of all those years of toil.

They expect to have KG back for game one of the Chicago series and with him should expect to be in the NBA finals again, if not winning it all to repeat as champions.

Cleveland Cavaliers

That the Cavs have improved 21 games in a single season and have the best record in the league, with the most imposing home court to boot, should be enough to convince anyone of LeBron James’ candidature as MVP.

This unbelievable turnaround itself should please most Cavs fans, but having made a trip to the NBA finals with a far lesser team following James’ magical and otherworldly game five performance against Detroit in the second round in 2007, anything short of a championship will be considered a disappointment.

If you keep in mind that James is a free agent at the end of next season, Cavs fans would think a championship is the only way to keep James at Cleveland.

They have been the best team in the NBA for the stretch of the season and they will want to show in the post-season that their record was no illusion.


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