Will the Boston Celtics relinguish the Eastern Conference crown?
The dust has settled from the NBA offseason and there are plenty of both broken hearts and energized brains left in the wake. We’ve got plenty to look forward to in the Eastern Conference: The Miami Basketeers, the rebirth of the Chicago Bulls and one last hurrah for the Boston Celtics.
Thus, I’m here to offer up the top four teams in the NBA's best conference in predicted order of regular season finish.
I sort of scoff at the notions that the Heat won’t function together. LeBron may be foolhardy and selfish off-the-court, but no one could ever question his unselfishness and basketball acumen between the lines. Mario Chalmers is generally considered the starting point guard, but James will be doing much of the distributing. Wade will do his share too, but James offers something the NBA hasn’t seen since Magic Johnson: a point guard in a forward’s body with an uncanny sense to find the open man and conjure up gimme shots for his teammates. Don’t be surprised if he averages close to a triple-double.
Everyone talks about how the Heat’s offense is going to work, but I’m fascinated by how Erik Spoelstra will use the length of James, Wade and Bosh, not to mention the thievery of Chalmers to wreck havoc on defense. I envision plenty of half-court and three-quarter court traps from Coach Spo to create easy shots for his squad.
Starting Five: Mario Chalmers, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony
Key reserves: Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eddie House
Diamond in the Rough: Da’Sean Butler
What it all means: The Heat are going to blow out teams early and often. We’ll see the true test of their grit against the superior teams. That’s when the good defensive teams will cut out two of the three Basketeers. By doing that, teams will be praying that one of the Heat’s stars has an off night and that they won’t peppered with treys from Mike Miller, Eddie House and James Jones. The Heat could win as many as 67-70 games and won’t win any less than 55-57.
Do I think the Bulls are really the second best team in the East? No. The Celtics still are. But Boston won’t be making much noise in the regular season (more on that below). I LOVE what the Bulls did in the offseason. Since they missed out on Wade, Bosh and James, they did the next best thing by signing Carlos Boozer, a proven low post scorer and gritty rebounder. They also added depth by netting Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer. Furthermore, Derrick Rose will take the league by storm. Deron Williams and Chris Paul, two recent first round picks and NBA All-Stars with games similar to Rose’s, saw their numbers escalate in their third season.
Chicago should also be a menacing defensive team. Noah and Boozer form the best rebounding duo in the East. Deng, Brewer (the Bulls should send Memphis Christmas cards for that acquisition) and Rose are all very good defenders. The Bulls are officially back.
Staring Five: Derrick Rose, Ronnie Brewer, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah
Key Reserves: Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Kurt Thomas
Diamond in the Rough: James Johnson
What it all means: The Bulls have their best squad since MJ’s last season as a Bull. They can defend, they can score and their new coach Tom Thibodeau is a pure bulldog. Look for at least 53-59 wins from Chitown.
There’s something about Orlando that troubles me. They’re fine with Jammer Nelson at the point and Dwight Howard controlling the paint. But their complementary parts puzzle me. Vince Carter was downright awful against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals. I never thought his ball-dominating style was a great fit for Orlando’s outside-in style. Mickael Pietrus and Rashard Lewis are decent complementary parts.
However, I’m one who believes Howard has reached his peak offensively. Which is fine. On the flip side, that’s not enough for Orlando to get over the hump with Boston and Miami standing in their way. I think if Otis Smith could do it over again, he would not have led Hedo Turkoglu leave town.
Staring Five: Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Marcin Gortat, J.J. Redick, Jason Williams
Diamond in the Rough: Daniel Orton
What it all means: Orlando is a tremendous regular season team, evidenced by their 59-23 record in back-to-back seasons. I see more along the lines of the team winning between 52-58 games next season. The Magic will be thwarted before reaching the Finals for the second straight year.
The Green and White are back for one last title shot (let’s be honest we’ll be saying the same thing next summer). The once and still perhaps future kings of the East we’ll be playing short-handed during the regular season thanks to Kendrick Perkins’ torn knee ligaments. Yet, barring another major injury Boston should have enough gas, with a touch of Diesel, for another playoff run.
This is Rajon Rondo’s team now, and although he and coach Doc Rivers occasionally bump heads, Rondo plays a beautiful point in addition to casing mayhem on defense. For the most part, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have aged like a fine wine the past few seasons, saving their best for last and delivering tremendous playoff performances. More is expected this season.
Starting Five: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jermaine O’Neal
Key Reserves: Glen Davis, Nate Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal
Diamond in the Rough: Avery Bradley
What it all means: For an aging team, the Celtics aren’t that deep. Tony Allen’s departure means Avery Bradley and Nate Robinson will see bigger minutes. The O’Neals will attempt to fill in for Perkins. I see 47-54 victories in the regular season for the Celts with another postseason push.