Eastern Promises Part IV -- NBA Eastern Conference Preview 2008-2009

Sandro FraccaCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2008

As far as champions go, Boston did it the hard way.  No team played more games or lost more games en route to capturing the coveted championship than last year's Celtics.  

Ray Allen didn't even show up until the last few games of the post season, but it didn't matter.  The Celtics were the  best team in the league all season, and look to do the same this year.  

In fact, all of last year's top 3 in the East, Boston, Detroit and Orlando, figure to be atop the standings once again this year.  As long as they can stay hungry, both of Boston and Detroit will be in the mix.  Still, who has a bigger appetite than Dwight Howard?  

Here is the final installment of predictions for 2008-09 in the NBA.

Beasts of the East—2008-2009 season preview for the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, and Orlando Magic

 Boston Celtics 
Last Season: 66-16 (1st in conference)

Why they'll compete
They have the same starting unit as last year's champs. This starting 5 sports the best power forward in the game in Kevin Garnett, a top three small forward in Paul Pierce and, when he's on, the best three-point shooter in the history of the NBA.  
All three are hall of famers, one of which will have his number retired in the storied rafters of the garden.
Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins are now made men, and Glen Davis was superb coming in off the bench for the Celts all season long.  Doc Rivers had his team playing ferocious defense all season long, and won the clinching game by a staggering 40 point margin.  
Small additions over the course of the year last year showed that Danny Ainge has proven to many that he knows how to manage a team, and I can finally rest in peace knowing that my favorite Eastern Conference team is not being mismanaged into the ground like they were in 2006.  
If Leon Powe can continue to develop, the Celtics will be tough to beat yet again.

Why they'll falter 
Once again, GM Ainge is called upon to tinker with this championship caliber roster in order to produce another run.  The team is another year older and survived a scare when KG was injured last year, and Ray no longer looked able to walk on water.  
Pierce may have exhausted everything in achieving his championship, and perhaps Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins overachieved a little last year.  P.J. Brown's imminent retirement, Sam Cassel's "coach-in-training" season and the edge taken off of players who spent a combined 50 years of NBA experience struggling to achieve the highest pinnacle will not hurt nearly as much as the departure of a key player.  
What do the Grizzlies only 60 win seasons and playoff trips, Miami's first championship in franchise history, and the ending of the Celtics' 20 year championship drought all have in common?  James Posey.

They could make another finals, but then again, they could also lose to a hungrier team.  Remember, Atlanta, Cleveland and Detroit were all just one home game away from eliminating last year`s champs, who were a bit lucky to run into an ice cold Lakers team.  
Take nothing away from this team's defensive style, but they will learn this season about defense of another sort.
It's much harder to defend a title than it is your own side of the court.  Just ask San Antonio, and they had players in their prime all these years.  
Without some serious bench additions, the Celtics won't have enough to push themselves past the other contenders in the East this year.  

 Detroit Pistons
Last Season:  59-23 (2nd in conference)

Why they`ll compete
Because it's their last chance.  The Pistons are onto their second coach since the departure of Larry Brown a season after they'd won a championship in 2004.  
Surely the veterans on this team recognize the finality of this season.  Either they put a stamp on the year with a championship, or the team is broken apart and traded for younger players, if it's possible.  
A new coach means a new voice for the old players. The Flip Saunders experiment did not produce the only expectation these players ever had since putting together 50 wins under Rick Carlisle.  
This might be the best group of Pistons ever assembled, but they only have one championship to show for it.  The veterans on this team will rededicate themselves to the cause for the simplest and best reason in team sport.  Each other.  

Why they'll falter 
They failed to beat Boston last year because of an injury to Chauncey Billups in the playoffs.  Chauncey must stay healthy for this team to have any chance at all.  
They also have yet to replace the hole in the middle left by Ben Wallace when he signed with the Bulls.  It was wise to let him go for the kind of money he was asking, but the Pistons have never really been the same team since his departure.  
They're pinning some expectations on newly acquired Kwame Brown, but we've seen how Kwame handles expectations in his career.  
Mcdyess is still in the mix, but how long can his body hold up?  Also, is new coach Michael Curry really all that much of an improvement over Flip Saunders?  It's the same team as last year, despite GM Joe Dumars grumbling that changes were imminent.  His political backpedaling since these remarks has done nothing but potentially alienate him from his players.

Curry was instituted in order to replace the apathetic nature of the team with a renewed sense of urgency, according to Joe D.  
He saw his team beginning to mail it in during the regular season and coast into the playoffs expecting them to turn it on when it mattered the most, but only realized that they had learned 160 games worth of bad habits over two seasons with Flip Saunders.  
The new coach is there to provide a stronger voice and leadership.  If the results are not immediate and impressive, then expect Dumars to deal.  They need to get back to basics and become humble again.  
They are no longer the fat cats that they were after winning a championship that now begs the memory a little to recall the exact events.  To put it into Apollo Creed terminology, they need the eye of the tiger.  I can hear the music already.

 Orlando Magic
Last Season:  52-30 (3rd in conference)

Why they'll compete 
It's a mature, but not old team in Orlando this season that is reaching its peak, whatever that might be.  A loss in last year's second round to Detroit (second straight playoff exit to the Pistons) was yet another learning experience, but one would have to think that at some point the team has to finish learning.  
Dwight Howard is entering his prime and what should be his best season as a pro, Rashard Lewis is well into his prime, but has some room for improvement on last year's stats, while Hedo Turkoglu has finally blossomed into the kind of player he showed flashes of becoming in Sacramento.  
Add to this the steadying presence of Jameer Nelson, who actually had a worse season statistically than ever before, but learned his position better than ever in a dominant playoff against Toronto, and you have the makings of a successful season.  
Coach Van Gundy always has his teams ready to play, and will get the most out of his role players in particular.

Why they'll falter 
They play a high risk game of three point shooting in Orlando, which they happen to be good at, but can also get them into trouble against better perimeter defending teams.  
Though they have the best center in the East, Superman still hasn't learned a mid-range game, despite assistant coach Patrick Ewing's best efforts to teach him.  
Jameer Nelson is horribly inconsistent in the regular season, and Hedo Turkoglu, despite a career best 19 points per game, can't really give the team much more than this.  
They don't have a lot of high quality experience coming in from the bench, and will need to cross the psychological barrier that are the upper caliber teams in the league at some point in the season.  They are beatable.

I don't envision a championship run out of this team yet.  I just don't think they have the kind of class that Cleveland, Detroit, or Boston has.  They might even fall a step behind the Raptors and improved Sixers if they are not careful.  
Hedo will fall back down to Earth this year, and too much will ride on Dwight's shoulders, broad as they may be.  The team is lacking another proven veteran or two to stabilize the inexperienced players on this team, otherwise it will be another moderately successful season followed by a moderately quick exit in the playoffs.