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NBA: Ranking the Top Five Teams in the Eastern Conference

Sammy MakkiAnalyst IMarch 6, 2011

NBA: Ranking the Top Five Teams in the Eastern Conference

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    We are coming down the stretch of the NBA season and by now, it's pretty clear who the top teams are.

    Sunday was a huge day for the Eastern Conference. Five of the top six teams all played and were featured on national television.

    So, with about five weeks remaining in the regular season, who are the top five teams in the East and how do they rank? Find out here.

5. New York Knicks

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    They may have began the season as a nice story and a team looking to improve from the past decade, but the New York Knicks are a top-five team in the East and it has to do with the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony.

    So far in seven games with the Knicks, Anthony has done a good job, but there's more to it than that. After they traded away their entire starting lineup other than Landry Fields, most people laughed at the bench they would have.

    It may not be too deep, but it isn't too bad either. Guys like Anthony Carter and Shawne Williams have stepped up, and the Knicks—believe it or not—are starting to play some defense.

    In each of their last three wins, they've held opponents to 88 points or less. In their win on Sunday night in Atlanta, they only allowed 79 points.

    They have been embarrassed twice by the Cavaliers, but the Lakers and Celtics have lost to them too.

    The Knicks are proving they can beat top teams and on the road. They beat the Heat in Miami last week and now won in Atlanta.

    They're 4-3 since getting Carmelo and that isn't bad. The Heat, who had training camp together, weren't a whole lot better to start the season when they went 9-8.

    Can the Knicks make the NBA Finals? Not this season or next season. They don't have the size to match up with the Celtics or Magic, but can they win a first-round series? Sure.

    They're at least in the conversation, something they haven't been in for a long time.

4. Miami Heat

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The Miami Heat are the fourth-best team in the East? Weren't they supposed to be the best team in the world by now? Well, they aren't anywhere near being the best team and they aren't even the best team in their state.

    Let's not just look at these past four games. The Heat, who've had a great season by any other team's standards, have had roster and chemistry issues all season. They don't have a true center or point guard—unless Mike Bibby is now Derrick Rose—and they still don't have anyone to step up other than the "Big Three."

    All of a sudden over the past four games, the Heat are collapsing like the 2007 New York Mets. They have played four tough opponents, but who cares? They were supposed to be breezing past teams with the "talent" they brought in.

    Even worse, they've blown three straight huge leads at home and lost each game. They couldn't hold off the Knicks, got embarrassed to the Magic, and weren't strong enough for the Bulls. Sunday's loss to Chicago came after a 30-point loss at the Spurs.

    LeBron James is continuing to prove he isn't the guy you want taking the final shot of close games. In all three home losses, LeBron has clanked a potential game-tying or game-winning shot. To make matters worse, Dwyane Wade followed up with a clank of his own on Sunday.

    Chris Bosh isn't anywhere to be found in these final possessions and just like the Knicks, their size is a problem.

    With three players trying to figure out what to do when it counts most, the Heat aren't beating any top teams in the playoffs.

    They're a mess and must add depth in the offseason along with acquiring a center and point guard.

3. Orlando Magic

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Don't look now but the Orlando Magic are just three games behind the Heat for third in the East. Is this finally the season the Magic win the title? Probably not. They aren't as good as the top two teams in the conference to even make the Finals but they can make noise in the playoffs.

    It all starts with Dwight Howard. He's an absolute beast in the paint and just takes games over. He's averaging 23 points and 14 rebounds along with 2.3 blocks per game.

    The Magic just impressed by beating the Knicks and Heat in back-to-back games in comeback fashion. They did, though, lose at home to the Bulls, and Dwight Howard got a 16th technical foul. He'll sit out Monday's game against the Trail Blazers and it'll be hard for Orlando to win without him.

    The good thing about Orlando is they score 100 points and play great defense. They're even more dangerous when point guard Jameer Nelson shows up, as they showed against the Knicks last week.

    The Magic score just about as many points as the Heat and play a little better defense with more consistency. Then you add the fact the Heat don't have a center like Dwight Howard as very few teams do, that makes the Magic more dangerous.

    Instead of getting caught up in the Heat hype, let's be real. The Magic are the best team in Florida.

2. Chicago Bulls

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The Chicago Bulls are enjoying their best season since their championship season of 1998. They haven't been this elite since the Michael Jordan days and it's because of the MVP of the league, Derrick Rose. He's not Jordan by any stretch but you can say he's their best player since Jordan left. That gives the Bulls as good a chance at winning the title as any team in the league.

    They're two and a half games behind the Celtics for the best record in the East and they may have more energy coming down the stretch. Right now, the Celtics and Bulls are the most likely candidates to meet in the Eastern Finals and perhaps being younger, the Bulls can win a seven-game series. It would be fun to watch, with the best matchup being between Rose and Rajon Rondo.

    But focusing on the Bulls, they made a tremendous statement beating the Heat in Miami. They play tough defense with Tom Thibodeau as head coach and along with the Celtics are the best defensive team in the NBA.

    They have a great lineup and when fully healthy can be unbeatable. At home, they're 26-4 which would make it even tougher for opponents if they earned the top seed. 

    All you need to know about the Bulls is this: on March 7, they have a higher winning percentage than both the Heat and Lakers. Don't be surprised if they win it all.

1. Boston Celtics

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    Maybe the Bulls are better than the Celtics, but they don't have the ring or postseason résumé to back it up—yet.

    What the Celtics have is a fearsome foursome and they can beat you in more ways than one. You want to dish the ball? Let Rajon Rondo do it. You want a big man to clean things up in the paint and throw it down? Let Kevin Garnett do it. You want solid clutch shooting and some luck from downtown? Give the ball to both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Those are just four of the players on perhaps the deepest roster in the league.

    What the Celtics did do is lose out on some size in a strange trade of Kendrick Perkins. They sent him to the Thunder at the trading deadline for Jeff Green who can certainly help off the bench. He's averaging about 15 points and is a great option to go to when points are needed from a bench player.

    The Celtics have everything right now. They have scorers, rebounders, size, depth and everything else needed to win a championship.

    The other thing they have that may work against them is age. If you take three of their starters and throw Shaquille O'Neal into the mix, they're a very old team. Can they run up and down the floor with the Bulls or even the Heat? We'll see come playoff time. They do have matchup advantages against basically any team they face.

    But, knowing that age is a factor, this group should be motivated to win it all this season before other Eastern teams catch up to them. Besides the Heat and their threesome, other teams like the Bulls, Magic, and Knicks are younger and getting better by the season.

    But, the Celtics should at least make the Eastern Finals.

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