The NBA Eastern Conference has been shaken up this year by multiple off season signings and various trades. No longer are the Celtics clear cut favorites when healthy to cruise to the finals. Any of the top four teams could make it all the way, or they could just as easily fall in the second round.
The Boston Celtics are led by the trio of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, but it is Rajon Rondo who runs the show these days. Despite most of their stars being long in the tooth, the team is still the best in the East right now. Expect their defense to be even better once the playoffs start.
Yet the trade of Kendrick Perkins takes away some of their toughness inside, which has been part of their forte the last few years. This team has also been susceptible to injuries and if any of their top four goes down they will be in a lot of trouble. Now, with so much talent consolidating in the East, they will have tougher competition as well.
Then there is the Miami Heat—a team with more talent than any other team in the NBA, yet they have been unable to put it together. Many experts expect the acquisition of Mike Bibby to put them over the top, but the point guard is past his prime and the team still needs to find a way to get LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the same page.
At this point in their careers both players want to be their team's alpha dog, yet history has shown one player will need to defer to the other if they are going to get to the next level. With the talent on the Heat they could beat anyone in the playoffs, as the league is definitely star driven; however, they must first figure out how to make everyone happy while learning how to close out games against good teams.
On the other side of the spectrum, Derrick Rose is the definitive leader on the Chicago Bulls. He is an MVP candidate and the engine of the team. New coach Tom Thibodeau is a defensive mastermind who has ensured they play well enough on that end to be in every game.
It would not be surprising to see the Bulls make a deep run in the playoffs, yet their lack of experience could be exploited by veteran teams such as the Celtics or Magic. Chicago might still be a year away from the Finals.
The Dwight Howard led Magic are a team in flux after their big midseason trade. They hope that Hedo Turkoglu can re-find the skill set he showed before he left the team a few years back. Still, the hopes of the team rest on the shoulders of Howard and Jameer Nelson. Howard has improved his offensive game and is now head and shoulders the best center in the NBA, while Nelson is an underrated point guard who isn’t afraid of big moments.
With all the transition the team has faced this year it would be hard to imagine them winning it all, yet if one looks at their roster there is more than enough talent on it. Much as the Heat do, Orlando needs to find a way to get all the pieces to click before it is too late.
Just behind the Magic are the Atlanta Hawks. They are a team with a lot of intriguing players, but they have been unable to get to the next level. For some reason they have been stuck at the same level for a few years now. While it would not be a shock to see them win a first round series, the odds are certainly against them.
A team with perhaps a better chance of pulling an upset and making a run are the New York Knicks. They have two of the best offensive players in the NBA and when the game bogs down in the playoffs that will be a huge advantage. Chauncey Billups provides them with veteran leadership; all they need to do is focus on the defensive end and continue to get production from unheralded players.
Each of the top four teams has a shot at making it to the NBA Finals, while the next two both appear capable of pulling off an upset or more. Unlike past years it feels like there might be a degree of uncertainty in the postseason. It should make for an interesting few weeks come April.