NBA Eastern Conference : Up for Grabs or Still Seeing Green?

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NBA Eastern Conference : Up for Grabs or Still Seeing Green?

The 2008-09 NBA Season is right around the corner, with Training Camp set to begin this week. 

The Western Conference will no doubt be competitive again—but who will be this year's "Beast of the East?"

Here's a preview of who the top eight in the East may be at season's end:

 

1. Boston Celtics

The "Green Machine" did what everyone expected them to do last year, winning 66 games and bringing the title back to Beantown.  The "Big Three" of KG, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen lived up to the hype—and delivered. 

The big question this year, though, is if age will catch up to them. With Pierce almost 31, Garnett, 32, and Allen, 33,  the Celts will need to see an even greater increase in production from their young players.

Rajon Rondo is a budding star, and was a great compliment to the Big Three last year. The departure of utility-man James Posey will hurt the team's depth, but it does pave the way for guys like Tony Allen, Eddie House, Glen "Baby" Davis, and Leon Powe, who showed in the Finals that he could be a force down low.

All of them now have the experience of playing in big games, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to an increase in playing time. With a guy like KG on their team, it's hard to see these young guys not playing hard every game. 

Prediction: 60-22

 

2. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons haven't quite been playing true Detroit basketball as of late. Known for their physicality, the Pistons were clearly outmatched and outplayed against the Celtics in the Conference Finals last season.  The hunger for another title just wasn't there. 

In an attempt to revive the Pistons, GM Joe Dumars fired Flip Saunders in the offseason, and promoted assistant coach and former Piston Michael Curry to head coach. The team's starting five is getting older and more prone to injury, which is why Rodney Stuckey, Jason Maxiell, and Amir Johnson must step up when called upon. 

Billups and Hamilton are still one of the best guard combos in the league, and Rasheed is deadly from all areas of the court. Look for Curry to restore some of the passion that these Pistons once had, and challenge Boston for Eastern supremacy.

Prediction: 57-25

 

3. Orlando Magic

Dwight Howard, plain and simple. The Magic's success rests on the shoulder's of this monster in the paint. Howard makes everyone around him better, with his ability to draw double- and even triple-teams in the post.

Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu will continue to play well as long as Howard plays well.  If Howard struggles—especially from the free throw line, where he shot only 59 percent last season—the pressure will be on Lewis and Turkoglu to make more outside shots.

The addition of Courtney Lee through the draft will help add some much-needed size to the Magic backcourt.

Prediction: 54-28

 

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

It's the same question with the Cavs every year—does LeBron have enough help? This has still yet to be answered by Danny Ferry and the Cavs organization.

LeBron will do everything in his power to bring the Cavs back to the Finals.  He'll get his triple-doubles, his 50-point games, but when LeBron isn't LeBron, who is going to step up?

The frontcourt of Illgauskas, Wallace, and Varajao isn't overpowering by any means, so the Cavs will need to rely on strong backcourt play to take some pressure off the "King." Bringing in Mo Williams should help, and re-signing Delonte West will give the Cavs another ballhandler off the bench. 

That still may not be enough, as the Cavs still lack a deadly outside shooter.

Sleeper Alert: J.J. Hickson, the young forward out of N.C. State. Watch for this kid to really shine in his first season.

Prediction: 50-32

 

5. Toronto Raptors

Here's where the East could go in any direction. The Raptors are at five because of the addition of Jermaine O'Neal. O'Neal has had many injuries in the past few seasons, but it's hard to ignore the fact that he used to be a 20 and 10 guy. He also has a lot to prove.

With a healthy O'Neal and Chris Bosh, the Raptors have a solid frontcourt. They are also one of the most-efficient teams in the league, limiting their turnovers and shooting a good percentage behind the arc.

Prediction: 46-36

 

6. Philadelphia 76ers

A surprise team last year, the Sixers got even better this year with the addition of Elton Brand.  Brand brings veteran experience as well as a ridiculous knack for rebounding and low-post scoring. If Brand can stay healthy, which he claims he is, the Sixers may move up to the five spot in the East. 

The only knock on the Sixers is whether or not Iguodala is ready to be theor go-to guy in clutch situations. I'm not sure he is just yet. The team is still very young, but as seen last year, they got better with each game.

Sleeper Alert: Marreese Speights could add another dimension to an already-strong frontcourt. He's big, raw, and not afraid to throw his weight around.

Prediction: 45-37

 

7. Washington Wizards

The Wizards are one of those teams who somehow get into the playoffs despite demoralizing injuries. Based on pure talent, the Wizards are in the seventh spot.

Gilbert Arenas is still circling around questions regarding his knee, but the Wizards have shown they can win without him. Butler and Jamison must stay healthy for this team to make the playoffs.

Look for "Agent Zero" to play and have a solid season, but also be aware that he will miss his fair share of games. Nick Young could help fill his void, as he began to develop a good rhythm with Butler and Jamison last year when given the minutes.

Prediction: 42-40

 

8. Chicago Bulls: The eighth and final spot is up for grabs. The Bucks are much improved with the addition of Richard Jefferson and new coach Scott Skiles.  The Hawks were last year's Cinderella team, but losing Josh Childress will hurt. 

The Bulls take the final spot simply because of Derrick Rose. It may be asked why the Heat aren't here with Michael Beasley and a healthy Dwayne Wade, but the truth of the matter is the Bulls have more depth than any of the other bubble teams. Rose will make the team that much better, despite being a rookie with a huge burden to carry.

With Rose at the point, Hinrich can move to his natural position at the two. Gordon, who is expected to sign a one-year qualifying offer, will come off the bench and provide the offensive spark he is known for.

Look for Luol Deng to have a better year now that his contract situation is behind him. New Head Coach Vinny Del Negro will have his hands full though balancing the minutes.

The Bulls are young, talented, and built for the future.  They will find a way through the tough times and get into the playoffs.

Prediction: 41-41

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