Could the power in the NBA be shifting to the East? If you look at the top six teams in the conference, it appears highly possible.
The Chicago Bulls ultimately came out of the East with the No. 1 overall seed, but they will face heavier competition in their quest of a repeat performance.
Once you look at those top six seeds, it's easy to see that many of these teams are interchangeable and all dangerous.
The seventh and eighth seeds are also up for grabs, but two teams stand out as clear favorites to sneak into the playoffs.
Before we start the list, here are two predictions: We will not see a sub-.500 team make the playoffs, and only one different team will make the playoffs.
Be sure to check out my Western Conference predictions.
Let's get started.
The Indiana Pacers showed a lot of heart against the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs last year. They often found themselves with a comfortable lead, but would then blow it late in the game after Rose took over.
The Pacers should only be better next year.
Getting in the trade for George Hill was a smart move before the lockout as he provides them with another legit scoring option. Hill will most likely play the 2-guard position, but can also be a nice backup for Darren Collison.
Speaking of Collison, he showed a lot of ability in his first season in Indiana. Although he didn't improve much statistically, he will fit well in Indiana's system as a role player.
Danny Granger is often forgot about when talking about elite small forwards, but should definitely be in the conversation.
Granger is often inconsistent, but when on a hot streak, he can light a defense up.
Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough will also continue to improve and provide productive minutes for the Pacers.
Adding a little more depth to the bench could be a key concern for Indiana. Paul George showed promise in his rookie season, but could use a little more help coming off of the bench.
The Pacers won't be a true championship contender for a while, but could take a step forward by finishing with a positive record and a higher playoff seed.
Admittedly, I forgot to add the Nets when I first wrote this article.
Deron Williams was a great pickup for New Jersey, averaging 12.8 assists in his short time there. He tends to bring the best out of his surrounding players, and could turn Brook Lopez into a multiple-time All-Star.
Lopez is often called soft, but is still one of the best big men in basketball. He doesn't play the greatest defense, but can average 20 points a game instead.
Marshon Brooks also has the potential to be a stud in the NBA, and could find a good future in New Jersey. Many scouts compare his abilities to Kobe Bryant, but that's a long time coming.
Re-signing Kris Humphries would be idealistic as he led the Nets in rebounds last year. He's another big man who is an efficient scorer, and wouldn't demand the ball much.
New Jersey is a team that can do big things in the future, but for now I put them in the seventh spot.
Although Atlanta won a playoff series last year, they seem like a mess.
Before the lockout, rumors were flying around of Josh Smith being shipped to Orlando. It still doesn't make sense to me, but it will likely have a negative effect on the team.
Smith is one of the more versatile players in the league, and he makes a team better in every area of the game. Horford is likely the big man of the future in Atlanta, but should learn to play with the talented Smith.
Horford will be a multiple-time NBA All-Star when it's all said and done. He is one of the few promising big men in the league and shows ability to score at a high percentage. He needs some work defensively, but can still grab 10 rebounds any given night.
Besides that, Jamal Crawford is most likely out of Atlanta via free agency. The Hawks weren't a great offensive team in 2011 and the loss of Crawford doesn't make things better.
Atlanta doesn't have a huge amount of salary cap space to make up for the six free agents hitting the market, and will be in an awkward spot.
Should they try signing an above-average sixth man (no, Kirk Hinrich doesn't count), or try to fill the team with players that can be productive in limited roles?
If they do trade away Smith, it would be nice if they could include the contracts of Hinrich or Zaza Pachulia to create some more space.
Maybe the biggest problem would be the outrageous contract of Joe Johnson. Can someone explain to me why he made $18 million last season?
I always questioned the Hawks management and ownership, but with a new owner they could take a positive turn.
Orlando has shown steady signs of getting worse since its finals loss to the Lakers.
If they want to keep Dwight Howard, they will have to make moves that will rebuild around him.
Howard destroyed the Atlanta Hawks in last year's playoffs, but had virtually no help before losing the series. Another early exit like that could have Orlando saying bye-bye to the best center in the NBA.
Orlando looked active in pursuing Josh Smith from Atlanta, which is a good start. They still need to try to rid themselves of the contracts of either Gilbert Arenas or Hedo Turkoglu.
The Magic also have a ton of overpaid bench warmers like Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson taking up much-needed salary space.
One positive thing for Orlando is the loss of Jason Richardson to free agency. Richardson was another player who was overpaid for his services, and never made much sense for Orlando to acquire.
That just shows the shakiness in the front office I guess.
Orlando still brings a pretty good team to the playoff picture, but they are no longer elite.
If they want to win a championship they will need some help from beyond their current roster. If they stay put, look for another playoff disappointment.
Do the Boston Celtics have one more title run left in them? If so they will have to make it back as a No. 4 seed.
Besides Rajon Rondo, this is an aging team that still has All-Star-caliber players.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have shown signs of wear and would benefit from limited minutes.
Ray Allen is still showing signs of being a great pure shooter, shooting the best three-point percentage in his career in 2011.
Beefing up the role players is a must for Boston. They will need players to eat up solid minutes if this team wants to have fresh legs come playoff time.
The 2011 free-agent class doesn't have any legitimate stars, but instead a bunch of key role players that could fit right into the Celtics lineup.
Boston allowed a league-best 91.1 points a game last year, but didn't look as sharp offensively.
Jeff Green is a player that should be re-signed this offseason, as he helps at both ends of the floor. He will give you 15-plus points a night along with some rebounds if given enough playing time.
Boston doesn't have a big window of opportunity, but should hold off on completely rebuilding and focus on a championship.
New York was already considered a playoff contender with the signing of Amar'e Stoudemire. Now that they have traded for Carmelo Anthony, consider them title contenders.
With Anthony and Stoudemire forming one of the top duos in the NBA, they will be one of the top offensive forces in the league.
The downfall of this?
New York is still a terrible defensive team.
The Knicks scored an impressive 106.5 points a game, but on the contrary gave up 105.7. For you mathematicians out there, that's not even a one-point differential.
New York traded most of its young promising players to get 'Melo, but they also received a veteran championship point guard in Chauncey Billups.
Billups is not the future point guard for this team, but will be a nice fill-in until the Knicks trade or sign for a star point guard.
Names like Steve Nash, Tony Parker and even Chris Paul have been thrown out as possibilities.
These may sound nice in forming their own "Big Three," but they should also remember to keep some depth on the bench as well.
The Knicks are in danger of losing a lot of key players to free agency, but I don't see them going on a shopping spree post-lockout if they plan on acquiring another star.
If New York can find some defensive intensity, they could find themselves as the East's top seed.
The Chicago Bulls were truly an incredible story last year. No one really expected them to win the top seed in the East, but not only did they secure it, they watched young Derrick Rose blossom into an MVP winner.
However, come playoff time, the Bulls showed some weaknesses.
Rose did all he could to help Chicago but had no clear No. 2 option. Boozer hasn't panned out well so far and Luol Deng is slightly overrated.
The Bulls should make it a clear priority to acquire a shooting guard with scoring ability. This would kill two birds with one stone by covering a scoring option and getting someone better than Keith Bogans.
The Bulls have a lot of options already on the team at shooting guard, but none have worked so far.
Ronnie Brewer hasn't really received big minutes for the Bulls, but he can't spread the floor well and isn't a legit candidate to average 15-plus points a night.
Kyle Korver is much better suited coming off the bench for spot-up jumpers. He's a nice asset to any team, but doesn't fill the starting needs.
As for Keith Bogans, well, he's just terrible.
Chicago is an elite team defensively, often creating scoring opportunities from turnovers with lockdown defense.
Signing or trading for a good veteran big man could also help Chicago repeat as a No. 1 seed.
Kurt Thomas was crucial last year in providing a starting big man for Chicago when Boozer and Noah had their respective injuries.
Plenty of valuable options are out there, and odds are they won't be costly.
Chicago also has a gem on the bench in Taj Gibson. He fit right into the defensive-minded team, but for some reason watched his minutes drop. Gibson brings a lot of energy and potential to the Bulls, and should find himself on the floor much more in 2012.
It's a sure thing Rose will once again be big for the Bulls, but who will step up to help him?
Love them or not, the Miami Heat are the favorites to win the East.
This team's obvious problem is the lack of salary space to bring in valuable bench players. However, if Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem stay healthy, they will be key players coming off of the bench.
Haslem is considered by many to be the heart of the Heat and is truly an underrated player. He is a solid rebounder and defender with pretty good scoring ability.
He isn't the most athletic player in the league, but shows tons of heart and passion for the game.
Miller is simply deadly from three-point land, and can contribute defensively with his rebounding ability.
Re-signing restricted free-agent Mario Chalmers would be a major boost for Miami.
He was one of the more consistent players in the finals, and can help spread the floor for the Heat. While many don't consider him a true point guard, Miami doesn't really need an elite passer anyway.
With the Big Three in their primes, this will be a dangerous trio that will have all-around productivity.
James and Wade finished second and third in points per game last year, and either player can take over late in a game.
Bosh watched his touches decrease in 2011, but still scored with great efficiency when given the chance.
The Heat are still working on chemistry issues, but with one season under their belts they should look like a sharp team.
For Miami, the time could be now, but nothing is a given in the NBA. Just ask the playoff underdog Dallas Mavericks.