Albeit late in December, The Five Cents’ NBA preview is here! Usually, this is out in October. I think the World Series or a transformer going down in San Francisco caused the delay. Oh well. The lockout is over and basketball begins on Christmas. Will the Bulls survive the East? Are the Clippers for real and Kings of L.A.? Can Dallas repeat and is Miami the team to beat? Let’s find out what the East has to offer.
1. Miami Heat (51-15)
If there’s any indication the Heat are serious about this season, look no further than the acquisition of Shane Battier. And with a humbling NBA Finals experience behind them, chances are Miami is much more focused, much more determined and frankly set on finishing the job this time around. The Heat lack a true talented center which teams like New York and Chicago could expose. Also their point guard position lacks against other teams. But Miami’s chemistry will be much better and now Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh all know each others roles and spots extensively. Having a year of scrutiny under their belts only helps the Big Three (or Two), who will be better prepared to handle everything coming at them, even the criticism. Unless it’s J.J. Barea. Does LeBron have any fourth quarter magic come playoff time, though?
2. Chicago Bulls (49-17)
Derrick Rose couldn’t do it by himself last season, although his MVP award says otherwise. And now he’s got a new extension, so he’s a Bull for a long time. Chicago upgraded at shooting guard with Richard Hamilton and need no more chemistry improvements, this team is tight. Carlos Boozer slimmed down 15 pounds, Rose worked out methodically to improve his transition jumper, among other things, and Hamilton’s experience and slashing offensive style should give them enough to take on the Heat again in the conference finals. Many believe the Heat series wasn’t close. As much as we make fun of James’ fourth quarter blunders, if Rose hits a buzzer-beater and his team doesn’t blow Game 5, may be it’s the Bulls in the Finals. It just comes down to execution and scoring late in games against the Heat. Bulls do that, they could steal the East.
3. Boston Celtics (42-24)
Compact schedule. Check. Aging legs. Check. Hostility and a lack of quality depth. Check. Luck of the Irish? Not so much, anymore.
Boston comes in with some major issues. Can the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen handle the schedule? Will their bodies hold up? Are they cohesive? Some might look at the issues with Rajon Rondo and wonder if the team’s in for a long (shortened) season. The Celtics wanted Chris Paul instead. How does that not effect the team? Their aging legs might have too many miles to keep up with the Bulls and the Heat or even that of the Pacers, especially with a condensed schedule that doesn’t favor the older vets. Without Jeff Green and the trading away Glen Davis, this might be it for Boston’s regime. Possessing four all-stars isn’t a bad thing, but not having Chris Paul or David West is. It’s this season or bust and Boston will give it their all to take down the league one more time.
4. New York Knicks (41-25)
Tyson Chandler was a major factor in Dallas’ title run and he’ll make the Knicks more formidable down low with Amar’e Stoudemire. Not many teams in the East will be able to handle their size (or the Knicks either), especially with the front line including team leader Carmelo Anthony, their main beneficiary of the offense. The Knicks look primed to have a deeper playoff run but they do lack in the guard department — Mike Bibby is an OK alternative from the departed Chauncey Billups, but Bibby is old and Baron Davis is a severe question mark. Landry Fields will have to step up into a John Starks role for the Knicks, who’s thin after that. I see a date with the Heat in the second round.
5. Philadelphia 76ers (37-29)
Sixers fans have to be giddy about the promise on this roster. They could be on the cusp of repeating what Oklahoma City and Memphis are doing out west, and that’s stocking a team with young talent. Re-signing Thaddeus Young was super important and when you align him with Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, if Elton Brand can stay healthy and they can keep the tempo fast for Doug Collins, Philadelphia could cause some problems out East with their young legs as well.
6. Indiana Pacers (35-31)
Indy gave Chicago a run for their money in the first round last season but now it’s the time to prove that was no a fluke. Much like Philadelphia, Indiana has a young crop of talent that’s quickly molding. Paul George looks to add to a great rookie campaign and now that Indiana has added more inside presence with David West, if the Pacers can disrupt the paint with Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough, Indiana will be pesky. They’ll need Danny Granger to put up solid numbers. The Pacers are mixing in vets with rookies, which makes this team the ultimate sleeper.
7. Atlanta Hawks (35-31)
Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford make a formidable trio, but losing a scorer like Jamal Crawford hurts. And additions like Tracy McGrady and Jerry Stackhouse don’t really amount to any significant deal. So where’s the improvement? It’s everywhere else but Atlanta. Kirk Hinrich and Jeff Teague running the point is still relatively better than a lot of teams and if Josh Smith could really play to his potential, the Hawks use their size down low and Johnson taking more of a scoring load, the Hawks could advance past the second round. But after years of being unable to overcome teams in front of them, you just get the sense Atlanta’s 1-2-3 punch doesn’t really land as much as it used to.
8. Orlando Magic (33-33)
Dwight Howard this, Dwight Howard that. The focal point in Orlando is if they can keep Superman, not if they can win this season. That’s a big red flag. Howard will be somewhere else in 2012, the question is where? Orlando did toss Gilbert Arenas which was a good thing, and they added Glen Davis out of Boston to somewhat solidify the paint. But Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson will have much of the slack from the outside and when Orlando went to the Finals in 2009, they had Rashard Lewis to open things up. The Magic still have Howard and for the time being their roster can still compete. When he’s traded, you’ll see them slide to No. 8.
9. Milwaukee Bucks (31-35)
10. Washington Wizards (29-37)
11. Charlotte Bobcats (25-41)
12. Detroit Pistons (25-41)
13. New Jersey Nets (22-45)
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (17-49)
15. Toronto Raptors (11-55)
Playoff scenarios – Eastern Conference First Round
(1) Miami over (8) Orlando
(2) Chicago over (7) Atlanta
(3) Boston over (6) Indiana
(4) New York over (5) Philadelphia
Eastern Conference Semifinals
(1) Miami over (4) New York
(2) Chicago over (3) Boston
Eastern Conference Finals
(2) Chicago over (1) Miami