Eastern Conference Preview

Miami Heat – The defending champs replaced Ronny Turiaf and Eddy Curry with Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Josh Harrellson. The rich got richer this offseason. All Ray Allen, arguably the best 3 point shooter of all time, has to do is hit wide open 3′s off of LeBron and Wade double-teams. Unless Wade breaks down (I won’t even say LeBron as I’m not sure he’s human) the Eastern Conference playoffs start with a finals rematch against Boston.

Jeff Green is back

Boston Celtics – Boston replaced Ray Allen with Courtney Lee and Jason Terry. They got rid of a bunch of players who weren’t contributing much (Marquis Daniels, Ryan Holins, Jermaine O’Neal and Greg Stiemsma)and replaced them with Leandro Barbosa, Jason Collins, Jared Sullinger and Darko Milicic. Jeff Green is also healthy this season which will enable Boston to rest Paul Pierce more than last year. They are still going to be a great defensive team, but now have scoring options at every position. When Avery Bradley comes back, this team is super deep and clearly the #1 threat to dethrone Miami in the east.

Indiana Pacers – Only minor moves from last seasons 3rd best Eastern Conference team. Lou Amundson and Barbosa out, DL Augustin, Gerald Green and Sam Young in. I think this makes them slightly better. Like 2% better. That means in order to catch Boston or Miami, the improvement is going to have to come from within. George Hill, Paul George, and Roy Hibbert will all have to improve significantly for the Pacers to get out of the 2nd round.

New York – Lots of changes in NY again. Fields, Lin, Mason, Douglas, Harrellson, Jordan, Jeffries and Gadzuric are out, while Felton, Kidd, Camby, Brewer, Copeland, Rasheed Wallace and Prigioni are in. This will be an excellent defensive team, however scoring is going to be an issue all season. I also originally had the Knicks in 3rd but am already scared to death of their injury situation. The Knicks are going into game 1 of the season with Amar’e Stoudemire out indefinitely, Shumpert out for a month or two, Camby out, Wallace not in game shape, and Brewer, Chandler and JR Smith coming back from injuries. That means 40 year old Kurt Thomas is most likely starting game 1. I realize it’s too early to panic, but being this banged up this early can’t be a good sign. With Amare out, that leaves Carmelo as the only legit scorer in the starting lineup. Someone is going to have to step up or teams will just double and triple team Carmelo and completely shut the Knicks down. On a positive note, the Knicks went from zero competent point guards to 3 legitimate ones. Already, players like Copeland have benefitted from having a pick and roll partner on the court at all times. Novak looks like he can take a step or two and then shoot, or come off a pick and shoot, which makes him a lot more dangerous than the player who could only hit a 3 if he was standing in one spot. Maybe these injuries aren’t the worst thing, because if my predictions are right we’ll get a NY/Brooklyn 1st round series which would be super fun to watch.

Brooklyn Nets – Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez – that’s a nice starting lineup. Brooklyn had better hope that they all stay healthy (a question mark for a number of them) because their bench is super unimpressive. Blatche may be their best bench player. Nuff said.

Chicago Bulls – If you’re going to lose Derrick Rose to injury, you can do a lot worse than Kirk Hinrich. That being said, this is a big downgrade as Hinrich is not nearly the scoring threat Rose is. If Hamilton, Deng and Boozer can stay relatively healthy, maybe they can hold the fort down until Rose (hopefully) comes back this season. Their bench looks paper thin this season and while Taj Gibson is a nice player, there’s not much else going on. I don’t see this team beating anyone in the playoffs this year without Rose at 100% and an upgrade to this roster.

Can Monta help the Bucks break through?

Atlanta Hawks – They did what everyone thought was impossible and traded Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams in separate moves. They acquired Anthony Morrow, Devin Harris, Kyle Korver and Lou Williams. What do all of those moves add up to? Nothing. They are still the team that is good enough to get to the playoffs but not good enough to make any noise. And they are only making the playoffs because they are playing in the east where to make the playoffs all you have to do is not be terrible.

Philadelphia 76′ers – You’ll see a very different look for this years 76′ers squad. They lost Iguodala, Brand, Meeks, Lou Williams, Vucevic and Sam Young, while adding Andrew Bynum, Jason Richardson, and Dorell Wright. Now, the future of this team depends on Bynum. Not only if he resigns, but if he can stay healthy and not be a head case (two things he has yet to prove he can do). Holiday and Turner should improve enough to make this team competitive, but depending on Bynum to be your number one option seems to be asking for trouble. I expect them to make the playoffs but just barely and then get eviscerated by the Heat.

Milwaukee Bucks – Not this year. I picked the Bucks to make the playoffs the last two years. Not getting fooled again. On paper, once again, this appears to be a playoff team, especially in the east. The backcourt of Jennings and Ellis is nice and Ilyasova will most likely make another leap this year. This team always seems to get injured at the most inopportune times and with Mike Dunleavy and Joel Przybilla on the team, I’m puting my money on that happening again this year.

Toronto Raptors – They added Kyle Lowry (great pickup) and Landry Fields (terrible contract) and only lost Jerryd Bayless. A healthy Bargnani at the 4 with Valanciunas at the 5 (for the 7 minutes a game when he’s not in foul trouble) will make this a much improved Raptors squad. Not playoff improved, but not every team from the Atlantic division can make the playoffs. That being said, they are in a great situation cap-wise and have Calderon’s 10.5M expiring contract they can try and move to get another scoring option.

Orlando Magic – Not a good offseason for the Magic. They lost Dwight Howard, Jason Richardson, and Ryan Anderson and the best player they received in return is either Arron Afflalo or Al Harrington. They got a ton of draft picks but that won’t help them this season. They still have Jameer Nelson as their starting PG and it goes downhill from there. I still like their front court, obviously not as much as when they had Dwight, but Adding Ayon, Vucevic, Harrington and McRoberts to play with Glen Davis isn’t terrible. Having Turkoglu as your main scoring options is though. This team is bad, but has some young pieces and draft picks to work with. We should see them back in the playoffs a few years from now.

Irving and Wall will battle to stay out of the lottery

Cleveland Cavaliers- Kyrie Irving is going to be at least a top 15 player in the league this year and Tristan Thompson is a nice piece. Not much else going ton. The east is bad enough that Irving’s talent will win them a few games but this team isn’t even going to sniff the playoffs.

Washington Wizards – Other than amnestying Blatche, nothing too exciting happened in D.C. this offseason. If Wall, Nene and Okafor stay healthy, they might resemble a professional basketball team, but just barely. This group looks like it has a ceiling of becoming the Hawks and even that would be surprising.

Detroit Pistons – Seriously, this team gets worse every year. Tayshaun Prince hasn’t been good for years and he’s probably the 3rd best player on this team. Greg Monroe is legit, but is anyone else? Corey Maggette and Charlie Villanueva are the 1st and 3rd highest paid players on this team. That alone should give a look into how messed up this franchise is right now.

Charlotte Bobcats  - The Bobcats are going to be better than last year. The Bobcats are also going to be terrible. Still not sure what Michael Jordan’s strategy is. It appears to be having a bunch of mediocre to OK players who don’t fit together very well, along with a few really bad contracts (Diop – 7.3M, T. Thomas – 8M, B. Gordon – 12M). They won’t break the record for fewest wins in a season again, but they also won’t not finish last.

Playoff Predictions

1st Round

Miami vs. Philly – Miami in 5
Boston vs. Atlanta – Boston in 6
Indiana vs. Chicago – Indiana in 6
New York vs. Brooklyn – NY in 7

2nd Round

Miami vs. NY – Miami in 5
Boston vs. Indiana – Boston in 5

Conference Finals

Miami vs. Boston – Boston in 7
I’m also writing additional articles for Popblerd a few times a month.  They will be more about the league in general instead of Knicks specific.  Here is one that went up this week.  Check out Popblerd every week for more NBA posts.

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