A new NBA season tips-off tomorrow night which means it is time for some predictions. The Miami Heat look to go for their third straight NBA championship in a row, while teams like the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and Brooklyn Nets look to dethrone the Heat. Whatever happens, it should be a remarkable and entertaining season. Here is my prediction for how the Eastern Conference will shape up this year.
First Seed: Miami Heat
This should not come as a surprise to any one. The Heat are by far the best team in basketball until another team knocks them off their throne. LeBron James along with the other two members of “The Big 3”, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, will lead the Miami Heat to the best record in the NBA, again. My concern with this team lies in the health of aging superstar Dwayne Wade. Although the Heat were good enough to win it all with a banged up D-Wade, this year the teams in the Eastern Conference are better and more hungry than last year, hoping to get that chance to knock off the Heat. If Wade can stay healthy for at least 65 games this season, the Heat should go into the playoffs as the number one seed. The one thing the Heat did during the off-season was improve their interior, a much needed improvement too. I see the signing of Greg Oden being huge to the Heat’s success this year. He along with Chris Bosh and the Birdman (Chris Anderson), gives the Heat a nice rotation of big men down low to sustain throughout each game.
Second Seed: Brooklyn Nets
Saying that the Nets are going for it would be an understatement. Nets general manager Billy King started the off-season off with a bang by trading Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, and three future first round picks for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry. This move guaranteed the Nets a top four seed in the Eastern Conference this year, and I see them being the two seed for the playoffs. I get that Garnett and Pierce are old, but the rotation and depth that the Nets have is ridiculous. They have Jason Terry, Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche, and Andrei Kirilenko coming off the bench. This is a deep team considering the Nets have a potential All-Star at every starting position. The key to this team will be point guard Deron Williams. If he plays like he did in the second-half of last season all of this season, then the Nets should get the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Williams’ points will go down because of all the weapons that he has now, but his assist total will go up and he could possibly average double-digit assists per game with the team that he has.
Third Seed: Indiana Pacers
In my eyes, this is the best all-around team in the Eastern Conference, but they lack multiple superstars like the two teams that I have above them. Paul George is no doubt a star in this league now, and I think that he will prove that he is superstar throughout this season. The Pacers will have the best nine-man rotation in the league once Danny Granger returns. Their rotation will consist of starters George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, and CJ Watson, Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, along with Danny Granger coming off of the bench. The Pacers have a strong interior to counteract the Heat’s weakness, and along with their physicality at all positions, look for the Pacers to have another great season heading into the playoffs as the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Fourth Seed: Chicago Bulls
It has been over a year and a half but he is finally back! Derrick Rose returns to regular season action this year, coming in motivated as ever to lead his Bulls to a championship. The one thing that separates this team from the rest in the East is their toughness. When playing the Bulls, teams are well aware of their interior presence and ability to defend. The Bulls have no problem playing a straight man-to-man defense against any team, and warring them down throughout the four quarters of play. Joakim Noah is one of the most underrated players in the NBA and his interior presence is the reason why the Bulls are always in it every year. With D-Rose returning, the Bulls will once again be back in it as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Fifth Seed: New York Knicks
I have always question whether or not the Knicks have the ability to go onto the next level every year, and this year, I just don’t see it. There is this huge drop off in the Eastern Conference, and the Knicks are right on the border of it. They are not nearly as good as the top four teams, but at the same time the Knicks are on a different level than the rest of the teams in the conference. Offense will not be an issue for the Knicks, that is for certain. Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, and newly acquired Andrea Bargnani will put the ball into the basket. However, the Knicks struggle with team defense. They have great individual defenders in Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, and Metta World Peace. There will be too many times where the Knicks give up more than 100 points, and the offensive fire power will not be enough to propel them to the next level.
Sixth Seed: Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving is the best young player in the NBA, and will soon be the face of the league. The Cavs are still a young team and it will take this year of those young talents playing together to get them to the next level for years to come. One of the potential problems with the Cavs this year is their interior. If Andrew Bynum plays at all and is anything of what he use to be, the Cavs interior rotation will be quite nice with Bynum, Varejao, Thompson, Zeller, Bennett, and Clark. But if Bynum does not play, the Cavs rotation will be too young and since first overall pick Anthony Bennett and Earl Clark are new to the team, a lack of chemistry may also effect the Cavs chances this year. There is no doubt that the Cavs will be good for years to come, and they could reek havoc in the east this year. After all, the Cavs made great moves this off season by bringing in NBA veterans Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, and Andrew Bynum to gel with the young core the Cavs have in place. If Kyrie Irving stays healthy for the entire season, the Cavs will have a great year, but I only see them finishing as the sixth seed at best.
Seventh Seed: Detroit Pistons
It is about time the Pistons put a team on a floor that could compete after the success they had in early to mid 2000’s. Signing Josh Smith and bringing back Chauncey Billups, while trading for Brandon Jennings put the Pistons in contention for a playoff spot that I believe they will get. Their starting lineup will be Brandon Jennings, Rodney Stuckey/Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond. That sounds like a playoff starting lineup to me. Needless to say they have Will Bynum, Chauncey Billups, Kyle Singler, Charlie Villanueva, and Peyton Siva coming off of the bench. Winning basketball is coming back to Detroit, and the Pistons will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come, but for now they finish as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
Eighth Seed: Toronto Raptors
The Raptors had a solid second half last year, and with a full season with Rudy Gay this season, the Raptors will squeak into the playoffs as the eighth seed. They have a feasible starting lineup with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valanciunas. The bench will be the reason why the Raptors sneak into the playoffs this year. Off the bench, the Raptors have Tyler Hansbrough, Austin Daye, Terrence Ross, Landry Fields, D.J. Augustin, and three-point specialist Steve Novak. Look for it to be battle for the seven and eight seeds in the Eastern Conference, but I ultimately see the Pistons and Raptors snagging those spots.
Just Missing the Playoffs: Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, and the Charlotte Bobcats
I was close to putting the Wizards in the playoffs over the Raptors, but I feel that the Raptors are slightly better as a team. John Wall and his crew will be in the playoffs after this year, but he needs to work one more year with Bradley Beal and rookie Otto Porter Jr. The Hawks lost Josh Smith but signed Paul Millsap to try and make up for the loss. I just do not see the Hawks being good enough to snag a playoff spot. They have an average starting lineup and bench. In today’s NBA, average will not get a team into the playoffs. The Boston Celtics are trying to tank but they got enough talent from the Nets, along with Rajon Rondo returning from injury to not suck this year. They may have a shot at the eighth seed, but their lack of talent will ultimately be the reason why the Celtics do not make it. If you read the “Just Missing the Playoffs” teams right, you saw the Charlotte Bobcats. This is the year where the Bobcats will not be the worst team in the Eastern Conference, and they may get into the playoffs. Al Jefferson always has his teams either in the playoffs, or on the cusp of the playoffs. Michael Jordan should have picked Ben McLemore over Cody Zeller, but once this team gets one year together, the battle for the last spots in the Eastern Conference will be intense.
Teams Going “Winless For Wiggins”: Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, and the Philadelphia 76ers
All three of these teams are absolutely atrocious and it is obvious that they are trying to tank for a high draft pick in next year’s stocked draft. It will come down to which team is better at losing, and I think that the 76ers are slightly worse than the Magic and Bucks.
The top five seeds in the Eastern Conference are locks, but seeds six through eight are wide open and it will be exciting to see how the year pans out in the Eastern Conference.