With the NBA Regular Season set to begin in a little under two weeks, now is a great time to preview the upcoming season. It should be one of the most fascinating seasons in recent memory, as many star players, such as F LeBron James, have changed teams during the off season. Here is my take on how the Eastern Conference will shake out this year:
TOP 8 SEEDS MAKE PLAYOFFS
1. Chicago Bulls (58-24)
You heard it here first! The Chicago Bulls are equipped to take the top spot in the Eastern Conference this season. Coach Tom Thibodeau always has his team prepared to play defense, but the addition of F Pau Gasol via free agency, F Doug McDermott via the draft and a healthy season from star PG Derrick Rose should have this team pacing the way in the East. Solid defense can last over a full season, and now the Bulls have some scoring punch to back it up.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (54-28)
Even the mighty LeBron James can’t bring the Cavaliers to total regular season dominance right away in his first season
The Cleveland Cavaliers, featuring Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love (left to right, above), look to make some noise in the East this season.
back with the team. It will take time to build chemistry with PG Kyrie Irving, and newly acquired F Kevin Love before Cleveland can try for any regular season wins records. That being said, they will easily be one of the best teams in the East this season, and have the potential to make an NBA title run.
3. Washington Wizards (50-32)
The Washington Wizards will break the 50 win mark this season. Additions of F Paul Pierce from free agency, and a year under his belt for 2013 first rounder, Otto Porter, Jr., have the Wizards set to really make a run in the Eastern Conference. This could be one of the more exciting teams to watch this season, as their up-tempo style, led by PG John Wall, racks up a lot of points and creates a lot of highlight reel plays. As the Wizards continue to gain experience, they will become a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference this season.
4. Miami Heat (48-34)
LeBron’s old team didn’t just disband. To “replace” LeBron (lord knows you can’t ever replace LeBron), the Heat brought in Fs Luol Deng and Danny Granger. They also still have star players G Dwyane Wade and F Chris Bosh. While they aren’t the same team that the Big 3 was in past seasons, Miami still has what it takes to compete in a relatively weak Eastern Conference. Imagine a match up of the Cavaliers and Heat late in the playoffs. That would be great playoff drama, and has a legitimate chance of happening, as the Heat are one of the few that can truly win the East this season.
5. Indiana Pacers (47-35)
Beginning with the Pacers, this is where the fall off in the East truly begins. None of these teams, including the Pacers, have what it takes to capture the Eastern Conference title this season. F Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury while playing for Team USA this summer, and Indiana simply doesn’t have what it takes to be truly competitive without him. While the Pacers will make the playoffs in the East, I think it’s safe to say that they are the beginning of the Eastern Conference teams that wouldn’t make the playoffs if they were to play in the Western Conference.
6. Toronto Raptors (47-35)
The Raptors are one of those teams that are kind of stuck in mediocrity. They have good players, such as Gs DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, but simply lack the true scoring punch or defensive presence that puts teams over the top. Yet, Toronto should expect another trip to the playoffs, and another early exit.
New head coach, Derek Fisher, and team president, Phil Jackson (left to right, above) are looking to put the New York Knicks back on the map.
7. New York Knicks (44-38)
This prediction could come as a surprise to many, but I was a fan of a lot of the Knicks’ off season moves, including acquiring Gs Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin. New York isn’t ready to contend for titles yet, but should definitely show enough improvement under their new head coach, Derek Fisher, to return to the playoffs.
8. Brooklyn Nets (42-40)
The Nets got worse this off season. They were already an aging team, and Brooklyn did nothing but get older. The Nets also lost F Paul Pierce in free agency, and are hoping that G Deron Williams bounces back from an injury-plagued season in ’13-’14. Until Brooklyn can clear some cap room, they should expect a pattern of early playoff exits.
9. Atlanta Hawks (41-41)
10. Charlotte Hornets (39-43)
11. Detroit Pistons (34-48)
12. Boston Celtics (30-52)
13. Milwaukee Bucks (22-60)
14. Orlando Magic (20-62)
15. Philadelphia 76ers (20-62)
Some people are higher on the Charlotte Hornets than I am going into this season, mostly because they added G Lance Stephenson in free agency. I could see them battling for the final spot in the playoffs late in the season, but I think a team with more experience, like the Nets, can better handle pressure situations. The Hawks and Pistons are a couple of teams that are similar to the Raptors, in that they are stuck in mediocrity. Toronto’s version is simply better than Atlanta or Detroit’s depiction. The bottom four teams (Celtics, Bucks, Magic, 76ers) are the teams that contain many recent, high-profile college basketball stars that are just getting their starts in the NBA. They will be fun to watch as the young players develop, but they will not compete in the near future.
1. Bulls vs. 8. Nets
Series Prediction: Bulls win 4-2
2. Cavaliers vs. 7. Knicks
Series Prediction: Cavs win 4-1
3. Wizards vs. 6. Raptors
Series Prediction: Wizards win 4-1
4. Heat vs. 5. Pacers
Series Prediction: Heat win 4-2
1. Bulls vs. 4. Heat
Series Prediction: Bulls win 4-1
2. Cavaliers vs. 3. Wizards
Series Prediction: Cavs win 4-3
Eastern Conference Finals
1. Bulls vs. 2. Cavaliers
Series Prediction: Bulls win 4-3
I’ve gotta believe that this is G Derrick Rose’s year. It will be his best chance at an NBA Championship, as I fully expect LeBron to put together a few championships in Cleveland in the next couple seasons. I’m going to say that the inexperience of some of the Cavs’ young players, and the Bulls’ extraordinary defense will be the deciding factors, and allow the Bulls to advance to their first NBA Finals since Michael Jordan was still in Chicago.