The NBA Eastern Conference’s best teams: With the NBA season less than 2 months away, which teams will find themselves with the highest seeds in the Eastern Conference? Could there be any surprise teams, such as the New Jersey Nets?
I divide the Eastern Conference into 3 categories. You have your teams who should be fighting for the Eastern Conference regular season #1 seed, you have other teams who, while I wouldn’t expect them to be amongst the candidates for the Eastern Conference’s #1 seed, will be competing for the 3-6 seeds and could be dangerous in the playoffs, and you have a large assortment of teams who’ll be going after the final two seeds.
1 Miami Heat(Win Potential – 62-67)
No brainer. The only team in the Eastern conference that could overthrow the Miami Heat for the top seed is Orlando. The biggest concerns with the Heat are chemistry and potential injuries. Could the Heat struggle with so many free agent acquisitions who haven’t played with each other? Could it take a season to create a bond between LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh? Also, if one of these three get injured for any significant time, are their substitutes good enough to cover for them?
Teams don’t play their best defense until the playoffs, so I think the Heat will get the top seed pretty easily. Even with an injury, I’d only see the Magic possibly stealing it away.
2 Orlando Magic(Win Potential – 57-62)
The Orlando Magic appearance unstoppable during the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs before being humbled by the Boston Celtics in the conference finals. They won 59 games the past two seasons and have no reason to drop off from that amount in 2010-2011 as they’re returning virtually the same team.
To compete with the Heat for the top seed, the Magic need to improve upon a few areas. Vince Carter needs to perform at a top level on a nightly basis. Dwight Howard needs to take that next step into the truly elite class of NBA big men by eliminating the foolish penalties and becoming more consistent with his production inside the paint.
3 Atlanta Hawks(Win Potential – 47-52)
The Atlanta Hawks are one of the league’s younger and more athletic teams, but they just feel like a team who’s a strong regular season competitor but not a championship contender or built for playoff series. Joe Johnson was resigned this off-season, but he should be the second best player on a team competing for the championship.
The Hawks will still be good, however. They’ve won 31 or more home games over the past two seasons, including 34 in 2009-2010. With such a home court advantage, they could elevate themselves into the top two class if they matured into a team that had more success on the road… but they won’t.
4 Boston Celtics(Win Potential – 47-52)
The defending Eastern Conference champions made a run in 2009-2010 after eliminating heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic. They almost escaped with the NBA championship but collapsed in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Celtics were a 4 seed in 2009-2010, and I’d expect something within 3-5 this season. They’re a good team who’s built tremendously for short series, but they’re also very old. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Jermaine O’Neal, and Shaquille O’Neal are past their prime, and Kendrick Perkins absence could impact the defense. With age comes injuries, and they could set this team back. Tom Thibodeau was always praised by Doc Rivers for orchestrating the Celtics defense, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Celtics lose any momentum defensively.
They’ll likely win 47-52, but they should be a playoff threat without any injuries to their 4 key players.
5 Milwaukee Bucks(Win Potential – 45-50)
The Milwaukee Bucks have put together a nice team, but they’ve been overshadowed by the glamour and glitz of the Miami Heat and proven Eastern Conference powerhouses. In 2010-2011, the Bucks could surprise some folks.
The Bucks added Corey Maggette alongside Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut. Maggette should add valuable points to an offense that’ll also expect progression from Bogut and Jennings, one of the NBA’s premiere rookies in 2009 averaging outside 19ppg. As a 5 seed last season with 46 victories, 50-wins is certainly possible for this young Bucks team.
6 Chicago Bulls(Win Potential – 43-48)
The Chicago Bulls have been a .500 team for the past season before utilizing the cap space they opened for marquee free agents. As they failed to attract the three biggest names, they used their cap space to build more of a team around Derrick Rose instead of a 3 ringed circus.
Carlos Boozer is the biggest name that the Bulls signed. Boozer gives the Bulls a dominant scoring threat in the paint, but he is prone to injury. Kyle Korver gives the Bulls a high quality perimeter shooter, but he’s not much more than an outside shooter. Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson are additions who are expected to be key contributors.
Derrick Rose should progress in 2010-2011, possibly into the elite class of NBA players. The Bulls will be good, but I perceive a slow start from them. Under a new head coach and so many new players on the roster, the Bulls will spend the first half of the season building a chemistry and familiarity. They might not have the highest seed, but they’ll be considered a force by season’s end. I’d still take them over the Bucks and Hawks in a playoff series despite the lower seed.
7 Indiana Pacers(Win Potential – 40-45)
The Indiana Pacers have been plagued with being a 35-win team the past couple seasons because of their youth. In 2010-2011, their rebuilding could start to pay off.
The Pacers already had one of the league’s best players in Danny Granger, a G/F who averages nearly 25 points per game. The Pacers acquisition of Darren Collison finally gives them a high-caliber point guard who’s still progressing in his second season. His presence not only improves them at the point guard position, but it also improves everywhere else because he’s very good at making surrounding players better and finding the open threat. Also Hibbert gives the Pacers one of the NBA’s largest and most productive big men at 7’2″.
Danny Granger, A.J. Price, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush, and Tyler Hansbrough are young players with great potential, and they should all benefit from Collison becoming point guard. This team will be hungry after seasons of failure and with so many young players wanting to prove themselves, and they’ll be better positioned with Collison. James Posey also gives them a player who has experience with numerous championship teams and will give them some valuable veteran leadership.
8A Washington Wizards(Win Potential – 38-43)
The Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers are teams who should make unexpected progression into the 2010 season. However, I’m giving a slight advantage to Washington.
The Washington Wizards finished with 26 victories after losing Gilbert Arenas for the majority of 2009-2010. The Wizards have made numerous roster transactions that should prove valuable in 2010-2011. Along with the return of Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards selected John Wall with the NBA Draft’s first pick. They’ve also added Kirk Hinrich and Yi Jianlian, and Andray Blatche starting coming into his own last season. Throw in Al Thornton and a potential return from Josh Howard later in the season, and the Wizards have enough talent to play into the first round of the postseason.
The Wizards biggest questions concern their chemistry with so many new acquisitions, a rookie floor general, and the uncertainty of Arena’s maturity. Flip Saunders is one of the NBA’s most established head coaches, and I expect that he can get this team to the 40, possibly even 45 win plateau by season’s end.
8B Philadelphia 76ers(Win Potential – 38-43)
The 76ers ended 2009-2010 with a 12-29 home record, 3 games worse than their away record. It’s difficult to imagine the 76ers continuing this trend. Elton Brand had one of the worst years of his career after averaging just over 13 points and is expected to lose weight this off-season to improve his play. Everything just seemed to go haywire for a 76ers team that got the 6th seed at 41-41 in 2008-2009.
With the addition of Evan Turner and the unlikelihood that the 76ers could amass the same misfortunes for two consecutive seasons, the 76ers are a team who will be vying for a playoff position in 2010-2011.
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NBA Standings from 2009-2010.