Inside the NBA | Eastern Conference Preview: Heat, Celtics top contenders
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 00:10
Can you believe it? In another offseason of big transactions and close to a complete preseason slate, the NBA is ready to kick off on Tuesday with the defending champion Miami Heat against the wily Boston Celtics. And with the start of the new season comes the Daily’s attempt at an Eastern Conference preview:
The Atlantic Division is on the rise, having four teams with a shot at the playoffs this season. Long time bottom feeders, the now-Brooklyn Nets, will look to take control of a division up for grabs after a busy offseason, boasting a starting five that now includes All-Stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace.
The Boston Celtics became a Big Three again after the departure of Ray Allen, but with the addition of Jason Terry and other non-flashy but key players, and the ability of Doc Rivers to get all of his players to play for each other, their grit and sheer determination will make this team relevant, a hallmark of all great Celtic teams.
Meanwhile, the New York Knicks start the season much like how the last season played out: with an injury to Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks will be forced to play through Carmelo Anthony, and when the Knicks don’t win, the media will be all over Melo’s leadership abilities.
The Philadelphia 76ers overhauled their roster and started anew with center Andrew Bynum, who instantly became the best center in the East. With Jrue Holliday developing into a star point guard, this team will look to place higher than its eighth seed last year.
Lastly, the only things to look forward to with the Toronto Raptors is whether Demar Derozan is as good as his high draft pick was, and the arrival of Jonas Valanciunas, who had to wait a year for the Raptors to buy out his European contract.
Where they stand in the Eastern Conference: 2. Celtics, 5. Nets, 6. 76ers, 7. Knicks, 13. Raptors
The pecking order in the Central is clouded by the absence of Derrick Rose. The former MVP blew out his ACL during the playoffs last year and is sidelined indefinitely until he recovers from surgery. In the meantime, it’s up to Chicago’s first-class role players — Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and returning captain Kirk Hinrich — to stem the tide until Rose’s return.
Until then, the division belongs to the Indiana Pacers. Built deep like the Bulls and playing equally tough defense, the same core of Danny Granger, Paul George and Roy Hibbert — not to mention George Hill and David West — took the Miami Heat to six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They’re out to show that it wasn’t a fluke.
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks hope to make a strong playoff push after acquiring Monta Ellis mid-season last year. Paired with Ellis in the backcourt will be fourth-year guard Brandon Jennings, and with more time to get comfortable with one another, they could be one of the most explosive, young backcourts in the league.
Nearby, the Detroit Pistons still look to build around their duo of Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, both of whom showed great promise last season. Word out of the Pistons is that they like their new draft pick, center Andre Drummond, but they are still rebuilding.
The keys to the Cleveland Cavaliers were officially handed over to Kyrie Irving after the departure of veteran Antawn Jamison. Expect some growing pains from the second-year guard after what was a stellar Rookie-of-the-Year campaign.
Where they stand in the Eastern Conference: 3. Pacers, 8. Bulls, 9. Bucks, 10. Pistons, 14. Cavaliers
Since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, his dominance has transferred with him. And after reloading this offseason with offensive talents in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, the reigning MVP, James, and the Heat now shoulder the expectations of retaining their title.
In the rest of the division, after losing All-Star Joe Johnson to the Nets, the Atlanta Hawks seemed left for dead. But a refocused Josh Smith along with Al Horford make up a tough pair to drive against in the lane. And with Jeff Teague continuing to improve each season and Lou Williams adding to the offense, this team isn’t going anywhere.