Just ten games into the regular season the Eastern Conference’s contenders have already started to separate themselves from the pretenders and the ones who just never had a chance. Early in the season last year’s top teams have gotten off to a great start, while last year’s bottom feeders have struggled out of the starting gate. Here’s how the NBA’s eastern conference is going to break down in the final stretch of the regular season.
Boston Celtics: Last year’s Eastern Conference champions have not shown any signs of weakening even with last year’s starting centre Kendrick Perkins in the injury reserve list for the first part of the season and last year’s sixth man Rasheed Wallace retired. They have bulked up adding Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, and Delonte West. The Celtics are definitely contenders provided Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen can stay healthy.
Orlando Magic: With pretty much the same roster as last year, led by the most dominant centre in the NBA, Dwight Howard and a healthy Jameer Nelson, the Magic are ready to elevate their game to the next level and make a run for the championship. This season they are contenders to win the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks also kept a very similar roster to the previous year, which was a regular season powerhouse, but seemed to lack motivation and drive in the postseason. Team leaders Joe Johnson and Josh Smith have been criticized about their playoff performance and this season, to make the Hawks a contender those two men will have to step up in the playoffs, but they have a chance to win the conference.
Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose and the young Bulls added some age, experience, and rebounding when they acquired Carlos Boozer in the summer. This team has not yet developed to its full potential, but this season they are still possible outside contenders, and with Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and Taj Gibson joining Rose the Bulls have a great young core and will surely break into the top four in no time.
Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, and Chris Bosh make any opposing team fear playing the Heat. This team is a contender, but got off to a rough start with a hard schedule and the big three need time to grow as teammates to maximize each of their productivity on the court. By game 82 you will see the Heat rise to the top of the conference. The only thing stopping them is a possible injury to one of the big three because they don’t have a deep bench.
Milwaukee Bucks: When healthy, the well balanced attack of the Bucks could be intimidating for opponents. From point guard to centre they have players that can hurt you, like Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bogut, Corey Maggette, John Salmons, Michael Redd, and Carlos Delfino. All of these B-list stars can propel the Bucks to a playoff spot, but unfortunately this team is a pretender, at times they will look like a top team, but when the playoffs roll around look for them to win at most one game against a real contender.
Indiana Pacers: The Pacers are solely fuelled by the skill and drive of Danny Granger. Granger averaged over 20 points per game last year, while constantly fighting off double teams. He is surrounded by a less than adequate team which features the young rebounding centre Roy Hibbert. Hibbert is really evolving into a very effective centre. This year the Pacers will be fighting for the final playoff spot and they are pretenders and will not win a game if they squeak into the playoffs.
Cleveland Cavaliers: With the departure of Lebron, comes the departure of a winning seasons. Led by Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison this is the first of the Eastern Conference`s teams that just never had a chance. The Cavs will need to rebuild again like they did in the 2003 draft. Don`t be surprised to see Jamison in a new uniform by the trade deadline as he is a skilled power forward, with experience to offer a playoff bound team.
New Jersey Nets: With a young core of Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, and Derrick Favors, this team is still one good draft pick and three or four years away from being a contender, but this year they just never had a chance. Although there will be drastic improvement from the league’s worst team, they will fail to make the playoffs.
Detroit Pistons: The Pistons have a seemingly strong back court featuring Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Gordon and Tracy Mcgrady, but lack the ability in the post with Charlie Villanueva and Ben Wallace. This team is a pretender at best with a slight chance of catching the Pacers for the final playoff spot in the East.
Charlotte Bobcats: This is the only Eastern team that has had a really slow start to the 2010-2011 regular season. All-stars Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace are surrounded by a competent team that could take them into the seventh spot in the East. Thus far in the season the Bobcats are pretenders, who are pretending to be a worse team then they actually are.
New York Knicks: With the addition of Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton surrounded by a group of up and coming players like Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. This year the Knicks just never had a chance, but they are moving in the right direction with some youth and a couple proven players. New York is a hot spot for free agents and with Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony becoming available in 2011 they could have a chance to contend in the near future.
Washington Wizards: John Wall… After a year of non-stop issues surrounding the Wizards, they have started to work on their future starting with point guard and first overall pick John Wall, who has already made a lot of noise around the league. With some veteran presence in Kirk Hinrich and Gilbert Arenas and a very youthful team they are only one more draft pick and a couple years away from becoming a playoff team, but this year the Wizards just never had a chance.
Philadelphia 76ers: Second overall pick Evan Turner has take a little longer to develop than John Wall, but will still become a very valuable NBA player in the future. Along with Andre Iguodala, Thaddeous Young, Jrue Holiday, and Louis Williams the 76ers have build a solid core for future success and like most other struggling teams need to work through the draft and wait for their players to develop. This year the 76ers just never had a chance.
Toronto Raptors: Sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Raptors are the farthest team from success this season. They have issues all the way across the board other than their centre Andrea Bargnani, who is a probably natural power forward. This year the Raptors just never had a chance and will likely not move from the basement and receive a top three pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
Finally my projected standings for the Eastern Conference:
- Miami Heat
- Orlando Magic
- Boston Celtics
- Atlanta Hawks
- Chicago Bulls
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Charlotte Bobcats
- Indiana Pacers
- Detroit Pistons
- New York Knicks
- Washington Wizards
- New Jersey Nets
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Toronto Raptors