Monday, October 29, 2007

Eastern Conference Predictions

Cream of the Crop

(1) Chicago- They led the conference with a +5.0 point differential last season, and during the off-season they replaced P.J. Brown with Joe Smith (call it even) and added Joakim Noah. Add in a little more seasoning for Tyrus Thomas, and you have probably the best team in the conference over the course of this regular season. What’s not to like? [50 wins]

(2) Detroit- Moving McDyess to the starting line-up makes the first five even tougher, but puts a lot of pressure on the bench players. Assuming they’re given a chance to play with a little leeway, the bench might struggle a bit early in the season and cost Detroit some wins, but it’ll help them in the long-run. This might be the year Rasheed blows up and takes the team down with him, but I’m a Wallace fan and think he’ll keep it in check. [49 wins]

(3) Boston- Call them the C’eatles (per Garnett) or the GAP kids (per me), but don’t call them pretenders. They’ll be for real. All the changes to their roster makes looking at last year’s results completely worthless. With three locks for the Eastern Conference all-star game on the roster, Boston has the Eastern Conference’s equivalent of the Suns’ Big 3 (only slower paced and playing in an area with much more snow...). If Doc Rivers is smart enough to not play his stars huge minutes during the regular season, it’ll cost them some wins during the regular season but help them in the long-run. Save the 40+ minute games by the Big 3 for the playoffs, and the Celtics will be heading all the way to the NBA Finals. [48 wins]

You need a Crystal Ball for these Guys

(4) Cleveland- They represented the Eastern Conference in the Finals last year. They had one of the best defenses in the league, and they had the third best point differential in the conference behind Chicago and Detroit (+3.8). Lebron has another year of experience. They basically stood-pat, which means placing them fourth seems appropriate (bumping Boston in front of them). On the other hand, if they don’t get the contract situation with Varejao straightened out (he’s currently home in Brazil) I think they could be fighting for their play-off lives—he’s a huge part of what they do defensively. [47 wins, but with a huge Varejao asterisk]

(5) Washington- They finished last season as a .500 team with a negative point differential (-0.5). On the other hand, they were ravaged with injuries to star players (most notably Gilbert Arenas) and were doing really well before everyone got hurt. I’m tempted to think they’ll do really well this year with their stars back from injury, but then comes the news that Etan Thomas needed heart surgery. He’s not a star, but he did a bunch of the dirty work for them. Plus, who do I put them in front of? They could be a 50 win team or they could be a 40 win team, and neither would surprise me. I’ll split the difference and put them here. [45 wins, with another big asterisk]

(6) Miami- If I had any guts I’d predict them to miss the playoffs, but I think I’m too scared because of the big names. (Shaq! Wade! It’s the NBA playoffs!) They had a negative point differential last year (-0.9) yet somehow managed to grab 44 wins. They were also plagued by injuries, and I don’t see this year being any different. They didn’t get any younger. Wade is going to miss a chunk of games at the beginning of the season. We know Shaq is going to miss games at some point. They lost quality wing players in Kapono and Posey, and an out-of-retirement Penny Hardaway isn’t going to be the answer. Yet I still can’t bring myself to put them below any of the remaining teams. I’m a wuss. [43 wins, with two asterisks!!!]

Two of these Things are going to Belong

(7) Toronto- Last year was a break-out year for the Raptors, and I think the run continues. John Hollinger predicts a drop-off because so many Raptor players had career-best years last season, but I think that was more a function of their new style of play. Plus, as one of just five teams in the Eastern Conference who had a positive point differential last year, I think they can decline a little and still make the playoffs. There are some lingering injury problems (Bosh, etc.) that will probably slow them down to start the year, but I think they don’t drop any lower than the seventh seed. [43 wins]

(8) Orlando- Change the name—they should be called the Stan Van Gundy Magic, rather than the Orlando Magic. I wasn’t a huge fan of the roster moves they made this summer (letting Milicic walk, signing Lewis to a contract way above market value), but I am a huge fan of SVG. He’s a miracle worker (as is his brother for that matter) who was absolutely knee-capped by Riley in Miami. If Orlando hadn’t changed coaches over the summer I’d be picking them to drop out of the playoffs, but not with SVG at the helm. Plus, I was surprised to learn that they had a positive point differential (+0.8) last season despite having a sub-.500 record. I don’t know how SVG is going to make Adonal Foyle a prime-time player, but he will. [42 wins]

(9) Indiana- Jim O’Brien is another coach that I consider a miracle worker. Remember, the Sixers were 43-39 in 2004-05 under him before falling back to 38-44 the next year under Mo Cheeks with basically the same roster (not to mention his work with the Pierce/Walker Celtics before that). His presence on the Indiana sideline is probably good for at least five wins. I also think his preference for fronting post-players will cover up some of Troy Murphy’s defensive shortcomings by allowing Jermaine O’Neal to cover up things with his over-the-top help defense, while at the same time allowing Murphy to concentrate on his offensive strengths—the outside jumper which also happens to be a JOB favorite. [41 wins]

(10) Philadelphia- The Sixers were 26-21 over the last 47 games of last season. I think being above .500 for that much of the season is a good sign, even if it might be a bit overstated because of some “cheap” wins racked up over the last month. They replaced Joe Smith with Reggie Evans, but other than that they pretty much stayed still. And as a result, I’m putting them slightly above .500 for the upcoming season. [41 wins]

(11) New Jersey- Um, Sam, you do realize that New Jersey has Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson? Yup, but I also realize that they basically have nothing else. Possibly Krstic’s return from injury or their pick-up of Jamal Magloire will make the difference, but last year NJ was a .500 ball-club with a negative point differential (-0.8). Not enough has changed, so I think this is the year they fall out of the playoffs. But it’ll be close. [40 wins]

(12) New York- The interior pairing of Curry and Randolph will be poor defensively, but effective offensively. People keep talking about them as two low-post players, but my impression of Randolph is that he was more of a high-post player. The big keys will be whether the guards get them the ball, Quentin Richardson stays healthy, and they find a way to get David Lee on the floor. Oh, and making sure that Isiah Thomas doesn’t harass anyone on the way to the arena (yes, that was a low blow, but not an undeserved one). They have talent (and they should with their payroll), but the key will be how they mesh that talent. [40 wins]

Wait, you’re telling me that you’re a Professional basketball team?

(13) Charlotte- They have a killer line-up of players at the swing positions (Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson, Walter Herrmann, Matt Carroll, and Derek Anderson, and that isn’t even counting Adam Morrison, who isn’t good [update: and is now injured--which might add a few wins to their total], and Jared Dudley, a rookie). Unfortunately, they’re pretty thin everywhere else, especially with the injury to Sean May. Still, I don’t see them being any worse than last year, and they might even be a few games better because of the addition of Richardson, but another injury to a front court player (I’m looking at you, Mr. Okafor) would be devastating. [36 wins]

(14) Atlanta- They’re another team with a strong contingent of wing players, although not quite as deep at the position as Charlotte (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Josh Childress, and Marvin Williams should take all the minutes). But they’re also another team that’s pretty thin everywhere else. Al Horford helps, particularly as a presence on the boards and on the defensive end, but he isn’t enough to vault them into playoff contention. Maybe Acie Law IV is the answer at point guard, but I doubt it. They’ll have a better year than last year, but not by much. [34 wins]

(15) Milwaukee- I like Michael Redd (and really liked him on Team USA this summer), but I don’t like anything else on this squad. For the life of me, I don’t understand why they were so insistent on bringing back Mo Williams and Charlie Bell—I don’t think either of them is really going to help the Bucks win. Yi isn’t going to be a difference maker this year, and I just don’t see a whole bunch on the roster to get me excited. [27 wins]

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