There is a remarkable disparity in the quality of teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. That disparity though is quite simple to understand-the Miami Heat and the rest of the field. The Miami Heat have separated themselves from any other playoff contender in the East, ever more strikingly with the absence of Derrick Rose. However, nothing is a guarantee in the NBA. So, let’s get down to business.
The Miami Heat are the unquestioned number one in the Eastern Conference power rankings. Lebron James was a near perfect player last few years. He could guard all five positions at an elite level, had the versatility to play 1-4 on offense, and the physical athleticism to annihilate any opposing athlete. The only tool missing was his mental toughness. Now that Lebron James has proved to the world that he can perform in the most critical moments of a basketball game, he does not really have too much internal pressure constantly weighing down on him. Expect a surreal Lebron James, a revived Dwayne Wade, and a scrappy Chris Bosh to fit well with their new shooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis and ultimately challenge the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls 72-win record.
The Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics remain the two biggest threats to the reigning NBA Champions. Both teams boast a largely intact starting lineup that can match the chemistry of any other team. Talent is no shortage with these two teams. Rajan Rondo is arguably the best pass-first point guard in the league and will maximize the remaining productivity of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and new addition Jason Terry along with young guns Jeff Green and Courtney Lee. For the Celtics to have any chance of beating the Heat in the playoffs though, they will need Rajan Rondo to perform at his maximum, delivering triple doubles on a nightly basis. The Indiana Pacers on the other hand are largely dependent on the performance of their front court. With Roy Hibbert, David West, and Danny Granger starting at the front court positions, the Pacers have the talent to match up against the Heat. However, they really have not added much over the offseason and are relying on Paul George, second year shooting guard, to lift the Pacers into a new stratosphere.
Teams in New York are talented. The New York Knicks and New York Nets have rosters that when put together hold sufficient talent to make an all-star team. However, chemistry issues will stall the productivity and talent of these two teams. The Knicks will rely on Jason Kidd to somehow rid them of their dysfunctional use of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony simultaneously. The Nets on the other hand need to figure out how to fit new face Joe Johnson along with returning Brooklyn Lopez and adjust to their rising expectations.
The Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, and Atlanta Hawks should fill up those last few playoff spots. All these teams have a critical flaw that prevents them from performing much better. The Bulls don’t have Derrick Rose. However, Tom Thibodeau, a defensive mastermind, will muster enough defense and scoring from his relatively productive unit last year. The 76ers have the potential to be an amazing team if Andrew Bynum grows into a reliable franchise player. But, who thinks that’s really going to happen? Last, the Hawks made a great move by getting rid of Joe Johnson’s burdensome contract and making Josh Smith the new focal point. However, they did get rid of arguably their best player.
Finally, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic, and Toronto Raptors are just undergoing too many fluctuations to make a viable push for the playoffs. There are definitely some quality players and rising starts on these teams-Kyrie Irving, Monte Ellis, and Brandon Jennings. But, the majority of these teams are a couple of solid first round picks away from making a solid impact on the playoff standings.