Abridged NBA Season Preview: Eastern Conference

The NBA is back on Christmas Day and you can go to hell if you don’t care. With a condensed 66 game schedule, there figures to be a lot of random upsets, blowouts and overall very sloppy play. But everyone who likes college basketball should feel right at home.

The Contenders 

Chicago Bulls: After a fantastic run through the regular season where they captured the league’s best record, the Bulls hit a snag in the playoffs. Rough series against Indiana and Atlanta highlighted their offensive weaknesses, and in the Conference Finals LeBron James outplayed Derrick Rose in every facet of the game. While every game was close, each fourth quarter felt like a slow death. A need for another backcourt scorer/creator to complement Rose was evident, but given salary cap restraints the Bulls settled on Pistons castoff Rip Hamilton. He’ll be a nice fit, someone who can come off screens and shoot as well as distribute. But the chance of another title rests on Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.

Miami Heat: After storming through the playoffs and eliminating some demons, LeBron James decided it would be nice to take a vacation during the Finals. His sudden disappearing act after Miami took a 2-1 series lead is one of the biggest mysteries of the sports year. No one knows why he went from domination to sulking about (popular theory: he’s a piece of shit) but it catapulted Dallas to their first title. But after every blogger and ESPN host gets their potshots in, the simple fact remains James is the best player in the league, and Dwyane Wade is a top five player. After a tumultous season where all eyes were on Miami, they’ll have more cohesion and Chris Bosh will likely be more than just an ancillary point of the offense. The addition of Shane Battier and a healthy Udonis Haslem strengthens a shallow bench and makes Miami the prohibitive favorites to win the title.

New York Knicks: Basketball had gotten so bad in New York that people started to fondly reminisce about Charles Smith and John Starks as anything but useless scum who didn’t know how to play basketball (minor exaggeration). But thanks to the constant draw of Manhattan and Madison Square Garden they were able to sign Amar’e Stoudemire to a long-term contract and trade for Carmelo Anthony. Adding Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis gives them a dangerous starting lineup capable of beating anyone. But will Chandler alone turn them into a decent defensive team? Will Mike D’Antoni realize he can’t run his starters into the ground? If things go their way, the Knicks could be a dark horse title contender.

Very Good but the Title Window Has Closed

Boston Celtics: Well, that was a nice run you guys had. Unfortunately the Celtics just don’t seem to have enough manpower to compete with the elite teams anymore. The trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen is still great, Rajon Rondo is still a top 5 point guard despite looking like an alien. But there’s a sudden lack of depth. Jeff Green was supposed to be the guy who could play three positions and help the veterans rest but he’s out for the year with a heart condition. The corpse of Jermaine O’Neal will be summoned once again to protect the rim without breaking into pieces. There’s still talent and Doc Rivers is a great coach but the chances of them beating Miami or Chicago in a seven game series are pretty slim.

Orlando Magic: No one even knows if Dwight Howard will last the season in a Magic uniform. He’s changed his mind about 500 times whether he wants to go to LA, New Jersey or stay in Orlando. As of now, the Magic are staying tough and committed to keeping Howard. However, GM Otis Smith has done a terrible job of surrounding Howard with quality talent. On paper there’s a lot of names but in reality Howard plays with a bunch of guys who can’t do much other than shoot 3-pointers. Dwight may be the best center and defender in the game but there’s just not enough of a supporting cast for an extended playoff run.

Good, Not Great

Indiana Pacers: An impressive showing against Chicago in the first round showcased some of the reasons why Indiana figures to be a much better team this season. Head coach Frank Vogel got his young talent to play hard, commit to defense and overall be about as dirty as possible. With talented but asshole-y players like Jeff Foster and Tyler Hansbrough and the addition of David West and George Hill the Pacers go legitimately ten deep. They don’t have a franchise player but a collection of hard-working guys can win a lot of games and hopefully bring back some excitement for the NBA in Naptown.

Atlanta Hawks: Like every pro team in Atlanta, they are aggressively boring, mediocre and inspire no enthusiasm in the city. If you want to watch a team shoot nothing but contested 20-foot jumpers, the Hawks got your back.

Philadelphia 76ers: Similar to Indiana the Sixers have a nice cache of decent players but no star. Their two best players (Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala) can’t shoot. Doug Collins is the master of the quick turnaround leading to early playoff exits so look for Philadelphia to lose again in the first round.

Teams Not Worth Writing About

Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Bobcats, New Jersey/Brooklyn/Russia Nets, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards

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