- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Boston Celtics

Last season: 66-16, first in East, NBA champions

At a glance: F Kevin Garnett, F Paul Pierce and G Ray Allen delivered the Celtics from the dregs of the league to the franchise’s 17th title last season. All three return for a repeat quest.

Wild card: F Leon Powe was extremely effective in limited action and appears ready to shoulder a heavier load off the bench, especially now that James Posey and P.J. Brown are gone.

Prediction: Eastern Conference champs

Detroit Pistons

Last season: 59-23, second in East

At a glance: G Richard Hamilton, G Chauncey Billups, F Tayshaun Prince and F/C Rasheed Wallace give the Pistons a dynamic quartet of selfless players, each capable of taking over games. But Billups is 32 and Wallace 34.

Wild card: F Jason Maxiell. With Antonio McDyess on the decline, Maxiell eventually could replace him in the starting lineup. He has progressed significantly each year, and with no post player averaging more than 32 minutes last season, he will get the chance to contribute even more.

Prediction: Second in East

Philadelphia 76ers

Last year: 40-42, seventh in the East

At a glance: Led by athletic Andre Iguodala and underrated Andre Miller, the 76ers made a strong second-half push to reach the playoffs and put up a fight against the Pistons. They are strong in transition but weak in shooting; the Sixers ranked last in the league in 3-pointers.

Wild card: F Elton Brand missed the first 74 games of last season with a torn Achilles but came back to average 17.6 points and 8.0 rebounds in eight games for the Clippers before signing a six-year, $80 million deal in July with Philadelphia. If he can stay healthy, he gives a young, talented team a legit low-post threat and chance to contend in the East.

Prediction: Third in East

Cleveland Cavaliers

Last year: 45-37, fourth in East

At a glance: F LeBron James continued his ascension last season with a career year: 30.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 7.2 apg. Cleveland returned to the Eastern Conference finals, but the one-man show wasn’t enough to stop the Big Three.

Wild card: PG Mo Williams, acquired via offseason trade from Milwaukee, finally could be the Robin to James’ Batman because of his deadly midrange jumper and ability to create his own shot. Their production could help compensate for an aging frontcourt.

Prediction: Fourth in East

Orlando Magic

Last year: 52-30, third in East

At a glance: C Dwight Howard is coming off a career year, and Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis complemented him nicely. But Howard needs to establish himself further on the offensive end and help improve his team from its fourth-worst ranking in offensive rebounding.

Wild card: SG Michael Pietrus was signed in the offseason to replace Keyon Dooling and give the team another perimeter scorer and a defensive stopper. However, he has struggled with foul trouble during his five-year career, making the move risky.

Prediction: Fifth in East

Toronto Raptors

Last year: 41-41, sixth in East

At a glance: The up-and-down Raptors eventually reached the playoffs as the sixth seed. Chris Bosh is a natural power forward but often had to carry a heavier workload as an undersized center. Jose Calderon replaced T.J. Ford as the starting point guard, averaging 11.2 points, 8.3 assists and just 1.5 turnovers. Ford was traded in the offseason, making it Calderon’s show to run completely.

Wild card: C Jermaine O’Neal fills a huge need for a strong defensive presence, and if he can stay healthy he will save Bosh from wear and tear.

Prediction: Sixth in East

Washington Wizards

Last year: 43-39, fifth in East

At a glance: The Wizards reached the playoffs despite the absence of Gilbert Arenas for all but 13 games thanks largely to All-Star performances by Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. Arenas (knee surgery) again will miss significant time, and center Brendan Haywood (wrist surgery) could be out six months.

Wild card: F/C Andray Blatche averaged 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds off the bench but 11.5 and 8.1, respectively, as a starter. The Wizards need him to produce consistently to help offset the absences of Arenas and Haywood, but consistency hasn’t been one of Blatche’s strengths.

Prediction: Seventh in East

Atlanta Hawks

Last year: 37-45, eighth in East

At a glance: The young Hawks last season reached the playoffs for the first time since 1999, but the common question surrounding the team this year is whether they will overestimate themselves because of last year’s feat.

Wild card: F Marvin Williams, who has yet to live up to being the second pick of the 2005 draft. With Josh Childress now in Greece, Williams likely will see his minutes - and his team’s need for his services - increase.

Prediction: Eighth in East

Chicago Bulls

Last year: 33-49, 11th in East

At a glance: The Bulls are trying to get over last year’s disappointing campaign and return to their form of 2006-07, when they were a contender on the rise. No. 1 overall pick Derrick Rose has the weight of his hometown’s expectations on his shoulders as he leads the rebuilding project of first-year coach Vinny Del Negro.

Wild card: F Tyrus Thomas is a freakish athlete with loads of potential, but the third-year pro has trouble mustering the focus needed to capitalize on his talents. To succeed, Rose needs a dominant interior presence to feed. Thomas could fit the bill, but will he?

Prediction: Ninth in the East

Miami Heat

Last year: 15-67, last in the NBA

At a glance: Dwyane Wade last season came off offseason knee surgery, never was right and missed 21 games. He looked spectacular during the Olympics and could make a run at MVP this season.

Wild card: F Michael Beasley has undeniable talents, but questions about his maturity kept him from being the first pick in the draft. Can he be the low-post presence Miami needs? If so, a trio of Wade, Beasley and Shawn Marion is a good foundation, but the supporting cast is suspect.

Prediction: 10th in East

Milwaukee Bucks

Last year: 26-56, 13th in East

At a glance: The Bucks in the offseason shipped Bobby Simmons and Yi Jianlian to New Jersey for Richard Jefferson, giving Michael Redd a high-scoring sidekick. They also gave C Andrew Bogut a five-year, $60 million extension, though he has yet to live up to his No. 1 overall (2005) billing.

Wild card: Jefferson gives the Bucks an immediate upgrade at small forward and will take scoring pressure off Redd. But his defensive contributions lagged last season in New Jersey, and the Nets gave up 5.6 points per 48 minutes more when Jefferson was on the court.

Prediction: 11th in East

Charlotte Bobcats

Last year: 32-50, 12th in East

At a glance: Michael Jordan hired Larry Brown to take this roster of talented but fragile players to the next level. G Jason Richardson, F Gerald Wallace and C Emeka Okafor are a solid trio, but Wallace has never played an 82-game season in his seven years in the league, and Okafor has a history of back problems.

Wild card: F Sean May is a quality low post player who can play facing the basket and rebound well, but he missed all of last season with a knee injury and played only a combined 58 games over the previous two seasons. If he can get back into shape and remain healthy, he fills a big need for Charlotte and eases pressure on Okafor.

Prediction: 12th in East

Indiana Pacers

Last year: 36-46, ninth in East.

At a glance: The Pacers are a team in transition with some nice pieces, but how they all fit remains to be seen. Larry Bird traded Jermaine O’Neal and is trying to trade Jamaal Tinsley. F Danny Granger is the leading returning scorer on a team that overachieved last season.

Wild card: PG T.J. Ford is talented and could stabilize the point guard position, but he’s seemingly always hurt. This trade could be a big risk.

Prediction: 13th in East

New Jersey Nets

Last year: 34-48, 10th in East.

At a glance: The Nets have undergone nearly a complete makeover in the last year, though Vince Carter remains. PG Devin Harris has half a season in New Jersey under his belt and appears to be a piece of a future nucleus that could appeal to LeBron when buddy (and Nets minority owner) Jay-Z comes calling in 2010.

Wild card: Too many to count. Bobby Simmons and Yi Jianlian were added to the mix, two of 10 new faces on the roster.

Prediction: 14th in East

New York Knicks

Last year: 23-59, 14th in East

At a glance: Where to begin? Mike D’Antoni takes over the mismatched roster left behind by Isiah Thomas. Chris Duhon was brought in to run the point, but the Knicks still have Stephon Marbury hanging around. There are some pieces with potential - Zach Randolph, David Lee - but making everything else fit will be the challenge.

Wild card: Marbury. How long before he erupts and causes more distractions now that he’s on the bench?

Prediction: 15th in East



Click to Read More

Click to Hide