NBA Eastern Conference predictions

By in Sports & Health

ISAAC BOND
Sports Writer

Lebron James
Following the Orlando Magic capturing the Eastern Conference*, then losing to the L.A. Lakers in the finals last spring, a new season is slated to kick off on Oct. 27.
A dominant Eastern Conference is expected, with Cleveland, Orlando and Boston fronting the pack. Here are this season’s predictions.

1st: Cleveland Cavaliers
Last season: 1st
Record: 66-16. Eliminated in conference finals by the Orlando Magic.
Some fans question the Cavs’ spring trade to get Shaquille O’Neal after how Phoenix has fizzled, but the big man is still an all-star and one of the best centers of all time. Shaq will find a slower, more physical team that can give him more rest in the Cavs. Cleveland also acquired underrated pickups in ex-Raptors Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon, two former Raptors who will give the team depth in the back court. Oh yeah, and Lebron James isn’t getting any less dominant.

2nd: Orlando Magic
Last season: 3rd
Record: 59-23. Eliminated in NBA final by the Los Angeles Lakers.
After coming up short in the NBA finals, the Magic immediately made a move to get Vince Carter from the Nets, giving up promising rookie Courtney Lee. The Magic also lost Hedo Turkgolu to the Raptors. The return of Jameer Nelson at point guard will keep this team full of lethal shooters to surround Dwight Howard but it will take a while to adjust to the absence of Turkgolu and the presence of Carter.

3rd: Boston Celtics
Last season: 2nd
Record: 62-20. Eliminated in semi-finals by the Orlando Magic.
A hungry Kevin Garnett returns, which means championship contention for the Celtics, as long as all their veterans stay healthy. With the pickup of Rasheed Wallace, the Celtics acquire significant depth that management hopes won’t catch the injury bug. Look for this team to play their best basketball come playoff time, taking care to rest their aging stars in the regular season.

4th: Atlanta Hawks
Last season: 4th
Record: 47-35. Eliminated in semi-finals by the Cleveland Caveliers.
The Hawks have added journeyman scorer Jamal Crawford as their sixth man. Crawford gives the Hawks more backcourt scoring, but won’t help the lack of leadership that has shown when they face quality opponents in the playoffs. If issues arise with Crawford in the rotation, Joe Johnson might look elsewhere when he becomes a free agent next spring.

5th: Toronto Raptors
Last season: 13th
Record: 33-49. Did not make playoffs.
The Raptors have overhauled their roster to build a tougher, more talented squad with Hedo Turkgulo being their biggest pick-up. This will be a much different squad than last year’s aside from starters Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani. Many predict playoffs for the Raptors, again, but adding more grit to their game this off-season will help them follow through.

6th: Miami Heat
Last season: 5th
Record: 43-39. Eliminated in the quarter-finals by the Atlanta Hawks.
Miami hasn’t made any significant off-season improvements, but after Dwayne Wade’s re-emergence last season, the Heat are a force to be reckoned with. However, the Heat rely on the maturity of sophomore Michael Beasley to help Wade and give him reason to stay in Miami. Beasley can play, but he has yet to show the leadership teams come to expect of a player with his talent.

7th: Washington Wizards
Last season: 15th
Record: 32-50. Did not make playoffs.
After what Wade did in Miami last year, people are expecting the return of Gilbert Arenas to have the same effect. But three other additions will help the Wizards redeem last year’s disappointment with a playoff appearance: Randy Foye and Mike Miller provide depth inside and out, and Flip Saunders is a keen addition as coach.

8th: Chicago Bulls
Last season: 7th
Record: 41-41. Eliminated in quarter-finals by the Boston Celtics.
Chicago’s first round series with Boston was a classic and it gave Derrick Rose a chance to flourish while performing on a bigger stage. Though Ben Gordon left for Detroit, Chicago has a lot of talented players who just need a confident leader to fall back on. The Bulls are hoping a point guard can do for Chicago what Chris Paul has done for New Orleans. Rose might be able to but he needs time.

9th: Philadelphia 76ers
Last season: 6th
Record: 41-41. Eliminated in quarter-finals by the Orlando Magic.
Other than losing Andre Miller, Philedelphia looks about the same. Still waiting to see if Elton Brand can play, still relying on Andre Iguodala’s athleticism and still mediocre in the half-court. They’ll be fortunate to hit .500 again in what’s bound to be a more competitive Eastern Conference.

10th: Detroit Pistons
Last season: 8th
Record: 39-43. Eliminated in quarter-finals by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Pistons continued to rebuild as Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace left in free agency where Detroit acquired Ben Gordon and Charlie Villenueva. This doesn’t exactly solve their back court controversy, though Gordon insists he can play off the bench. Villenueva is smooth but Detroit will miss the direction they lost since trading Chauncey Billups when they miss the playoffs.

11th: Charlotte Bobcats
Last season: 10th
Record: 35-47. Did not make playoffs.
The Bobcats dealt Omeka Okafor to New Orleans for Tyson Chandler, but they still can’t put the ball in the bucket. D.J. Augustine can’t toss lobs to Chandler like Chris Paul, though he does have potential. This team is still rebuilding, and they seem okay with that.

12th: Indiana Pacers
Last season: 9th
Record: 36-46. Did not make playoffs.
Ah, the Pacers. The wild card that could beat the Cavs, then lost to the Knicks in back-to-back games. Danny Granger has developed steadily over the last five years, and is playing at an all-star level. Still, Indiana can’t seem to find a stable rhythm with their franchise since the Reggie Miller era.

13th: New Jersey Nets
Last season: 11th
Record: 34-48. Did not make playoffs.
Trading Vince Carter essentially conceded the Nets’ playoff hopes and put them in a good position to tempt suitors in the 2010 pool of free agents. This means a frustrating year for Nets fans.

14th: Milwaukee Bucks
Last season: 12th
Record: 34-48. Did not make playoffs.
Michael Redd is back but the Bucks traded his best perimeter partner, Richard Jefferson, to the Spurs. Apparently, Milwaukee would prefer San Antonio make the playoffs rather than themselves.

15th: New York Knicks
Last season: 14th
Record: 32-50. Did not make playoffs.
New York is still sitting on cash problems, waiting for a basketball saviour to lift their franchise from its melodrama and mediocrity.

– –
photo Keith Allison

*The article originally stated that the Orlando Magic won the NBA Championship when, in fact, they won the Eastern Conference. The L.A. Lakers won the NBA Championship in the 2008-09 season.