Preseason Playoff Picture: Eastern Conference

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Kyrie Irving 2Who is crashing the playoff party in the East this season?

Conventional wisdom says the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference and – barring a disaster – will secure the top five spots.

At the other end of the conference, you can probably toss out the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats and Philadelphia 76ers, who could pool their rosters to come up with the 15 best players and still not make the playoffs.

That leaves three spots for the remaining seven teams. Last season, those spots went to the Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks. Some would argue that each of those teams took backward steps in the offseason and could wind up in the lottery.

The postseason door could be open for teams such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, who clearly upgraded their rosters this summer in an effort to play in May. But have they done enough?

“I really like what Detroit did,” NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony said. “I really think they improved their standing.”

Regarding Cleveland, TNT analyst Chris Webber offered, “I think they’re the best young talented team in the league.”

But talent isn’t the only factor. Health matters. Coaching matters. And veteran professionalism matters.

“We’ve seen it year in and year out with young teams,” Anthony said. “They’ve shown promise, but can they do it consistently?”

Was that a hedge? Perhaps. But we’re not hedging. Below is a look at the seven East teams that have shot at the playoffs – and the three who we think will make it.

Hawks small logoATLANTA HAWKS: Believe it or not, the Hawks have the longest current playoff streak of any Eastern Conference team — six years. Rookie coach Mike Budenholzer will have to get lots of new pieces to mesh quickly in order to keep that streak alive.

Injuries already are taking a toll. Combo guard Lou Williams, who has the ability to relieve point man Jeff Teague or play alongside him, is still rehabbing a torn ACL and may not return until Christmas. Big man Gustavo Ayon, the potential backup to undersized center Al Horford and the MVP of the Tournament of the Americas for Mexico, could miss eight weeks with a shoulder injury.

Atlanta tallest player is 6-11 Eurorookie Pero Antic, a burly distance shooter whose supposed toughness will be tested immediately. The addition of Paul Millsap will help, and there is plenty of veteran professionalism here. But the Hawks need contributions right away from second-year guard John Jenkins and rookie blur Dennis Schroder (profiled here). Because unlike two years ago, the Hawks don’t have enough to withstand an injury to Horford.

VERDICT: In, almost by default and probably as the eighth seed.

celtics small logoBOSTON CELTICS: Of all the East teams tracking a playoff berth, they have the best and most indispensable player in All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, a triple-double machine who makes all of his teammates better and provides excellent head-of-the-snake defense.

Unfortunately, Rondo is highly dispensable right now, out until probably December with a torn ACL. Without159299855_Rondo_ASPorts him, the Celtics have no true point guard. Rondo’s backups are Avery Bradley, who has shown he cannot effectively run the offense for anything more than short stretches, and rookie Phil Pressey, who simply is not ready. And whoever plays the point will be working with a rookie coach in Brad Stevens.

There seems to be more than a few established names here, but many of them – Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Keith Bogans – have trouble getting their own shot and desperately need Rondo delivering the ball to be effective.

VERDICT: Out. It behooves both Rondo and the Celtics for him to take his sweet time returning and make the goal 60 losses instead of 35 wins.

celtics small logoCLEVELAND CAVALIERS: They have practically doubled the number of viable NBA players on their roster, adding Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark through free agency, Anthony Bennett with the top pick in the draft and Anderson Varejao via return from injury, providing the glue for Mike Brown’s defense.

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  1. Whoa. I think detroit is in without a doubt. And the bucks will be terrible

  2. steppxxxz says:

    oh, and i agree the Wiz are sleepers. That backcourt is exceptional. But cleveland…….come on chris. Seriously? Bynum wont play, we know that. Bennet cant guard ANYONE. So you have irving, if healthy all year….And Anderson varejao…..and Thompson is solid, and undersized. But a nice player. You have no small foward at all, or two guard…unless you think Dion waiters qualifies and I dont. And you have mike brown. Remember mike….once coached the lakers for a while.

  3. steppxxxz says:

    well, Id argue several things. First off……..can this tanking meme be put to bed. The worst team hasnt won the lottery in a while. There are a dozen very good players next year, and probably more like twenty who can be immediate starters. Im not sure there are franchise guys, but we;ll see . But teams dont win by practicing to lose. Boston wont do it. Ainge wont do it. And the celtics are being greatly undervalued right now. Same with Toronto. What can chris mean about this roster…..?? DeRozan, Valanciunus (break out year for sure),. Gay, Amir Johnson and kyle lowrey. With terrence ross on the bench, and psycho t. Thats actually a plenty good roster. Lets compare to the Knicks………..Melo…but then JR Smith….and what does that bring………?…….and shump….erratic at best…chandler is way past his prime…and then you have ray felton. Oh, and BARGNANI…..oh and amare, who cant play for more than five minutes. Its a terrible roster. Yes they win a few on Melo’s scoring. Thats it. Also, Detroit might well be a six or five seed. If drummond stays healthy and keeps improving, with monroe and jennings and Josh…man, that might be quite good. On the other hand, why so nice to the Bucks? Lose reddick (after throwing away tobias harris) and now you have the awful brandon knight….a rookie from greece who is some mass delusion if people think he can play yet……and sanders. Oh and illysova. Thats about it. Henson is a deeply flawed big man..and the rest is junk. So……i think chicago, miami and indiana are miles ahead of the rest. Miles and miles.

    • Steppxxxz, thanks for reading. I hate Toronto’s bench. I think it’s awful. And I think Brown will get the Cavs to play good team defense. Obviously Varejao and Irving both have to play 75 games and I don’t like their small forwards. I think they might play Irving, Jack and Waiters/Miles at the same time. I’m not sure what Boston is going to do. I think Rondo’s injury/return allows them to go in either
      direction. But I am sure Philly is mailing it in. I think Detroit has too many chefs that will spoil the broth. We’ll see.

  4. “There was some offseason grumbling from the fan base on two fronts. One was that owner Herb Kohl remains highly reluctant to blow it up and start over, instead insisting on putting a competitive product on the floor. The other was the Bucks overpaid for that product, and $40 million for three years of O.J. Mayo and Zaza Pachulia may seem like a bit much.”

    I would alter this comment by saying this… “There was some grumbling from the fan base on several fronts. First was the horrific trade made during the season last year that saw a core building piece traded away for a rental player that didn’t do anything to improve the team’s destiny for finishing the regular season with the 8th seed and a 1st round playoff sweep. Second and third issues deal with owner Herb Kohl’s refusal to allow this team to sink or swim while maximizing the development of its young players with the silver lining being that if a bad season is the result then at least a high draft pick will be awarded from next years deeply talented draft. In more detail the third issue deals with the signing and trading for several elderly veteran players who’ll likely play a decent role for this team instead of allowing the young core to maximize their opportunities – Caron Bulter, Luke Ridnour, Carlos Delfino, and to a lesser extent Zaza Pachulia.”

    I think many fans liked the signing of OJ.Mayo given his age and still existing potential, plus many are sort of uncertain of what to expect of the Gary Neal signing. Zaza at least provides the Bucks with a strong and hard nosed physical presence inside that L.Sanders and J.Henson, plus E.Udoh don’t really have the girth, strength, and mindset to provide; though, he did get overpaid to provide that.

    IMO, the biggest problem the Bucks have is that nobody on the team can effectively create their own shot and the one or two players who might have the athletic explosiveness to break defenses down and create open opportunities for other teammates don’t have a propensity to do so. This is why I think the Bucks really needed to add a starting caliber guard such as Jeff Teague, Eric Bledsoe or Isaiah Thomas.

  5. Only difference I have is Pistons in (easily) and Bucks out.
    I don’t see the Knicks in the same class as the top 4 teams.
    I doubt Heat will have the best record in East – Not enough motivation, because they know they can turn it on in post-season, if healthy.
    Anyone who says they can predict order of finishing (regular season) between Pacers, Nets, Heat and Bulls is just interested in attention.

    Boston could make moves that weaken team, short term.
    Wiz could sneak in if health is good and bad for ATL or CLE.

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