Brain-twister for you today, folks.
Go back to the start of the 2005-06 regular season, and try to name a superstar player who has represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Your answer cannot include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo or Ray Allen.
It’s OK. Keep thinking …
The correct answer is Dwight Howard of the 2008-09 Orlando Magic. He is the only one.
James and Wade have been to the finals the past three years, the Celtics went in 2010 and 2008, James went in 2007 and Wade in 2006.
From all indications, we’re headed for another James/Wade/Allen appearance unless the Indiana Pacers can summon what they couldn’t summon in Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals. But if you want to make any kind of real money gambling on the Pacers to come out of the East, you are two months late for the party. That ship sailed in the preseason.
Coming out of the Christmas Day quintupleheader, no team is within six games of either the Pacers or Heat, and if anyone is going to dethrone Miami or knock off Indiana, they are going to need to either make a major in-season acquisition or get real hot at the right time.
To give you an idea of how poorly Las Vegas perceives the Eastern Conference field going into Christmas, here are the odds at the Las Vegas Hilton (LVH) for the NBA Championship, followed by the odds for each team to win the Eastern Conference.
|New York Knicks||100/1|
|New York Knicks||40/1|
So if you like someone other than the Pacers or Heat, and you like long shots … this is your year. Like you Pistons fans, who should be emboldened by your team’s recent victory at Indiana in which Detroit’s bigs outplayed Indiana’s bigs. And we all know what it takes to beat the Heat — big guys, and big shots. And y’all know in the back of your minds that Chauncey Billups is lying in the weeds, not to mention that Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Jennings are nice crunch time players, too.
Would you put down $100 on the theory that the Pistons could pull off one of the more monumental upsets in NBA playoff history? Or two of them? Because the way things look now, the No. 3 seed is wide-open since the winner of the Atlantic Division will have a worse record and will be slotted fourth. If the Pistons get the third seed or the fifth seed, they’d face a likely second-round matchup with Indiana or Miami. And if the improbable happened, they’d still probably have to face the other one of those teams in the conference finals.
That $100 would become $4,000.
So, no, it won’t be easy. But nothing is impossible. Just ask Hakeem Olajuwon, who made it to the NBA Finals as a No. 6 seed in 1995. Yes, that was two decades ago, but who cares? The point is that what might seem impossible in December could still happen in May and June. That’s why they play the games.
So based upon current odds, individual talent and a few key attributes, here are a few different teams I believe have a chance to contend in the Eastern Conference against the mighty Heat and Pacers.
Current Odds: 100/1 and 40/1.
Current Starters: Brandon Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond.
Bench Rotation: Will Bynum, Rodney Stuckey, Chauncey Billups, Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko, Josh Harrellson.
What I am about to say may seem sacrilegious in South Beach or even a bit insane in Indy, but the combination of Jennings, Pope, Smith, Monroe, Drummond and Stuckey may be the most dangerous group of players in the Eastern Conference outside of the Pacers and Heat.
If the Pistons have enough time to gel and play together and string together a few more confidence building Ws, I think Detroit could be a dangerous team come playoff time.
Historically, players like Smith and Jennings simply have not posed much of a threat to anyone, other than scoring their 20-30 points a game on their mediocre teams (Milwaukee and Atlanta); but together, these groups of talented players could present a large issue to a team like Miami.
I personally believe Indiana would have an easier time with Detroit than Miami would, but early season results show that the Pistons are 1-1 against both Indiana and Miami, which says a lot about a team that just came together this summer. And even if the Pistons have to open on the road, that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Pistons are 6-10 at The Palace and 8-6 on the road.
BETWORTHY? You betcha.