FanPost

Eastern Conference Preview-Atlantic Div w/playoffs

We are double-dipping today on the previews with reader Grey Home's look at the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference Playoffs as a whole.  Thanks to Grey Home for providing these. 

See preview after the jump.  Be sure and weigh in with your own thoughts below.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)  

 

Atlantic Division

 

Playoff Seeds

Boston Celtics

57-25

3

Philadelphia 76ers

45-37

5

Toronto Raptors

38-44

 

New York Knicks

30-52

 

New Jersey Nets

22-60

 

 

New Jersey Nets

Prediction: 22-60 do not make the playoffs

Depth Chart

Point Guard

Devin Harris

Rafer Alston

MVP: Devin Harris

Biggest Surprise: Rafer Alston

Biggest Letdown: Yi Jianlian…again

Key to success: saving cap space

Grab bag: Devin Harris and Brook Lopez are the only pieces that matter this season.

Shooting Guard

Courtney Lee

Terence Williams

Small Forward

Bobby Simmons

Jarvis Hayes

Power Forward

Yi Jianlian

Sean Williams

Center

Brook Lopez

Josh Boone

 

Unlike other bad teams, the Nets have a lot of light at the end of the tunnel.  They have two franchise pieces in Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, two prospects in Courtney Lee and Terence Williams, and the intriguing Yi Jianlian.  The Nets also have a new owner, a very rich owner who will be looking to make a splash next summer when the Nets have a large amount of cap space to fill. In the meantime, the Nets are just trying to improve.  The development of the aforementioned is the first priority.  Unlike a lot of the other bad teams (Knicks, Bucks, Tulsa 66ers), the Nets aren’t trying to fool their fan base into thinking they have a shot at the playoffs.  Get Devin Harris the ball, get Brook Lopez the ball.  Mix in some Courtney Lee and Terence Williams.  Repeat.  Auto-wash.

 

Devin Harris has already established himself, becoming an all-start last year.  It is important that this year he runs the team, instead of being part of it.  He is still the first option on offense, but he needs to be more of an initiator and less of a finisher, specifically at the beginning of the game.  He should force feed Lopez down low.  His development is the key to long term success.  It is always said that a good center is hard to come by, and it’s true.   There are never more than 5 quality centers in the league at one time, and Lopez has a chance to an be an All-Star. He has a good outside touch, is a solid rebounder and is a smart passer.  He needs to get a bit more tenacious on defense and offensive rebounding to further his development.  The other post position will be filled by Yi.  It will be interesting to see how long that lasts.  He has a good game here and there, and I like his skills.  He needs consistency and some aggressiveness to match his skill. It just doesn’t seem like he is trying.  He could end up playing overseas when his contract is up.

 

Most of the other positions are filled by role players who aren’t necessarily important to the Nets long-term success.  Sean Williams and Josh Boone are solid big man off the bench, and Rafer Alston has proved to be a good starting point guard in the league, although he probably isn’t happy being a Net after starting for an NBA finals team.  But again, this team is building for the future, the team knows it, the management know it and the fans know it.

 

New York Knicks

Prediction: 30-52 do not make the playoffs

Depth Chart

Point Guard

Chris Duhon

Nate Robinson

MVP: David Lee

Biggest Surprise: Danilo Gallinari

Biggest Letdown: Jordan Hill

Key to success: Any sort of defense

Grab bag: Nate Robinson will be out of the league in 3 years

Shooting Guard

Wilson Chandler

Larry Hughes

Small Forward

Jared Jeffries

Danilo Gallinari

Power Forward

Al Harrington

Jordan Hill

Center

David Lee

Darko Milicic

 

Mike D’Antoni is one of my least favorite coaches.  His team’s playing style is fun to watch, its fast, lots of scoring, the players love it because they get to play a lot more freely than in most systems and the teams generally do a lot better than they would under this system…in the regular season.  Proponents of the system point to the Suns teams that played so well in the regular season and made the Western Conference finals, only to have some controversial calls.  In the end though, it was the lack of defense that caused the teams to not advance.  The Suns may have had some good defensive players; Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, Boris Diaw for a time, but as team it seemed a lack of focus, not to say it’s by design.  I am sure that D’Antoni coaches defense, but the mentality of quick offense seems to have a negative effect on most players.  There are more gambles in the passing lanes, players leaving their assignments to break, even more so than coached to, and of course three point shots that lead to easy offense for the other team.  I am just not sold.  The Lakers of the eighties ran a fast paced scheme too, but they also were great at defense.  It helps to have a 6’ 9” point guard reaching into the lanes with a 7 footer standing behind him, which the Knicks have neither of.

 

I also don’t see any big names coming to New York next year.  Chris Bosh is probably the most likely, but honestly, the situation is better in Toronto for the foreseeable future.  They at least have some pieces, but the Knicks? There is no legitimate star, or star in the making on the roster.  Jordan Hill and Danilo Gallinari have outside chances, but David Lee is most likely gone, and he won’t put up these same numbers anywhere else.  Nate Robinson is more of a showman than a basketball player. Wilson Chandler might be the only decent all-around player on the team. That isn’t saying much.

 

Of course, all of this is irrelevant because the Knicks are going to score tons of points with a chance to win on most nights.  And for New Yorkers right now, that’s an improvement.

 

Toronto Raptors

Prediction: 38-44 do not make the playoffs

Depth Chart

Point Guard

Jose Calderon

Jarrett Jack

MVP: Chris Bosh

Biggest Surprise: Jarrett Jack

Biggest Letdown: Hedo Turkoglu

Key to success: Chris Bosh playing at MVP level

Grab bag: Hedo drinks Dos Equis according to his wife

Shooting Guard

Marco Belinelli

DeMar DeRozan

Small Forward

Hedo Turkoglu

Antoine Wright

Power Forward

Chris Bosh

Amir Johnson

Center

Andrea Bargnani

Rasho Neterovic

 

Last year, I thought the Raptors were going to be a lot better.  They had made the playoffs the previous season and had added Jermaine O’Neal who looked to be back healthy.  Instead the Raptors floundered.  O’Neal was traded and Andrea Bargnani is now the full time starter.  Hedo Turkoglu was the big off season signing this year, and he is already hurting before the season has started due to Eurobasket.  This isn’t encouraging. 

 

Marco Belinelli is the projected starter at shooting guard, with a raw Demar DeRozan playing behind him.  Just like in Golden State, Belinelli won’t last long.  Jarrett Jack will be getting a majority of the minutes whether he is starting or not, while Rozan picks up any leftovers.  Jarrett Jack will also serve as the backup point guard to Jose Calderon who wasn’t mentioned nearly as much as the previous breakout year.  He is still solid, but he may need to be more aggressive if Toronto is to exceed expectations.

 

Again, Chris Bosh will be called on to carry this team.  He is certainly capable of that, and in the pick in roll with Turkoglu, he should be more dynamic than Dwight Howard.  That will be the go to play down the stretch for this team in close games, and it is potentially lethal as Bosh has much more range than Howard and is a better free throw shooter.  With Bargnani playing the middle, he can creep out to the perimeter a la Rashard Lewis to hit a kick out three pointer off of a Bosh or Turkoglu pick and roll.  The Raptors are in a sense, Magic-lite.

 

The Raptors will really need everyone to play at career year level to get to the playoffs or beyond, and Bosh himself, playing for a contract, will need to be near MVP level to take Toronto where he thinks they should be.  This means defensively he’ll need to channel Kevin Garnett while still producing big on the other side of court.

 

Philadelphia 76ers

Prediction: 45-37 5th seed

Depth Chart

Point Guard

Louis Williams

Jrue Holiday

MVP: Andre Iguodala

Biggest Surprise: Marreece Speights

Biggest Letdown: Jrue Holiday

Key to success: Brand the focus of offense

Grab bag: Sadly the best UCLA player on the team is Jason Kapono

Shooting Guard

Andre Iguodala

Willie Green

Small Forward

Thaddeus Young

Jason Kapono

Power Forward

Elton Brand

Marreece Speights

Center

Samuel Dalembert

Primoz Brezec

Why would this team be better with the loss of Andre Miller?  The offense initiator will change.  Miller is a good point guard, but with the ball in his hands, he forces the team to play his way.  The coaches he has had realize this and go with the flow, but now that he is gone to Portland, the offense will be much more post oriented.  The Sixers will still look to run, but in the half court sets Elton Brand will be the first player to get the ball.  Last year Brand was more of a cleanup man.  Getting offense boards and put backs, never really the focal point of the offense.  Granted, he is coming off two major injuries, but he needs to get more than twelve and a half shots per game.  He will.  Lou Williams isn’t a classic point guard by any meaning of the term, but he is smart enough to know he isn’t in there to be jacking up shots with Brand, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young providing the offense.

 

Defensively, Samuel Dalembert will continue to roam the middle.  Although his contract is much larger than it should be, he has been solid in the middle for the Sixers.  Along with his minutes, his stats went down last year, but for a defensive minded center who is fairly athletic to play in 246 staright regular season games, I’d have to say the Sixers are getting fairly close to their money’s worth.  It is odd to look at from a production value, but he does what he does, and that’s all they Sixers are expecting. He takes good shoots, hits free throws above 70%, and blocks about two shots per game. One reason for his more limited play is the emergence of Marreece Speights.  This guy has a mean streak, is athletic enough, but has freakishly long arms, is a banger and can hit the midrange shot.  He will get a lot of minutes off of the bench backing up Brand and Dalembert as he can play with either one.

 

Outside of Speights, the bench leaves something more to be desired.  Jason Kapono is a great spot up shooter, Willie Green is a poor man’s combo guard and Primoz Brezec has only had two decent years as a NBA player (2004-2006).  Jrue Holiday, the PG from UCLA hasn’t performed well in preseason and looks completely out of sorts.  Expecting him to be the next Westbrook is probably too much, but his development will help push Lou Williams as the starter and hopefully between to two the Sixers can find a good PG.

 

Boston Celtics

Prediction: 58-24 2nd seed playoffs

Depth Chart

Point Guard

Rajon Rondo

Eddie House

MVP: Kevin Garnett

Biggest Surprise: Glen Davis

Biggest Letdown: Bench

Key to success: Kevin Garnett’s defense

Grab bag: All they need is Warwick Davis to run the point.

Shooting Guard

Ray Allen

Tony Allen

Small Forward

Paul Pierce

Marquis Daniels

Power Forward

Kevin Garnett

Glen Davis

Center

Kendrick Perkins

Rasheed Wallace

 

If this team is healthy, as in completely healthy, with a top two or three seed headed into the playoffs, they will win it all.  The talent, post season experience and heart of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will win a championship...if healthy.  With three of the top four players 32+, injuries, especially minor ones, are a real possibility.  It’s not the regular season that matters as long as they procure one of the top three seeds.  This team is deep enough, especially with the addition of Rasheed Wallace and development of Glen Davis in the playoffs last year, that if Garnett needs to be rested and play closer to 30 minutes a game, the Celtics can cope.  Same goes with Ray Allen with Tony Allen and Marquis Daniels both able to play the two.

 

Paul Pierce is the Celtics best player now that Garnett has had a serious injury.  Pierce continues to be clutch and the heart of the team.  He will continue to play relatively heavy minutes because he can, but he won’t have to punish his body as much with the new developing weapons able to play important stretches.  Daniels can play important minutes off the bench so that Pierce can be fresh for crucial stretches.

 

Kendrick Perkins has used his confidence boost of playing next to three future Hall of Famers and has actually become a solid player, especially defensively.  He still thinks he is better than he is, but he is big, solid and strong, and has added a nice little touch inside.  He doesn’t need to do too much with ‘Sheed and Garnett able to score down low, and guard the best post players, but Perkins is tough and can always give something extra the Celtics don’t necessarily need, but will take.

Rajon Rondo was talked about all summer after dominating in the playoffs.  He butted heads with the coach.  He wasn’t traded and he holds the starting job, and I think it was a good choice.  Unless Rondo is the stupidest player in the NBA not named Zach Randolph.  There is no way he would disrespect Allen, Pierce, Garnett or Wallace.  Not all at the same time.  Rondo will be fine and will continue to play a little wild, but effective.  And if he wants to ‘get paid’ he will need to be on his best behavior, so when a potential contract or trade comes he won’t immediately alienate his new team.  He also can’t ignore his backcourt partner Ray Allen.  Rondo can make a living driving and dishing to Allen in the corner, at the top of the key, wherever.  Rondo is smart enough, hopefully, to know he can gain the immediate respect from his team by making the pass and giving them easy baskets.  He will, or Garnett will get down on all fours and “do things to him that you ain’t never seen befo’.”

 

East MVP: LeBron James                   East Most Improved: Marreece Speights

East Defensive POY: Dwight Howard   East ROY: Brandon Jennings

 

East Playoff predictions:

1st round

 

1st seed Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 8th seed Miami Heat-Cavs win 4-0. 

Cleveland is to big and to deep for the Heat.  It’s an easy series as the O’Neal battle ends with Shaq dominating Jermaine.  Wade and James are fun to watch as Wade averages 35+ a game, but nothing else is going as every other matchup is in the Cavs favor.

 

4th seed Atlanta Hawks vs. 5th seed Philadelphia 76ers- Hawks win 4-2

Series is tied 2-2, with both teams winning at home, until the Hawks step up and finally win on the road.  Eventually the little nicks that the Sixers take over the course of the series add up as Atlanta’s depth shines through.  Sixers play well, and are encouraged, but need a piece or two to move on next year.

 

3rd seed Boston Celtics vs. 6th seed Chicago Bulls-Celtics win 4-3

Turning into a great first round rivalry.  Even with Boston completely healthy, Chicago takes them to seven games.  Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo are each a blur but Rondo has better pieces and they provide the fire power.  Celtics are too big in side as Chicago is strictly perimeter in the series.  It is off when they need it, and the Celtics survive.

 

2nd seed Orlando Magic vs. 7th seed Washington Wizards-Magic wins 4-1

All the games are close, with the Wizards winning one game in Washington, but the Magic are good down the stretch of all the other games.  Howard’s free throws becoming less and less of a burden.

 

East Semi-Finals

 

1st seed Cleveland vs. 4h seed Atlanta Hawks-Cleveland wins 4-1

Better than last year, but not by much.  The interior is where the Hawks get beat.  Horford can contend with Shaq and Illgauskas for only so long, and there are no other answers on the bench. James is on again, and keeps it all business.

 

2nd seed Orlando Magic vs. 3rd seed Boston Celtics-Celtics win 4-2

Firs upset of the east playoffs.  Boston, fully healthy, is so organized and focused defensively that nothing comes easy to the Magic.  Howard has to deal with the defensive trio of Perkins, Garnett and Wallace, while everyone else has Rondo, Pierce and Allen to chase around.  Boston is focused and determined.

 

East Finals

 

1st seed Cleveland vs. 3th seed Celtics-Boston wins 4-3

Lebron and Shaq bring it everygame, and Mo’ Williams provides enough to win the first two games, but Boston wins the next two at home and takes that rhythm back to Cleveland and wins again.  Game 6 is even most of the game until Lebron makes is free throws down the stretch after constant drives to the hoop a la Wade in the 2006 finals.  Game 7 is back in Cleveland, the Cavs to lose, but Boston’s experience overcomes the will of Lebron and Boston returns to the finals.

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