Blog Entry

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Posted on: February 14, 2011 6:52 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2011 11:48 am
Posted by Royce Young

Before we get to our list of Eastern Conference contenders and pretenders, check out Adam Aizer, Greg Urban, and Ben Golliver as they discuss the most underrated and overrated teams in the NBA and more in our weekly NBA podcast:  

In the Eastern Conference where the Raptors and Cavaliers are both five-game winning streaks from getting back into the playoff discussion, pretenders and contenders are a bit complicated.

The top of the East is clear cut. The bottom half, not so much. But what's interesting is what is stuck in the middle. Who's really contending and who's pretending in the East? Here are three for each.


Boston Celtics: They're tested. They're talented. They're just plain good.

The way the Celtics beat you is what makes them so dangerous. They defend, they rebound, the score in crunch time... they don't have a glaring weakness. Their bench is one of the very strongest in the league and with four proven stars, you can't say they're really missing anything.

Plus, this team hasn't gotten healthy yet. Shaquille O'Neal -- who has been really good this season -- has been out. Same with Jermaine O'Neal (except for the really good part). They just got Kendrick Perkins back but Marquis Daniels is now down for a month.

On one side, that's what makes the Celtics even scarier than they already are. We haven't seen them at full power yet. Then again, it's what makes them vulnerable. One wrong step for Kevin Garnett and this team might be an easy out in the first round of the playoffs. That's not to say they're not deep, because they are. But what makes them the best team in the East is something they can't afford to lose.

But in terms of defining who will be there when the dust clears, the Celtics are the leader in the clubhouse.

Chicago Bulls: I truly believe the Bulls are the true challenger to the Celtics in the East. They aren't as talented as the Heat, but the Bulls have a complete package.

They have the creator/scorer in Derrick Rose. They have the low post reliable scorer in Carlos Boozer. And they have a rebounding defensive force in Joakim Noah. Where they might lack is some of the supporting cast, but Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer have been solid, plus you can't go wrong with having Kurt Thomas on the team.

In a seven-game series, the Bulls have a roster that other teams will fear. I mean look at them right now. They're No. 3 in the East and they haven't even played a week with their full compliment of talent. That's scary. Tom Thibodeau's defensive system was no joke. The Bulls are guarding as well as anyone in the league and again, they have go-to options for points. It does feel like they're missing one small thing, even if it's hard to put a finger on, but this team is legit. They will be a major threat come May.

Miami Heat: Truthfully? The Heat aren't far off from being in the "pretenders" section. That sounds crazy, yes, but in a seven-game series against the best teams in the East, can you really see the Heat getting through Orlando, Chicago and Boston all in a row if things fell that way? That's kind of hard for me to picture honestly.

Against the top five teams in the league, the Heat are just 1-5. They lose a lot of close games. They break down sometimes in the fourth quarter and fall into a completely stagnant, only isolation offense. They have obvious weanesses.

However, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh. That's a pretty good counter to all those points. Talent wins in most cases and the Heat have the most.

We all see it coming though. In order for this team to get over the hill against the Celtics, someone is going to have to pretend he's Robert Horry and hit a big shot. Sunday, Mike Miller had the opportunity. The right play was executed, the right shot was taken. He just missed it. Now what happens in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals? Can Miller make that shot? More than likely, if Miami is a contender or pretender ironically rides more on that than anything else.


Orlando Magic: The Magic just aren't there. The trade was nice. It improved them. It really did. But they just aren't there. I've watched them lose too many close games because of a fourth quarter meltdown offensively. Dwight Howard just isn't Shaq. He can't be fed in the post for 42 minutes and score 60 percent of the time. I think the Magic thought that was going to happen, but it's just not.

When they realized that, they tried to go find a couple better scorers and creators to take pressure off. Enter Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson. All very good players. But to this point, all underachieving. Or maybe they just aren't what we thought they were.

Turkoglu has his moments, but he's inconsistent. Arenas just isn't himself and might not ever be again. And Richardson has become too much of a 3-point specialist instead of a scorer.

Orlando is a good team and will finish with 50 wins. But depending on their first-round matchup, they might not even see the month of May.

Atlanta Hawks:
Look over the Hawks roster for 10 minutes. Give it a good, long look. What do they need to change? Where do they need to get better?

A lot of teams feel like they're just a player away, but in Atlanta, is it actually possible that the players they have just might not be good enough? Maybe they're five players away.

Al Horford is very good. He's a championship caliber player. Josh Smith, excellent. But he's not good enough to be as featured as he is. And Joe Johnson. Great player, but as we all saw last playoffs against Orlando, he might not be a postseason winner.

The clear-cut weak point is Mike Bibby at point, but right now, how can Atlanta do any better? Jeff Teague isn't ready and there's not an option out there that's really that much of an upgrade. Andre Miller would be a really nice fit, but again, is that enough to make Atlanta an Eastern Conference Final contender? I don't think so.

New York Knicks: Why are the Knicks on this list? Because who else do you put here? The Pacers? Bobcats? Sixers? So by default, the Knicks go here. That's the current Knicks I mean. Not the Knicks post-deadline.

Because here's the catch though: The Knicks are likely going to be adding a player at the deadline. And if that player is on the team, then there's a new question about the Knicks. If Carmelo Anthony joins the team and combines with Amar'e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and whoever is left, are the Knicks good enough to compete?

Still no, actually. They will be better. They will be a team that is entirely capable of winning a playoff series. They will be dangerous to someone. I could see them really giving a team like the Bulls fits in a second-round matchup. But even with Carmelo, the Knicks just aren't ready.

Since: Jul 1, 2010
Posted on: February 16, 2011 11:35 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

  1. He is on a contender dummy!

Since: Nov 27, 2006
Posted on: February 16, 2011 9:50 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Hooray for WHitecave, the only person that got it. My whole post was making fun of how he spelled "weaknesses" on the 2nd line of the 2nd paragraph about them. Weanesses.

Since: Dec 4, 2006
Posted on: February 16, 2011 8:50 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

That's funny. What do the Bulls have like 1 more win than the Magic? They split a couple matchups but didn't the Magic win one by 29 over a fully healthy Bulls team when the Bulls had 3 days off and the Magic were on a back to back? Weren't both games in Chicago? What is Chicago's record outside of the awful Central Division? You won a game at home where the Magic led by 5 at the half and Howard went for 40 and 15. The other game you got run out of the building. Let's get some perspective here.

Since: Jan 3, 2008
Posted on: February 15, 2011 11:54 pm

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

I'd love to see the Bulls get Dwight Howard, but they'd probably have to give up a lot to get him. That would vault them to the top of the heap in the Eastern Conference for sure, but most likely it's just a pipe dream. It's obvious the Magic are going nowhere with him and he would love to be on a contender.

Since: Oct 12, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 6:16 pm

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Pretty accurate, but I also think the Magic can get better, because they are underachieving. Play to expectations or better and make the transition to the playoffs from regular season games and they might be able to upset their way to a Conference Finals or even the NBA Finals. The current Knicks ? I agree with the assessment, but I think the Sixers are going to catch the current Knicks and get past them. Add CarmelloAnthony, do they have him long enough to get better even ? Like the Magic in their 3 plater trade, they really don't have anyone talking them up to be with the Celtics, Heat and Bulls. So if the Magic are a pretender, the Knicks may very well be no better off with Mello. And where the Sixers are sitting and playing. They aren't getting the attention, but let's face it, they are 0-2 vs the Celtics, the last game they lost on a shot with 7 seconds left and then lost by 4. They are 1-1 vs the Bulls and the Heat have beaten them comfortably, yet the Sixers have played the Celtics better than the Heat have in 3 games. Against the Magic, the Sixers are 1-2, throw out the win, the Magic couldn't play the players being traded. But 0-2, one was an OT loss that they had a 4 point lead with 20 seconds in regulation. The other was a 4 point loss. Sixers could be 2-1, maybe even 3-0. What is scary about the Sixers, they get 4,5,6,7 and even had a chance at getting 8 players into double digits scoring this season. When they play team ball like that, have a decent defensive night and you can rest assured nobody wants to play them. Heck, the other day they beat the Spurs. The thing with the Sixers, who do you focus on to stop ? It's team ball, the focus will have to be to stop the open man, because when they are getting as many players into weaker double digit scoring nights, there are a couple/three that get 8 & 9 points, a basket or FT away from adding another to the list of double digit scorers. Anyway, the Eastern confernce in this article looks accurate for the top 5, That 6th spot, that's debatable. And the Sixers, they play the Bulls or Celtics like they have in the playoffs, is there an upset that might happen ? If the Sixers step up and play the Heat that well, they might even upset them too ? Of course those are long shots, but if it does happen, well you heard it here first.

Since: Mar 7, 2009
Posted on: February 15, 2011 6:03 pm

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

I think knightfan wins this one over heatwave.  You cannot say that the heat do not have a major weakness at the point.  When it comes to the celtics and heat game the other day.  Dont even start the whole thing that you lost because of a missed call or that rondo fouled every time down the court.  Lets state the facts.  Celtics did not have Daniels to play behind Pierce to help defend wade and james.  Pierce shot 0-10 with only one point.  Celtics only had 10 available healthy players.  Celtics still won.  Which makes them 3-0 against the Heat.  Maybe they missed a lot of calls in the first two games too? 

Since: Jan 24, 2008
Posted on: February 15, 2011 5:47 pm

Relax Knightfan and Heatwave

The post was making a joke out of the article itself and really was quite humurous.  He didn't say that Miami didn't have any weaknesses, he said any major weanesses.  If you read the article above, it states that "Miami has obvious "Weanesses".  Now that this is cleared up go back and read the post if you want a good laugh.  It's really the best post on here.  Too funny.

Since: Dec 4, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 5:24 pm

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

And while Lebron and Wade take on the ball distribution role, they don't overcome the lack of a decent point guard. Only 3 teams average less assists than the Heat. Those are the Nets, Kings, and Bucks.

Since: Dec 4, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 5:19 pm

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

The Lakers are also weak at point guard. What is the point? Both teams are successful for the most part in spite of weak point guard play, but as I have said when they face a team with a good or great point guard often times they go off and the Heat lose. Does it happen every time? No. But if there is a matchup that can be exploited it is point guard and to a lesser extent center. Let's not act like Chalmers is on the floor for any other reason than the Heat have to put 5 players on the floor at one time. Your best point guard averages 6 points and 2.2 assists per game.

Since: Sep 27, 2007
Posted on: February 15, 2011 5:09 pm

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

do the lakers have pg. no and the heat have a techhnically speaking point guard but they don't run typical sets thru their pg. lebron is the distributor or wade when they sit the bench. chalmers plays the role of derrick fisher and look at what the heats record is since chalmers became the starter.

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