Monday, November 26, 2012

HOW THE EAST WILL SHAKE OUT AND A PREVIEW OF NETS-KNICKS TONIGHT


EASTERN CONFERENCE SYNOPSIS
Here's how the Eastern Conference is going to shake out this year.  There are nine or ten teams that will be competing for the eight spots that get to the playoffs.  I think Miami, NY, Brooklyn, Boston, Philly, Indiana, and Chicago are all locks for the playoffs this season.  I think Atlanta, Charlotte, and Milwaukee will be fighting for the eighth seed.  Some of the aforementioned "locks" can miss the playoffs if they have significant injuries and lose key pieces, but I am confident that if these teams stays relatively healthy, they are significantly better that the three challengers.

ATLANTIC: This is my take on the Nets: they are an extremely legit contender in the East; they moved into Brooklyn this year and have a great combination of superstars and role players. Brooklyn is a great destination for future free agent stars because this team is very good already. Being in NYC on a contending team team will help them sign older vets (see Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace to the Knicks).  It's the role players that win big playoff series just as much as the superstars. Tonight's huge match up in Brooklyn will be a good test for both teams, but I anticipate both teams will improve as the season goes on and the winner of this game is not necessarily going to be the better team in April.

Given Boston's struggles and Philly's injuries/uncertain future with Andrew Bynum, these teams will have trouble keeping pace with the Knicks and Nets in the standings.  The Celtics remain dangerous, but they don't have a deep bench and Paul Pierce and KG are at the end of their careers. Their top 7 is great, but the Knicks and Heat can go 10 deep.  Philly has a chance to be a very tough team so long as Andrew Bynum can play, but even when he's healthy they will not have a prolific offense. The Atlantic is easily the most difficult division in the East and all 4 teams are forces to be reckoned with. That being said, the Knicks and Nets have the depth and the in-their-prime superstars that puts them a notch above Boston and Philly.

SOUTHEAST: Miami will win the division and is the favorite to win the 1 seed.  However, nobody else in the Southeast division is a championship contender.  The Hawks and Bobcats will be fighting for the 8 seed but even if they make the playoffs the upper-echelon teams would crush them in the first round.

CENTRAL: Milwaukee, Chicago, and Indiana have been ravaged by injuries and aren't serious contenders at this point in time.  I really like Indiana if Danny Granger is healthy, but he's out indefinitely with a serious knee injury.  Chicago is a huge question mark because they were great when Derrick Rose was healthy.  If he comes back to elite status by February, this team will be extremely dangerous. If he is not 100% and logging 32-36 minutes a game until April, I think Indiana would win the division if Granger comes back. Either team will likely be the 3 or 4 seed. The Bucks are in the same boat as Charlotte and Atlanta, although their schedule is favorable as both Chicago and Indiana have been devastated by injuries. If they can keep playing solid ball they could put pressure on the Bulls and Pacers for the Central division crown.

POWER RANKINGS
Here are my power rankings of the Eastern Conference, based off the play so far this season and the pedigree of these teams:

1) Miami Heat: (10-3) Defending champs, best record in the conference, enough said.

2) NY Knicks: (8-3) Melo may be the best offensive player in the NBA right now.  Two of their losses were the second game of back-to-back road trips in extremely hostile environments.  The loss to Houston was pathetic but they rebounded nicely against Detroit.

3) Brooklyn Nets: (8-4) They're off to a solid start and are only going to get better once the stars can develop chemistry.  Deron Williams is one of best players in the league and doesn't get the credit he deserves.  Tonight's match-up against the Knicks is a good test for both teams.

4) Philadelphia 76ers: (8-6) They are deep, tough, and talented.  3 of their losses are against elite teams in this league.  If Bynum comes back, they will be loaded,  Their biggest problem is that they don't have a scorer; it takes a toll to grind night-in and night-out, and the best teams in the league have players that can single-handedly take over games offensively (Melo, Kobe, Durant, Wade, Paul, Williams, etc)

5) Boston Celtics: (8-6) After a shaky start, some tough losses, and a tough schedule, Boston is fine with an 8-6 record.  Big win against the Thunder this past weekend.  I wouldn't want to play this team in the playoffs because of their veteran presence and talent at the top of their rotation, but they have shaky depth and may not be close to 100% come April

6) Atlanta Hawks: (8-4) These boys in Atlanta have won five in a row, but the only quality win in that stretch was against the Clippers.  Their a solid bunch, but won't be able to compete with any of the teams above in the playoffs with Al Horford as their leading scorer.

7) Chicago Bulls: (6-6) If they can stay afloat until D Rose is healthy, they will be a legitimate threat to challenge the Heat, Knicks, and Brooklyn.  They have the depth and leadership to persevere until Rose is healthy.

8) Indiana Pacers: (6-8) They are struggling now, but they are well-coached, deep, and big.  They're in the same boat as the Bulls; if they can stay relevant until Granger comes back in February, they will make the playoffs.

9) Milwaukee Bucks: (6-5) This team's lost 3 in a row but if they can create space between themselves and Indiana and Chicago before Granger and Rose are healthy, they will be in the playoff picture until the end of the season.

10) Charlotte Bobcats: (7-5): Great start to the season but I don't think they have a shot in the big picture this season.  Making the playoffs would be a huge success for this young team.

KNICKS AT NETS, 7PM
As you can tell from my opinions above, I have a great deal of respect for the Nets as a basketball team.  They are solid and have high-caliber stars on their roster.  This game has a great underlying story-line (battle of NY) and should be full of emotions.  That being said I don't think the outcome of this game is going to be an indication of who has the better team down the stretch.  

The Nets need time to gel as they have new pieces and it takes time to develop chemistry.  They've opened the season pretty hot, but they will reach another level of consistency after getting another 40 games together.  The Knicks, on the other hand, will be getting gradually better as the season progresses.

With Shumpert coming back in January, Camby getting into playing shape after his injured calf heals, and Rasheed getting in better shape every day, the Knicks defense is going to be stellar by mid-season.  Rasheed and Camby give the Knicks a lot of size and depth at the 4 and 5, which bodes well for them from a fouling perspective and one of their biggest deficiencies this season: rebounding. Shump is a game-changer on defense; against Houston he could have guarded James Harden and limited some of the damage.  His return is more important to this team than Stoudemire's return, which says a lot. STAT's return will provide a spark on offense that the Knicks need right now.  As long as he comes off the bench to start and doesn't disrupt the flow of the Knicks' offense as he's eased back in, he could be an extremely valuable part of this team.  The Knicks have trouble generating offense when Melo is out of the game other than JR Smith's street ball.  If STAT can play 25 minutes a game, mainly when Melo is out, he can draw double-teams and finish on the pick-and-roll.  This would open up shooters like Novak, Brewer, Felton and Kidd and make the Knicks that much more dangerous.

Should be a great match-up tonight and I expect an emotional battle the entire way through.  Melo going back to Brooklyn (his hometown) for the first time, could be another huge game for Anthony.

1 comment:

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