"The coming NBA season is shaping to be the most uncertain since, well, the '99 lockout shortened season. In a regular 82 game format, one might be able to point to who the logical contenders are, and to an extent that reasoning needs to be applied to have any hope of accurately predicting which teams have the best shot at the title. However, a number of other factors come into play with the condensed schedule that will work to the detriment of the veteran teams (most of which would have been among the logical contenders) and naturally open things up for the younger teams."In looking at the Eastern Conference, you could say there's a little more certainty to it. And I do mean, only a little. This is because last season's better teams in the East are for the most part ones more suited to weathering the demands of such a tight schedule. Regardless, the lockout has still had an impact on the East, and this is how I had them looking had there not been a lockout:
Hmm. Looks like had it shaken out that way, it would've been a repeat of the '10/11 first round matchups. That was unintentional. Anyway, taking into account the changes to the season the lockout has made, this is how I see the East ending up:
The reasoning? First, teams with some sort of continuity are affected least by the drastically shortened training camp. Teams like Miami, Chicago, New York, Orlando and Atlanta won't have the growing pains that other teams such as Indiana, who reloaded in free agency should experience. Moreover, these five teams also happen to have the benefit of being loaded with go-to scorers and at worst, what should be a respectable defense (note: were it not for the Chandler signing, NY would not be included in this group), which should allow them to coast somewhat through the regular season. For what it's worth, I expect Miami and Chicago to be a cut above the rest, with New York being somewhere between 5-10 games behind in the standings.
The Celtics suffer in the standings because of the age of their best players - Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, all in their mid-30s, can't hope to play near a full 66 games without affecting the rotation. It seems as though Doc Rivers may have to finally give his second unit some burn, which probably isn't a good thing considering how this one compares to past Boston benches. Still, their chemistry, defensive mindset and of course, skill level won't rule them out come playoff time - they still match up favourably with New York, who I've projected as their first round opponent (again).
The 76ers have the young legs to earn wins against exhausted veteran teams, but they lack the overall star power to truly make an impact. Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala are the only truly established players on the team, so it'll be another season of learning in Philly. I am looking at Evan Turner to break out and be a major factor going forward, but it won't be enough.
The Pacers simply won't have time to mesh, with George Hill and David West expected to come in and produce right away. So, I'm looking at New Jersey to come in and steal their #8 seed, with Deron Williams leading the way. I'm thinking Brook Lopez should rebound (ha) from his disappointing '10/11 campaign and form with Williams a potent PG-C tandem good enough for the playoffs, but until help arrives, not much more.
Obviously, in making these predictions I'm dealing with the huge assumption that Dwight Howard isn't traded during the season. I think if he does get traded, it'll be at or near the trade deadline and for me, if I'm Otis Smith, I trade Dwight to Jersey. I'll save the details for another post, but in the scenario that Dwight does get traded at the deadline to the Nets, then I'd have the Magic and Nets more or less swap places in the standings.
As usual, I'll throw in my little cop out and point out that there's every chance I'll be completely, horribly wrong. For the most part, this is entirely guess work - though, at this point in the season, so is every other prediction out there. Time will be the judge, in more ways than one.
Oh, and I forgot to add - I really don't know who to choose to win the East. It's a toss up between Miami, Chicago and New York. In that order, too. If Chicago can get a full season out of both Boozer and Noah, and a high level one at that, then they're my favourite. If Baron Davis can come in and do the job he was doing before he got traded to the Cavs, then New York have the potency to come out on top. If neither of these things happen though, it'll be Miami advancing again, in spite of the holes in their roster purely by the brilliance of their superstar trio (yes, I do mean trio - Bosh, as much as I dislike him, will be more comfortable in his role this season and all the more dangerous for it).