2014-2015 NBA Eastern Conference Preview

The NBA season is about to get started! Time to take a look at each team and see where they will finish! I’m going to rank teams 15-1 sorted by conference. I’m not only going to predict each team’s record but also say whether or not I think they go over/under their projected win total from the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book. Without further ado let’s get started

Over/Unders are from

Eastern Conference

15. Philadelphia 76ers: 17-65 Over 15.5

They are content to tank away all year again after last year’s disgrace of a season. They jumped at the chance to throw away Thad Young for nothing and drafted Joel Embiid, knowing that they can just red-shirt him this year like they did with Noel Nerlens last year. They want to finish with the worst record in the league to grab more ping-pong balls for June, so they will just throw away this year too.

14. Milwaukee Bucks: 23-59, Under 24.5

Congratulations to the Milwaukee Bucks for being the team that sucks in real life that is pretty solid in 2K! Jabari Parker should inject 16-20 points into this offense, They have a bunch of 3 point shooters in OJ Mayo, Jared Dudley, Ersan Ilyasova, Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton. They also have two legit shot blockers in John Henson and Larry Sanders. Real life isn’t 2K though, and the Bucks will struggle mightily this season. New head coach Jason Kidd will have a real challenge on his hands from going from a veteran heavy roster to a young roster in the midst of rebuilding.

13. Boston Celtics: 29-53, Over 26.5

Let’s go ahead and assume that when Rajon Rondo returns from injury, he doesn’t finish the season with the Celtics. Let’s go and look at their roster after that. Their presumed starters would be: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green(he might get shipped too), Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. With their depth being Evan Turner, Brandon Bass, washed up Gerald Wallace, Marcus Thornton and rookie James White. Does that sound like a team that can win 30 games to you? It sure doesn’t to me. I like some of the pieces the Celtics have in their rebuilding process such as Green, Smart, Bradley, White and even Sullinger at times. The Celtics still have a long way to go though before they will be pushing for a playoff spot.

12. Detroit Pistons: 33-49, Under 36.5

Their back-court is really bad and they still are trying to figure out how to utilize Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. I don’t think it gets a lot better from last year until they start making moves and blowing up the roster. Stan Van Gundy has his work cut out for him with the log-jammed and front-court and the Brandon Jennings, Jodie Meeks, DJ Augustine, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope mess at guard.

11. Indiana Pacers: 35-47, Over 32.5

No Paul George, no Lance Stephenson, no playoffs. Roy Hibbert was a disaster in the playoffs and the only player they got in free agency was Rodney Stuckey?(who I like but that’s not the point) This is going to be a long, lost season for the Pacers and 35 wins for them might be overly generous.

10. Brooklyn Nets: 39-43, Under 41.5

This should be the beginning of a very ugly period for the Nets. No first round draft picks, a middling team, no cap space, and no hope. They should miss the playoffs this year as they start to take more steps backward. Their front-court is a disaster. Will Brook Lopez stay healthy? He better because he is their only respectable player among the front-court. Kevin Garnett is totally washed up, so is Andrei Kirilenko. Mason Plumlee is a good energy guy but I doubt he would be as effective with heavier minutes. Deron Williams is just a name now, he averaged 14.3 points and 6.1 assists last year, that is incredibly average for a point guard. This team has been terribly mismanaged and now we will really see the results of that this year.

9. Toronto Raptors: 42-40, Under 49.5

They won 48 games in a heavily diluted Eastern conference last year and secured the 3rd seed in the conference before losing to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. I think that was one of the best case scenarios for this team, especially considering they were brought up as a potential tanking candidate early on in the season, then they traded Rudy Gay, caught fire and never looked back. This year they are bringing back the exact same team and I am supposed to believe that they are going to produce the same results? Dubious. They have a strong starting 5 composed of Jonas Valanciunus, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross and their platoon at power forward of Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough and Amir Johnson. Their depth is James Johnson, Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams. I think they will be good but I think they will be on the cusp of the playoffs and I have them just out(due to my surprise team in the playoffs). They could totally come back and bite me in the butt but I think that they caught a lot of breaks last year and that they are a regression candidate for this year.

8. New York Knicks: 43-39, Over 40.5

I have the New York Knickerbockers penciled in with the final playoff spot in the Eastern conference. They were so out of the playoff picture early last year, yet they practically backed into the final playoff seed anyway. Carmelo is Carmelo, he’s going to be a match winner and one of the most unstoppable offensive forces in the NBA on a night to night basis. I think that having Andrea Bargnani back will help the offense, so will upgrading at point guard from Raymond Felton to Jose Calderon. J.R Smith will continue to do J.R Smith things and Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert give the Knicks depth in the back-court. I think they just put it together and scrap together a playoff spot, it’s a gut call.

7. Orlando Magic: 44-38, Over 28.5

Are you stunned to see the Magic this high? Think I’m making a mistake by putting them in the playoffs and leaving Toronto out of it? I might be, but I really like the pieces in Orlando and think this the year it finally comes together post Dwight Howyard. Their best 8 players are Elfrid Peyton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Gordon, Tobias Harris, Channing Frye and Nicola Vucevic. Vucevic is a double-double every game kinda player, Harris has developed into a quality starter at the power forward spot who complements Vucevic with an inside/outside combo. I think Oladipo will slide nicely into the 2 or 3 now that Peyton is there so he won’t have to struggle along playing point guard terribly. Frye is a nice 3 point specialist and Gordon is a great athlete, energy guy. I think Harkless is the weak link in the line-up but he gives them solid play at the 3. I think these guys take the leap and make the playoffs this year. I’ll know if I’m wrong about them by November, and if I’m right I will definitely let you know about it.

6.Miami Heat: 45-37, Over 43.5

They are probably a playoff team post LeBron, but what do people really expect from this version of the Miami Heat? They aren’t close to contenders, and I think saying they will be in the lottery is an over-reaction. I think they should still be able to beat up on the bad teams and average teams of the league, but I think they will struggle mightily with anyone who is good. The problem about losing LeBron James is not only the freight train of basketball force that walked out the door, but the Heat lost two starting positions on their team, because LeBron was their forward and point guard. LeBron’s passing is normally great and often times sublime and extraordinary. While LeBron was on the Heat their was no need for an actual point guard on the roster, just someone who spread the floor and shoot 3’s(Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole). They are still stuck with those guys and that’s dangerous for the rest of their team. With those guys ACTUALLY playing point guard that weakens the good lucks guys like Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade get because the drop-off in passing limits some of the good looks they were getting before. Shabazz Napier might be their best pure point guard, and he is a scoring point guard! If they can find a way to figure that out and settle into whatever new identity they choose to adapt they should be a solid Hawks esque team, just good enough to make the playoffs but not much else.

5. Atlanta Hawks: 47-35, Over 40.5

Speaking of the Hawks! I think they are going to markedly better than they were last year, when they backed in to the last playoff spot. The difference between this year and last year will be a healthy Al Horford. Horford put up his career bests in points per game(18.6) and field goal percentage(.567). Inserting Horford into that line-up with Paul Milsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver should give the Hawks a more balanced offense(not that I am opposed to shooting a ton of 3 pointers in any way shape or form). I think the Hawks are strangely in a tier of their own in the East. I wouldn’t say that they are as good as the top 4 and I have no doubt that making the second round of the playoffs would be their ceiling. However I do think they are markedly better than the rest of the playoff teams I have in the East. They have a good starting 5, some depth with guys who played more than they should have last year in Pero Antic and Mike(The Office) Scott, and they signed Thabo Sefolosha, who can be solid at times. I think they are a lock for a top 5 seed in the East but need another piece to push them over the hump.

4. Washington Wizards: 49-33, Under 49.5

Love the Wizards this year. After rebuilding for years and years it finally came together for them last year as they made the playoffs and made a solid run in the playoffs(beating the Bulls in the first round and taking the Pacers to 6 games in round 2). I would have had them as the #2 or 3 seed if Bradley Beal wasn’t going to miss time to start  the beginning of the season. The Wall, Beal back-court is one of the best 5 in the league, and the one with the most potential outside of the Warrior’s duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Their front-court is bolstered by a veteran heavy crew led by Nene and Marcin Gortat. Paul Pierce should make up for losing Trevor Ariza more than nicely, while grooming last year’s #3 overall pick Otto Porter Jr. into being a quality player. DeJaun Blair and Kris Humphries are sneaky good signings for the Wiz to add more depth to the front-court. This sentence hasn’t been written since the Arenas era but I think the regular season is mostly irrelevant for Washington(outside of obviously making the playoffs). I want to see what kind of post-season run they are going to make this year and if Wall/Beal make another leap in their games.

3. Charlotte Hornets: 51-31, Over 45.5

I am probably a little irrational about this team but whatever. I think that with Bradley Beal missing time to start the season the team I was going to pick for the #3 seed in the East will fall off a little bit. That left me debating between Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami and Toronto for the #3 seed. I’m down on Toronto(as I already wrote) and don’t think Miami is a #3 seed with their current roster. That left me between Atlanta and Charlotte knowing that the Wizards end up with the #4 or 5 seed. I just like Charlotte’s roster better and think there is some good karma headed their way for finally ditching the Bobcats name. Their top 4 of Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are better than Al Horford, Paul Milsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver. They have a platoon at power forward with Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh and I think one of them pans out. I think they have elite perimeter defending with MKG and Lance. Gerald Henderson will make a nice 6th man for them off the bench and provide some scoring when needed. I think Charlotte takes the East by storm and wins their division and takes the #3.

2. Chicago Bulls: 57-25, Over 55.5

Chicago was the #4 seed last season after having the worst offense in the NBA, how did they do it? They had a fearsome defense which was first in the NBA, led by Joakim Noah. Now that Derrick Rose is healthy(I’ll believe it when I see it) and through the addition of Pau Gasol and shooter Doug McDermott some offense should be injected into this team. If they keep up their high quality defense while scoring a couple more baskets they will be one of the league’s elite teams. Everything we have seen from Rose as looked good, and it seems like he has returned to form after having essentially missed two full years of NBA play. Not that I take away much from pre-season but Jimmy Butler has looked really good, especially on the offensive side of the ball. If he can elevate his game another level than the Bulls can threaten Cleveland for the eastern conference crown and possibly knock them out of the playoffs in what seems like an inevitable conference finals match-up.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: 61-21, Over 58

LeBron= 60+ wins, it’s that simple. He’s so good it’s almost boring to talk about. I think the Cavaliers take the East fairly convincingly this year. The new “big three” of LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving(with Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson) looks to be an offensive juggernaut. The questions for this team are almost entirely revolved around how far they will go in the post-season(which I think is deep, despite LeBron under-selling them at every opportunity he can) and their defense. Kevin Love is known to gamble defensively to grab more boards and Kyrie Irving is a below average defender. Anderson Varejao is a good defender but he never stays healthy, and he is their only quality post presence. The Cavalier will be very good and lock up the #1 seed in the East for sure.

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