Blakely's Eastern Conference preview

Blakely's Eastern Conference preview
October 28, 2013, 3:15 pm
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(AP Photo)

BOSTON — Teams looking to bring home that Larry O'Brien bling-bling in the East had their journeys end in Miami each of the past two seasons.

While Miami is the prohibitive favorite to come out of the East again, the landscape has changed in ways that should make things very interesting.

The Indiana Pacers have talent, added depth and the kind of postseason chip-on-the-shoulder that could catapult them into the NBA Finals this season. 

Chicago has a battle-tested team that will be even stronger with the return of Derrick Rose and a healthier Joakim Noah.

Don't forget about Brooklyn which has arguably the best starting five in the NBA with the additions of former Celtics Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

As you continue to dig deeper into the Eastern Conference, you see the Pistons have Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith from Milwaukee and Atlanta, respectively. Their arrivals in Motown has the Pistons seriously thinking about a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

But with the rise of many teams, comes the fall of others.

Of those that have fallen off in the East, the Celtics immediately come to mind.

After years of being among the Eastern Conference's elite, the Celtics are now among the Conference's lower-rung teams with the hope that young players like Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger  will come of age quickly.

And then there's the Philadelphia 76ers who are well on their way to being one of the worst teams in the NBA.

It's a lot to digest, with opinions on who will stink and who will surge to the top, varying all over the map.

Well here's how one prognosticator -- me -- sees the East taking shape this season, including playoff predictions.

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION (predicted finish in the Eastern Conference) 

(3) Brooklyn Nets - Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett give the Nets legit hope that an NBA title is theirs for the taking this season. 

(5) New York Knicks - So many players put up career numbers last season, a fall-off in the East to some degree is inevitable.

(9) Toronto Raptors - Tough schedule to start the season with six of their first nine on the road.

(13) Boston Celtics — There should be Vegas odds put on rookie coach Brad Stevens losing more games this year than the 49 he lost at Butler.

(15) Philadelphia Sixers — The Eastern Conference front-runner in the "Riggin-for-Wiggins" sweepstakes.

 

CENTRAL DIVISION

(2) Indiana Pacers — The return of Danny Granger this season provides an already potent roster with another high-powered scoring option.

(4) Chicago Bulls — Derrick Rose, better than before? The rest of the league, consider yourselves warned.

(6) Cleveland Cavaliers — Bringing Mike Brown back as head coach will do wonders for a scoring defense that ranked 25th in the NBA last season.

(8) Detroit Pistons — Splashy additions of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith have the Pistons thinking playoffs again.

(11) Milwaukee Bucks — Larry Sanders is an emerging star, but his rise won't be enough to elevate the Bucks from the Central Division basement.

 

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

(1) Miami — Motivation more than anything else will be the Heat's toughest opponent this season.

(7) Washington — The addition of Marcin Gortat boldly states the Wizards are serious about getting into the playoffs this season.

(10) Atlanta — The Hawks, much like the Celtics, will take a major step backwards due to key offseason losses.

(12) Charlotte — Bad spot for the Bobkitties now. They're good enough to win some games, but far removed from being a playoff contender.

(14) Orlando — Rookie guard Victor Oladipo is a star in the making, but the Magic have a ways to go before they become relevant again.

 

PLAYOFFS

1) Miami vs 8) Detroit --- Heat in 6

2) Indiana vs 7) Washington -- Pacers in 7

3) Brooklyn vs 6) Cleveland -- Cavaliers in 6

4) Chicago vs 5) New York -- Bulls in 5 

 

SECOND ROUND 

1) Miami vs 4) Chicago -- Bulls in 6

2) Indiana vs 6) Cleveland -- Pacers in 6

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS 

2) Indiana vs 4) Chicago -- Pacers in 7

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Indiana Pacers