The Eastern Conference has gotten better, and for all the cries of "No parity!," it's hard to know where the playoff teams stand. Obviously, Miami leads the pack. Beyond that, the East is an ever-developing mystery.
1. Miami Heat
Easy choice, given last year's title. No need to further pontificate here.
If Dwight Howard goes to the Nets, Brooklyn zooms to this spot. The Bulls will be hindered by Derrick Rose's rehab. They look set to be that formidable regular season team, the kind that fades come playoff time.
Another nice regular season team, the difference is that Indiana gets by on a well-balanced starting lineup, while the Bulls have depth all around. With Hibbert coming back, the Pacers could challenge 50 wins. They won't ever be contenders without Paul George making a leap.
If Dwight Howard is traded to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez and wood chips, look out. They have a good squad with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace. Dwight could help Brooklyn win the whole damn thing.
Aging happens little by little, then all at once. This could be Boston's "all at once year," where the Celtics finally crumble. I doubt it, though. Expect another lackluster regular season, followed by an inspired playoff run. Contender status can only be achieved if Rondo develops a jumper. If the 2012 playoffs are any indication, he certainly good. I've knocked them down to No. 5, solely because they'll feel compelled to play Jeff Green after paying him so much.
They're better than you think, despite being a mess. Last year, New York's point differential was much better than their Standings spot. If Carmelo Anthony gets more time at power forward, a six ranking could be selling them short.
Atlanta could get Dwight Howard, if only they had the will and inclination to risk it all. They should make the playoffs, despite losing Joe Johnson. Josh Smith and Al Horford are respected in this space.
This is a massive bet on behalf of Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry and Dwyane Casey. Their coach can conjure defense out of Andrea Bargnani. Imagine what he'll do with Jonas.
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