Blog Entry

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Posted on: February 14, 2011 6:52 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2011 11:48 am
 
Posted by Royce Young




Before we get to our list of Eastern Conference contenders and pretenders, check out Adam Aizer, Greg Urban, and Ben Golliver as they discuss the most underrated and overrated teams in the NBA and more in our weekly CBSSports.com NBA podcast:  


In the Eastern Conference where the Raptors and Cavaliers are both five-game winning streaks from getting back into the playoff discussion, pretenders and contenders are a bit complicated.

The top of the East is clear cut. The bottom half, not so much. But what's interesting is what is stuck in the middle. Who's really contending and who's pretending in the East? Here are three for each.

CONTENDERS

Boston Celtics: They're tested. They're talented. They're just plain good.

The way the Celtics beat you is what makes them so dangerous. They defend, they rebound, the score in crunch time... they don't have a glaring weakness. Their bench is one of the very strongest in the league and with four proven stars, you can't say they're really missing anything.

Plus, this team hasn't gotten healthy yet. Shaquille O'Neal -- who has been really good this season -- has been out. Same with Jermaine O'Neal (except for the really good part). They just got Kendrick Perkins back but Marquis Daniels is now down for a month.

On one side, that's what makes the Celtics even scarier than they already are. We haven't seen them at full power yet. Then again, it's what makes them vulnerable. One wrong step for Kevin Garnett and this team might be an easy out in the first round of the playoffs. That's not to say they're not deep, because they are. But what makes them the best team in the East is something they can't afford to lose.

But in terms of defining who will be there when the dust clears, the Celtics are the leader in the clubhouse.

Chicago Bulls: I truly believe the Bulls are the true challenger to the Celtics in the East. They aren't as talented as the Heat, but the Bulls have a complete package.

They have the creator/scorer in Derrick Rose. They have the low post reliable scorer in Carlos Boozer. And they have a rebounding defensive force in Joakim Noah. Where they might lack is some of the supporting cast, but Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer have been solid, plus you can't go wrong with having Kurt Thomas on the team.

In a seven-game series, the Bulls have a roster that other teams will fear. I mean look at them right now. They're No. 3 in the East and they haven't even played a week with their full compliment of talent. That's scary. Tom Thibodeau's defensive system was no joke. The Bulls are guarding as well as anyone in the league and again, they have go-to options for points. It does feel like they're missing one small thing, even if it's hard to put a finger on, but this team is legit. They will be a major threat come May.

Miami Heat: Truthfully? The Heat aren't far off from being in the "pretenders" section. That sounds crazy, yes, but in a seven-game series against the best teams in the East, can you really see the Heat getting through Orlando, Chicago and Boston all in a row if things fell that way? That's kind of hard for me to picture honestly.

Against the top five teams in the league, the Heat are just 1-5. They lose a lot of close games. They break down sometimes in the fourth quarter and fall into a completely stagnant, only isolation offense. They have obvious weanesses.

However, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh. That's a pretty good counter to all those points. Talent wins in most cases and the Heat have the most.

We all see it coming though. In order for this team to get over the hill against the Celtics, someone is going to have to pretend he's Robert Horry and hit a big shot. Sunday, Mike Miller had the opportunity. The right play was executed, the right shot was taken. He just missed it. Now what happens in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals? Can Miller make that shot? More than likely, if Miami is a contender or pretender ironically rides more on that than anything else.

PRETENDERS

Orlando Magic: The Magic just aren't there. The trade was nice. It improved them. It really did. But they just aren't there. I've watched them lose too many close games because of a fourth quarter meltdown offensively. Dwight Howard just isn't Shaq. He can't be fed in the post for 42 minutes and score 60 percent of the time. I think the Magic thought that was going to happen, but it's just not.

When they realized that, they tried to go find a couple better scorers and creators to take pressure off. Enter Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson. All very good players. But to this point, all underachieving. Or maybe they just aren't what we thought they were.

Turkoglu has his moments, but he's inconsistent. Arenas just isn't himself and might not ever be again. And Richardson has become too much of a 3-point specialist instead of a scorer.

Orlando is a good team and will finish with 50 wins. But depending on their first-round matchup, they might not even see the month of May.

Atlanta Hawks:
Look over the Hawks roster for 10 minutes. Give it a good, long look. What do they need to change? Where do they need to get better?

A lot of teams feel like they're just a player away, but in Atlanta, is it actually possible that the players they have just might not be good enough? Maybe they're five players away.

Al Horford is very good. He's a championship caliber player. Josh Smith, excellent. But he's not good enough to be as featured as he is. And Joe Johnson. Great player, but as we all saw last playoffs against Orlando, he might not be a postseason winner.

The clear-cut weak point is Mike Bibby at point, but right now, how can Atlanta do any better? Jeff Teague isn't ready and there's not an option out there that's really that much of an upgrade. Andre Miller would be a really nice fit, but again, is that enough to make Atlanta an Eastern Conference Final contender? I don't think so.

New York Knicks: Why are the Knicks on this list? Because who else do you put here? The Pacers? Bobcats? Sixers? So by default, the Knicks go here. That's the current Knicks I mean. Not the Knicks post-deadline.

Because here's the catch though: The Knicks are likely going to be adding a player at the deadline. And if that player is on the team, then there's a new question about the Knicks. If Carmelo Anthony joins the team and combines with Amar'e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and whoever is left, are the Knicks good enough to compete?

Still no, actually. They will be better. They will be a team that is entirely capable of winning a playoff series. They will be dangerous to someone. I could see them really giving a team like the Bulls fits in a second-round matchup. But even with Carmelo, the Knicks just aren't ready.
Comments

Since: Sep 27, 2007
Posted on: February 15, 2011 5:02 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

lmao.. how much did the suns ger destroyed by in both games. assist totals don't say that the point guards on the heat are being outplayed. example. jose calderon averaged tons of assist sometime getting 15 17 18 in a game. and they still lose. so how did he exactly dominate. he fascilitated the ball but he didn't dominate. nelson, williams, rondo, nash, didn't get anywhere they wanted and and because of it the heat lost. thats not the case at all. dominated was when lebron score 51 8 10in a game and they won. thats domination



Since: Dec 4, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 4:40 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

There was another game where the Heat actually won by 1 over Washington that Washington should have won but there was a no call on a foul on the last second layup. Hinrich had 12 assists in that game. Nash had a 18 assist game, his second best of the year. If you look at the games where the Heat have struggled or lost, it seems like 9 times out of 10 the opposing point guard just dominates them.



Since: Dec 4, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 4:23 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

I was trying to enlighten the previous poster who said the Heat didn't have any solid weaknesses. The point is in the losses that the Heat have endured, point guards have gone insane for season best type games. It's a fact. I even said that maybe they are fluke performances and that is what it takes to pull out victories against a more talented Heat team. Irregardless those outstanding performances by point guards did occur and the Heat did lose all of those games. I notice that you don't want to admit that the PG situation in Miami is atrocious, but the stats don't lie. cbssports.com has them rated 30th out of 30 teams at the point guard position and 23rd out of 30 at center. Spin it however you like, but the fact is the teams that have accomplished victories have done so by dominating them at the PG position and in the paint.



Since: Sep 27, 2007
Posted on: February 15, 2011 3:53 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Let's look at the some of the teams that Miami has lost to.

They lost 3 times to Boston and Rondo went for 43 assists in the 3 games with a triple double.
They lost to New Orleans and Paul went for 19 assists Okafor/West down low were great.
They lost to Utah and Deron Williams went for 21 points and 14 assists and Millsap dominated down low.
They lost to Orlando and Nelson went for 17 points and 14 assists. Dwight Howard had a field day down low.
They lost 2 times to Dallas and Kidd totaled 20 assists. It goes without saying that Nowitzki outclassed Miami's paint players.
They lost to the Clippers and Baron Davis went for 20 points and 9 assists. Blake Griffin was good down low.
They lost to Denver. Billups has 13 assists and NeNe has a good game.
They lost to Chicago and "held" Rose to 8 assists. Too bad he had 34 points. Boozer/Deng down low were solid.
They lost to Atlanta and Joe Johnson had 19 points, 10 assists.

In general any team that has a good point guard and a good to great PF or Center has given the Heat fits all season. The reason is that the Heat are severely outmatched at the PG position, and Bosh isn't a true paint player and after him there is nobody who should be playing outside of the D league.

Rondo had games of 16 and 17 assists against the Heat.
Paul had a season high 19 assists.
Williams had his 4th best game assist wise of the season with 14.
Jameer Nelson had a season high 14 assists.
Kidd's 13 assist performance was his highest since the opening game of the season.
Baron Davis has had 2 20 point 9 assist games this season, one was against the Heat.
Billups had 13 assists for his season high total in only 27 minutes of play. I think the last time he had more assists was back in 2007 maybe.
Rose went for 34 and 8, which is one of his best games of the year.
Joe Johnson had one of only 2 double digit assist games against the Heat.

What do all these amazing performances by point guards against the Heat mean? It either means that all of these guys picked apart the Heat because they were matched up with arguably the worst point guard in the league, or they all just stepped up because that is the kind of performance it takes to beat them. I'll let you decide.

utah.. yeah they beat us and milsap was unconcious hitting 3's when does he ever do that? but for arguement sake.. what happened the next time we faced them..  not even close.. W for the heat.

hornets.. chris paul had a great game and they beat us in NO and Okafur killed us.. What exactly happened the next game? destroyed them as well

Magic first game we absolutely destroyed them and ran them out the gym. second game we lost. and jameer and howard had big games. and the last game we played beat them from start to end and how well did howard and jameer do then?

the clippers we lost to in LA yes and baron davis had a good game. and again what happened to them when they came to miami last time. they got scraped. griffin and davis did what?

chicago rose went off BUT exactly what happened in that game.. we led the whole game and then Bosh went down and before that there wasn't even no match for him.

so what you did is take specific instances and stats for a game in which it really didn't have anything to do with why the heat lost. how well did rondo shoot on sunday? how about how much he was fouling lebron james and there wasn't any calls. how about that.. how about he only had 10 points  mostly because we LET HIM SHOOT. stop trying to be an analist w/o showing ALL the details of the games the heat lose or win. tell the REAL STORY of the game not just bandwagon off of what people may feel is the heat's weakness or such and such.




Since: Dec 4, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 3:18 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference


Let's look at the some of the teams that Miami has lost to.

They lost 3 times to Boston and Rondo went for 43 assists in the 3 games with a triple double.
They lost to New Orleans and Paul went for 19 assists Okafor/West down low were great.
They lost to Utah and Deron Williams went for 21 points and 14 assists and Millsap dominated down low.
They lost to Orlando and Nelson went for 17 points and 14 assists. Dwight Howard had a field day down low.
They lost 2 times to Dallas and Kidd totaled 20 assists. It goes without saying that Nowitzki outclassed Miami's paint players.
They lost to the Clippers and Baron Davis went for 20 points and 9 assists. Blake Griffin was good down low.
They lost to Denver. Billups has 13 assists and NeNe has a good game.
They lost to Chicago and "held" Rose to 8 assists. Too bad he had 34 points. Boozer/Deng down low were solid.
They lost to Atlanta and Joe Johnson had 19 points, 10 assists.

In general any team that has a good point guard and a good to great PF or Center has given the Heat fits all season. The reason is that the Heat are severely outmatched at the PG position, and Bosh isn't a true paint player and after him there is nobody who should be playing outside of the D league.

Rondo had games of 16 and 17 assists against the Heat.
Paul had a season high 19 assists.
Williams had his 4th best game assist wise of the season with 14.
Jameer Nelson had a season high 14 assists.
Kidd's 13 assist performance was his highest since the opening game of the season.
Baron Davis has had 2 20 point 9 assist games this season, one was against the Heat.
Billups had 13 assists for his season high total in only 27 minutes of play. I think the last time he had more assists was back in 2007 maybe.
Rose went for 34 and 8, which is one of his best games of the year.
Joe Johnson had one of only 2 double digit assist games against the Heat.

What do all these amazing performances by point guards against the Heat mean? It either means that all of these guys picked apart the Heat because they were matched up with arguably the worst point guard in the league, or they all just stepped up because that is the kind of performance it takes to beat them. I'll let you decide.



Since: Apr 25, 2007
Posted on: February 15, 2011 3:07 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

I think that the Knicks could definitely upset ,BOS,CHI or MIA if they added Anthony, but i don't see that happeing at all.

I don't see any of the top 3 seeds being upset at all as they stand now, which is BOS, CHI, and MIA.

The 4-5 matchup would be ORL and ATL, and that could go either way but i would say ORL wins it.

That would make it BOS vs ORL and CHI vs MIA, I would take BOS vs MIA (I don't see the Heat losing to the Bulls, it would be a huge disapointment for them).

That leaves BOS vs MIA and I would take BOS. They have proved they can beat MIA and the bench issues with the Heat would be a large liability for them in a 7 game series vs the Celtics



Since: Dec 4, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 2:26 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

I'm not sure what the last comment meant, but it's pretty obvious that the Heat have a very weak bench and weak inside presence. Against most teams they can win on pure athleticism from Wade and Lebron alone. Against teams with a good center, they are bound to struggle.



Since: Nov 27, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 12:21 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

I personally don't believe the Heat have a solid "weaness" yet. A weaness takes time to develop, and I believe a lack of maturity is what's keeping the Heat from forming a weaness that can stand the test of everything coming down to one major event in the end.



Since: Sep 10, 2007
Posted on: February 15, 2011 12:15 pm
 

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

the Heat have obvious "Weanesses" hahaha, go back and read the part about the Heat lol



Since: Jan 24, 2008
Posted on: February 15, 2011 10:56 am
 

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Big Magic fan here and at this point of the season, I really have to agree with this article.  I don't miss many games (maybe 1 or 2 this year so far) and I have watched this team real objectively over the last few weeks.  I am not saying that the current roster could not become contenders, because they very well could.  They are every bit as talented (on paper) as any other team in the league.  The problem is the game is played on the court and not on paper.  Here are some reasons why the Magic are not contenders at this point:

1.  Inconsistent defensive play (this tops the list because this is why the Magic have gone to the ECF's the last two years.  Everyone talks about their 3-point shooting, but they have been one of the better defensive teams in the league the last few years).  This is simply not the case with this new roster.  They show weak on the pick and roll and their rotations are very late, paticurally on rotations to the perimeter.  It seems as though every team has their best 3 point shooting night vs. the Magic because they get wide open looks constantly.

2.  PG Play.  Everyone knows that Howard is the most important guy on this team.  However, Nelson is not too far behind.  When the PG play is great, the Magic are too.  When the PG play is bad, the Magic are too.  Too many times this year, the PG play has not been good.  Therefore, the ball stops moving and inevitably someone throws up a contested 3 point shot.

3.  Coaching.  I have always been a big SVG supporter and still am.  However, I think he has to realize that it is time to force feed Howard in the middle, particurally when the 3 point shot is not falling, which has happened a lot more often lately.  He has to realize that if the team is 3-19 or 4-20 from 3 point range that the 3 point shot just isn't there.  Most teams single cover Howard now and take away the 3 point shot to defend the Magic.  This has been very effective as SVG simply has not adjusted his game plan to match.  If the opposing team single covers Howard, he should at least touch the ball every time down the floor.  Howard's offensive game is much better this year and he should score 40 when being single covered.

I think if those three things can be righted that the Magic are every bit as good as the Lakers, Heat, or Celtics.  At this point I see the conference finals as follows:
Spurs vs Lakers (yes, I know the Lakers have been struggling lately, they do it every year.  They are good enough to just flip the switch much like they did last year)
Heat vs. Celtics (I just don't buy that the Bulls are that good.  My opinion here is that if this match up comes to fruition that the C's destroy the Heat as there are just too many holes in the Heat's roster.)


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