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 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.


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.


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.

Since: Aug 29, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 10:30 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

SPURS win it this year, not like this team cant win the big one.....they have many times

Since: Feb 29, 2008
Posted on: February 15, 2011 10:01 am

Knicks Are Pretenders Because of Backcourt SG

The Knicks are currently pretenders.  They have lost over a half-dozen games to the worst teams in the league at home; that is the mark of a pretender.  They would be ahead of the Bulls if they had won all those games.  And if pigs could fly, we would all have a lot more bacon.IF they get Carmello (and  that is not a done deal), they would be a first or second round threat, but they cannot overcome that weakness they have at shooting guard, because they don't have one.  Felton is great at PG, but they need a partner for him in order for that backcourt to compete.  Right now, their backcourt is the biggest weakness of the team and they get buried by mediocre teams with good  backcourts.  Adding Carmello will help a lot, but it will not help their backcourt situation.
Arthur Tafero

Since: Aug 18, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 9:43 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Sox, you're forgetting we are getting Udonis Haslem in the final weeks of the regular season. How he will be we really don't know, but if he's healthy we know he is going to give us 10 points scoring the bench have not given us along with rebounds, and he is a physical player who will knock out Rondo if he comes in the lane. Will Haslem make the difference? I don't know, I really don't think so, but I do believe the Heat's defense will improve and it will get them over the hump against a team like the Bulls who is expected to beat the Heat in the playoffs. I see them taking two games in the playoffs against the Celtics, but not more than that.

Since: Aug 18, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 9:39 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

I know this is about the East, but you guys are forgetting something. The NBA is just like wrestling. When playoff time comes around the referees are going to start their BS with the favorable calls. The Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics will face each other. The last game is the beginning of some rough play to come. As for the West, the Lakers will be in the NBA Finals. I don't care how good the Spurs are. David Stern wants the Lakers to play the Heat or the Celtics. I think it will be another Lakers vs. Celtics series.

Since: Dec 4, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 9:19 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

The Magic have been to the ECF the last 2 years, winning as the underdog and losing as the favorite. The only teams that have knocked them off in a 7 game series have combined to win the last 3 championships. I am not sure they belong in the pretender category just because the Bulls and Heat got better. The Magic have beaten every team in the East, and San Antonio, Dallas, and LA out west (convincingly I might add). They are 2-3 against the Celtics and Bulls but have played 4 of the 5 games on the road. The split the first 2 against the Heat and then Lebron went unconcious, made his first 12 field goals, put up 51 and the Heat won because the Magic missed a 3 as time expired. What are we basing this pretender status on?

Since: Feb 15, 2008
Posted on: February 15, 2011 6:43 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Regular seasons wins and losses are great for morale and bragging rights, but aren't a real true measuring stick for how a playoff series will play out. This sounds eerily similar to the '05-'06 Heat title run. No one said the Heat had a chance against New Jersey in the second round that year....why? Because they were 1-3 against them in the regular season. Well the Heat made easy work of them in the playoffs by winning in five. Then it was, "well they got past the Nets but there's no way they beat Detroit"....why? Because they were 1-3 against the Pistons in the regular season and Detroit had all of that experience and they've already been there so many times before, yadda yadda yadda. Well the Heat beat them in six and were never in any real danger of ever losing control of that series. Then it was,"Oh come on! They got by New Jersey and Detroit, but they don't what they're in for against Dallas."...why? Because they were 0-2 against Dallas in the regular season which included a 30+ point loss to them in Dallas. In the playoffs? Heat in six.

Point being, they turned a 2-8 regular season against their key playoff opponents into a 12-5 championship.

Since: Feb 15, 2011
Posted on: February 15, 2011 6:35 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

  1. Your are so right man. The celtics are beatable and Miami will beat them in the playoff!!!

Since: Mar 6, 2008
Posted on: February 15, 2011 2:48 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Really:heatwave3, The Heat beat the Lakers in La La Land, doesn't mean much this year. Despite many Laker homers belief, their team has fallen from the Elite ranks, replaced by the Spurs. Same Defending Champ Lakers were routed by the Charolotte Bobcats today. How the mighty have fallen, as most knowledgeable posters, including yours truly predicted. Still despite the obvious, many Laker posters, including bandwagoners believe(old) superstar Kobe will with the Zen master Jackson, who it was reported today got very angry at his teams pathetic play..will somehow win the West??? Still no team in the NBA is dominating, even the Spurs have slipped slightly of late. This fact will make Home Court Advantage very important, during the playoffs.After The All-Star Break, The true Contenders will be revealed, than all Contenders will have to bring it every game. Go Big Green!!!

Since: Sep 27, 2007
Posted on: February 15, 2011 1:11 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

heatwave, you're 0-3 vs. the C's so far, under varying circumstances and with varying variables in reference to personnel. Are you going to tell me that doesn't bother you? The ipso-facto logic of the NFL might not work here. You guys beat L.A. and L.A. beat the Celtics so if A. beats B. and B. beats C. than C. is superior to A.? Doesn't work like that. NBA is matchups. Whether in Beantown or South Beach, your Heat don't macth up with the Celtics very well. You have nobody, NOBODY, to slow down Rondo, and if behind Perkins there is any combo of a slightly healthy O'Neal two-headed monster, you guys are done. It will take a couple seasons for the Threatles to win anything. When the Celtics are in the nursing home, we'll let you win.

See this is what i am talking about. you celtics guys keep talking about the what ifs. if shaq is healthy is jermain is healthy. don't you think that the heat have a different game plan when those two dudes are on the floor yall. come on now. shaq can not and has not ever been able to defend pick and role or pick and pop. so when ilgauskus is in he can not just stay in the paint and let him shoot 17 ft shots. and as far as guarding rondo. rondo guards himself. did you happen to notice we gave him every open shot he wanted and he can't throw a fish in the sea from a boat that is in the water. he can't shoot. so essentially we will give him every jump shot he wants. by the time the playoffs role around we will have udonis haslem back and thats just another defender and another guy in pick and pop situations. are the celtics 3-0 against us. yes are they unbeatable hell no.. we beat ourselves yesterday buy turning the ball over and not making free throws. and wide open looks. will that strategy of letting mike miller and eddie house and james jones shoot wide open shots work for the celtics come playoff time (i doubt it ) but we shal see

Since: Oct 2, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2011 12:28 am

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Bulls vs. Knicks in 1st round (3 plays 6).  Of couse, Knicks have to stay ahead of the Sixers for that to happen, which seems increasingly unlikely.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or