Play Fantasy Use your Fantasy skills to win Cash Prizes. Join or start a league today. Play Now
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: Apr 25, 2007
Posted on: February 14, 2011 11:38 pm

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

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.
How would the knicks possibly play the bulls in the 2nd round?  This article was mediocre enough, but that's not even a feasible scenario with or without Melo.  What seeding allows for this?  Please answer me that...

Since: Dec 11, 2006
Posted on: February 14, 2011 11:21 pm

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.

Since: Dec 11, 2006
Posted on: February 14, 2011 11:15 pm

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Zbo, sit down son. You are correctly ranked an amateur with a zero rep. Who says experience doesn't win? The Spurs have been old fovever. Tim Duncan was born old, the guy has 4 rings. The Lakers were old last year and won, ditto with the Celtics in '08. In the playoffs, it's about health and experience. Healthy enough to get out there and do it, wise enough to not melt under the pressure (LeBron) and stay in your own head. Veteran teams win the rings in the NBA, that's a fact. I completely expect one of Boston, L.A., Dallas, San Antonio to win this thing. Teams like the Bulls, Heat, Knicks, Jazz etc. are either a player or two away or a year or two away. 

Since: Apr 16, 2010
Posted on: February 14, 2011 10:38 pm

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

Anyone who knows basketball understand you can have experience and skills but age plays an important part. L James couldn't do it all last year. He looks exhausted. It will be a new look during playoff. Boston win the first two doesn't count. Last game Heat get closer. I think the last game at Miami will be a statement game from the Heat. By the way, I don't think Spurs vs Celtics will play the Finals. Senior citizen team won't work in NBA.

Since: Sep 27, 2007
Posted on: February 14, 2011 10:21 pm

Contenders or pretenders: Eastern Conference

are you really telling me you can't see the heat beating the magic in a seven game series? come on people lets stop all the hate now. yes we have loss all our games against boston and the mavericks. but the mavs have swept the celtics too. when you say 1-5 you make it seem like its against all the good teams in the league. we are talking about three teams two of them we didn't beat. and we went into LA and trounced them. OKC and beat them. other places as well. we won 23 of 24 games. come on people get it straight the heat are all of a half game out of being the number one seed in the league for goodness sake and then road to the finals runs thru Miami. PRETEND TO THINK ABOUT THAT? AND PRETEND THAT THAT'S NOT A FACT ALL YOU WANT BUT THAT'S FACT

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