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NBA Preview: Eastern Conference look…

While it seemed like the Western Conference seems to be the dominate conference once again, the Eastern Conference did make up some ground during this last off-season to make itself competitive within its own walls. Can it still contend with the cream of the crop conference, well let’s find out in the Eastern Conference preview as we go division by division and lets start with some new faces in new places, the Atlantic Division.

1. Toronto Raptors: The Raptors last season proved without a doubt that they are here and here to stay in the NBA and the playoff race. The team led by a solid all-star guard by the name of DeMar DeRozan, who last season made his breakthrough into the great status. Joined in the backcourt by point guard Kyle Lowry, who himself has a really good season, allowed the much needed stability in the backcourt, which every basketball player and coach know, is the key to winning games. Forwards Amir Johnson and young gun Terrance Ross made some key contributions and look to better their production in the 2014-2015 and hustle-player from the University of North Carolina, Tyler Hansbrough, looks to be an even bigger force in the middle and on the boards.

The one obvious deficiency is scoring options. DeRozan and Lowry have had games where they were difficult to find on the court at times and that can give a team trouble, especially in the playoffs. In the end, in a weak conference, the Raptors look to be the favorite in the Atlantic Division once again.

2. Brooklyn Nets: FINALLY, the name of the Nets and playoffs can go hand in hand as it had been a long time for Nets fans. Yet it was a little disappointing how quickly the Nets were ousted from the playoffs considering their expectations coming into last season. Nets were projected to be “THE TEAM” that beat the Heat and the big of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (Heat preview STILL to come), and due to injuries and underperformance by key players, the Nets fell and fell hard. Guards Joe Johnson and Deron Williams have NOT been what the Nets paid them to be “superstars.” The scoring was placed in the laps of wily veterans, forward Paul Pierce and Center Kevin Garnett, two players with way too much wear on their bodies. With Pierce gone and the disgruntled Head Coach Jason Kidd now in Milwaukee, the Nets look to turn the page on a new chapter. Head Coach Lionel Hollins (some say HE was best fit) looks to rejuvenate the roster that STILL has the power to be a dominant force IF HEALTHY. Forward Mason Plumlee made some noise and the addition of Andrei Kirilenko from Utah who can stretch the floor can allow Plumlee and returning Center Brook Lopez room to work.

A LOT of questions but just one answer in the playoff question, Nets make it and in top to middle of the tier, which means an easy road.

3. New York Knicks: Ah, the cap-strapped enigma that is the New York Knickerbockers. The Knicks are like a box of chocolates. “You never know whatcha gonna get.” (Line from Forrest Gump) But with superstar Forward Carmelo Anthony leading the team, it can be a competitive season. One of the obvious issues from last season was lack of scoring, which seems to be resolved with the acquisition of point guard Jose Calderon. If Calderon Anthony and Forward Amar’e Stoudemire stay healthy and hold to form, AND if guard J.R. Smith can stay out of trouble off the court and give his normal numbers, then the Knicks are a scary team to face. The one obvious trade was their defensive presence in the middle as they let go of Tyson Chandler for another Center Samuel Dalembert. Can Iman Shumpert be that defensive guy that can shutdown the opponent’s number 1? Can Tim Hardaway Jr. be that 6th man of the year guy? Is Andrea Bargnani the other offensive threat they need from the Forward-Center position? Can Carmelo get the rest he so desperately needs?

In the end, Carmelo was asked to do too much last season but with new Head Coach Derek Fisher and front office supervision from the ZEN Master Phil Jackson, Melo will be well protected. The cap may be strapped but in the weak conference the Knicks can make the playoffs in the middle to lower tier.

4. Boston Celtics: This is a team that clouds a lot of experts because of the goals of the team and how the roster seems to be giving off a different message that what most teams have to begin a season. Add the constant rumors of disgruntled point guard Rajon Rondo, who always seems to be the center of trade discussions. Hence the drafting of Marcus Smart out of Oklahoma State in this past NBA draft. Can guard Avery Bradley be that answer? Can Center Jared Sullinger continue to stay healthy and become that dominant Center that he once was coming out of THE Ohio State University?

I do not want to say that the Boston Celtics are planning to “tank” but this roster has a lot of holes and it does not look very competitive against the favorites in the conference. Playoffs do not seem to be in the plans nor in this season of predictions.

5. Philadelphia 76ers: This is a team that just might surprise people this year. Guard Michael Carter-Williams who had a surprisingly good rookie campaign, looks to build on it and become even better and Forward-Center Nerlens Noel who was coming off injury mid-season was just beginning to find his NBA legs, looks to make a more long term impact. Led by new Head coach Brett Brown (from Boston University) looks to bring a new “Princeton Style” game to the 76ers. Then there is the wildcard to factor in, their 3rd overall pick of this past draft, Center Joel Embiid. While most reports say his back issues are stable and ready to go, others say that it is because of his back AND other injuries, that had him fall out of the top spot. If Embiid can stay healthy and if his back can withstand the punishment it will take, the 76ers so have a shot to sneak into the playoffs in a weak conference.

An even better chance than the Celtics, but there are so many intangibles that must be factored, the prediction has to remain the 76ers OUT of the playoffs. Though other teams better nOT sleep on the 76ers.

The trip in the Atlantic Division is over, so lets take the trip to the HOT Southeast Division as our next preview will answer the question, “How will the Miami Heat be without Lebron James?” Keep an eye on NGSC website to find out.

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Ralph Garcia


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