EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW
|To preview the upcoming NBA season, Clippers radio announcer Brian Sieman and Clippers Insider Eric Patten exchanged emails over the course of a few days. They discussed the Heat, the return of Derrick Rose and the rest of the Eastern Conference first.|
The past couple of years we’ve kind of gone with a standard NBA preview on Clippers.com. You probably already know that considering YOU wrote the Eastern Conference and Western Conference editions for the last two. This year I thought we could spice things up a little bit, maybe exchange emails about teams, conferences, players and get a little deeper into all-things NBA. Let’s start with the East.
Miami is a clear-cut favorite, in my mind. They could take a step back in the regular season record-wise (66 wins, 27 in a row in 2012-13) due to an improved Indiana team, Chicago getting Derrick Rose back and, of course, essentially the heart and soul of the Celtics heading to Brooklyn. The Heat are taking a gamble on two guys (Michael Beasley and Greg Oden). If one of them pans out, an already great team could prove unbeatable. If they don’t, they still have the league’s best player, who is so good it almost counts for one and a half guys, a superstar in Dwyane Wade, and a weirdly underrated Chris Bosh.
Bosh only had 15 double-doubles last regular season, but check out some of the teams he had them against: Boston (twice), Atlanta, Golden State, Houston, the Lakers, Milwaukee (twice), New York, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio.
That’s 11 of his 15 double-doubles coming against 2013 Playoff teams. The Heat won seven of those, including beating both the Spurs and Thunder. Let’s not forget that Bosh also had the biggest rebound of his life, keeping LeBron’s miss alive that led to Ray Allen’s game-tying 3-pointer in Game 6 of the Finals.
I think Wade’s health might force Bosh into a bigger role and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you get, an All-Star season out of Bosh with the supporting cast the Heat already have…. Who beats them?
This will be interesting to see out East, who beats Miami?
I start with the Heat themselves. Many feel Bosh has been exposed as a sub-par forward. He's not. I don't know if there is a forward out there that wouldn't look a little emasculated next to LeBron and Wade. But I think you're onto something with his role and Wade's seemingly fluctuating health. While LBJ has stated that the best player in camp has been Wade, it's only the middle of October. The marathon hasn't begun. I would be shocked if Erik Spoelstra didn't take a page out of Gregg Popovich's playbook and carve out a game or two here and there to rest Wade.
That said, if the 'experts' are correct in saying that Michael Beasley and Greg Oden are the key for the Heat-peat (trademark pending by Pat Riley, I assume), then this race is over. I don't see any way where Oden can physically play a full season. He's only played 82 games in his NBA life, now he's the key for a season that will no doubt run 100 games-plus?!?! I hope to be wrong. Oden seems like a good guy, but his durability makes Mr. Glass look like Cal Ripken Jr. I don't think anyone can really say what his skill set is either. Remember he was banged up while at OSU with a thumb injury and was drafted basically because he was 7-foot and fairly athletic. Several knee surgeries later, I don't see him as a day-in and day-out player.
As for Beasley, he will inflict more pain to himself then he will on opponents.
It remains to be seen what Chicago can do against Miami and how the Bulls will be with a healthy Derrick Rose. I suspect they will be a top three team out East, but do they have the ingredients to beat the Heat? I don't know yet.
Do the Pacers? They were close last year, very close. If they can somehow integrate Danny Granger back into the fold without disrupting their great chemistry from a year ago, they have a shot. Frank Vogel has proven he's a solid coach and the Pacers certainly have the respect of the Heat. It will be an awesome showdown in May.
However, at the end of the day which team has the best player? Not only is LeBron the best, there isn't even a close second anymore. You and I saw him during the stretch in Jan-Feb where he was automatic, from EVERYWHERE. It was frightening to see just how easy things came to him. This guy is in the middle of his prime, and has shoulders big enough to carry Wade, Bosh, and even Beasley. I don't see a scenario where Miami doesn't come out of the East. Fans might want to enjoy this year more than the others. With the new CBA in place and very punitive financials coming for teams over the tax line, this could spell the end of the "Big 3" in Miami, as all three of them have options for next year. Although, I can't say I’m looking forward to the "Decision, part 2"……..
You only mentioned Chicago and Indiana as potential teams that could knock off the Heat in the East. I think you're right that for Indiana to have a real chance they have to integrate Granger properly. But they were really good last year when we saw them in person, even after falling down by 17 in Indianapolis against the Clippers without Roy Hibbert (suspended for the David Lee incident), they fought back and nearly tied it before CP3 did his thing. The Pacers are deeper now with C.J. Watson and Luis Scola, and Paul George will be a year better. I really like them. I almost picked them to win the East. Almost.
I'm not sure if the media is collectively underselling or overselling the Bulls. USA Today predicted them to have the best overall record in the league, but at the same time, like you said, the question remains about Rose's recovery and health. I'm actually less concerned with Rose than I am with Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. They have played an ungodly number of minutes in the last 2-3 seasons. Norman Dale used his bench more in "Hoosiers" than Tom Thibodeau did at times last year. Rose coming back deepens them a little and so does the addition of Mike Dunleavy, who is another seemingly perennially injured player.
The one team I'm surprised you didn't mention is the Nets. Obviously, there are concerns: Deron Williams' ankle, the mileage on K.G. and Paul Pierce and a first-time coach (at any level) in Jason Kidd. Terry Stotts, before the Clippers-Blazers preseason game in L.A., said there has rarely been a player who sees things before they happen like Kidd (he actually compared him to Chris Paul). So, Kidd definitely has the smarts. I'm just not sure he's ready. If he is, and things break right for Brooklyn, they could have the ingredients to beat Miami: Dynamic point guard. Check. Size up front in Garnett, Lopez, Blatche and Reggie Evans (not size as much as the baddest rebounder around). Check. More than one wing scorer to warrant LeBron's defensive attention. Check. I'm not saying I like the Nets as a high seed out East. I just wouldn't leave them out of the conversation.
What about the Knicks? Do they fit in to the top four? Or are they in the top of that next group that probably includes Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Washington and Atlanta?
I mentioned the teams that have a shot at dethroning Miami. NY and Brooklyn will not factor in that equation. Although one of those teams, most likely the Nets, will face off against Miami in the second round, I don't see them causing any grief. I like the Nets players, I just don't think it'll work over 82 games and playoffs. A lot of iso guys on that team (Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce) so it might be a tough go of it. The real bad news for the Nets is they pushed all their chips in the middle with a meager hand. Five years ago, this line up is something special. Today? It's a team that in a regular season setting might win a lot of games, but I'm not sure they carry that success over to the playoffs. To me, there is just too much mileage on the legs of KG and PP, and a question of Jason Kidd's coaching ability. I will not be surprised if he flourishes. I think we all saw what kind of presence he had on the floor, but it's such a difficult job. It’s hard to expect to knock off a two-time champ in year one.
As for the Knicks, I just don't think they can get it done. They have a solid starting front court, with depth at PF and SF, but at center they go from Tyson Chandler to Cole Aldrich? And I'm a KU guy!
Last year there were a top three offense, and a mid-level defense. With Bargnani in the starting five, they won't improve there. I don't know why, I can't put my finger on it, but I have never had faith in a team where Carmelo Anthony is the best player. He's probably the best scorer in the game, can make big shots, and thrives in the clutch. But I just don't believe he's a player that can take a team to the elite level. I think he's a decent guy, so it's not like I harbor a grudge. I lived in Denver when he was a rookie and thought he'd be a guy that could take the Nuggets from obsolete to the Finals. He had some good teams and a great coach, but it didn't happen there either. The top of the East is good, but the Knicks are not a part of it.
I'm trying to think of any other teams out east that will make noise. The only one I'm really interested in is Cleveland. If Bynum can be 75 percent of what he was with the Lakers, I think they could scare some teams this year, and crush them next year…but after the top three and maybe Brooklyn, is there a real sleeper?
On a side note, I want to thank you for the studious hyperlinks you’ve provided. I was half expecting a creepy picture from that horror movie with Sarah-Michelle Gellar, so well done for actually giving a box score.
I agree that the top of the East is really good. I don’t think it will break right for Brooklyn… in those five years. The Heat, Bulls and Pacers will be that good. The Bulls could be scary moving forward. They have a future first-round pick from Charlotte (acquired in the Tyrus Thomas trade) and a couple of high-salaried trade chips in Boozer and Deng. To me, they have a great future and present.
As for the rest of the East. Could the Wizards challenge somebody in the first-round? Maybe. I’ve always been a believer in John Wall and he looked great when he returned from knee surgery last January. In nine games in April he scored 20 points or more six times. He had double-doubles in the three other games. Add a healthy Bradley Beal and Martell Webster to help space the floor as well as Nene and they aren’t bad. The problem, really, is health. Okafor is already hurt and Otto Porter hasn’t been able to get on the court this fall due to injury as well. The battle for the bottom of the East could be interesting, in that, I think there will be 6-7 teams that aren’t all that much different from one another.
Is Toronto really that much worse than, say, Milwaukee? I don’t know. The problem is that it doesn’t really matter. The seventh or eighth seeds are going to get swiftly taken out by Miami, Chicago or Indiana anyway, so it likely won’t matter who earns the opportunity.
That’s what makes the Western Conference so much more intriguing. It’s deep. Let’s start with the Clippers. Where do they fit in the West and how much of a difference does Doc Rivers make for a team that won FIFTY-SIX games last season?
CHECK BACK TOMORROW AS BRIAN AND ERIC PREVIEW THE WESTERN CONFERENCE