Cohen: Predicting East Playoff Seedings

By Josh Cohen
January 9, 2012

ORLANDO -- In one of my recent Cohen Courtside features I detailed my expectations for why the same eight playoff teams in the East from last season will all advance again.

If you examine each of those teams, the top four seeds from last year, Chicago, Miami, Boston and Orlando, are all just as good if not better than they were several months ago.

Meanwhile, the bottom three seeds, New York, Philadelphia and Indiana, are all improved.

The Knicks, for one, added Tyson Chandler to bolster their front line and have Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire together for the duration of the season. The Pacers, likewise, supplemented their returning core with David West and the 76ers, despite not making any big splashes during free agency, remain arguably the most athletic team in the league.

The final team on the docket, Atlanta, has endured the most difficult schedule up until this point and still is a respectable 6-3 with wins over Miami and Chicago.

While it would be far-fetched and, in some ways, insolent to ignore the other seven teams in the East from having playoff aspirations considering we are just two weeks into this truncated season, it just seems unpromising that there will be a shakeup.

Cleveland, for instance, is immeasurably improved with Kyrie Irving already having a spectacular season. Milwaukee is always a threat because of its defensive commitment and Toronto, behind the ever-improving Andrea Bargnani, has shown progression.

But barring any significant injuries or league-impacting trades, it just doesn’t seem pragmatic for any of those seven teams to trounce the top eight in the conference from a year ago.

Though again, we are just two weeks into this abridged season, I decided to project what I think the seeds will be at season’s end.

After reviewing my forecast at this point, vote on who you think would win each First Round series if these seedings proved to be accurate.

1 The Heat look even more daunting than they did last season. The biggest contrast from a season ago is that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade (though he has missed a couple of games with injury) and Chris Bosh appear far more relaxed and unperturbed by the profound expectations.

2 I know I have been the Bulls’ biggest adversary, but I’m still convinced they are built to be a great regular season team but not a destined championship one.

Derrick Rose is phenomenal and he will always keep Chicago in the hunt. They are an optimal regular season team because of their defensive intensity and “no-excuse attitude.” But in the playoffs when every opponent is crashing the boards and hustling for loose balls, their pool of talent in Chicago will look less formidable. That is unless Carlos Boozer and/or Luol Deng can consistently be top 25 caliber players.

3 Assuming Dwight Howard remains in blue and white for the entire season, the Magic should be next in line to grab the No. 3 seed. With Ryan Anderson playing outstandingly and with a balanced supporting cast including Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and J.J. Redick showing positive signs, Orlando remains a threat to any other adversary in the East.

Some of you may say, you are being biased considering you just bashed the Bulls for not having a second top 25 player on their roster. I think the big difference is that in the playoffs, having a dominant, unconquerable center is more imperative than having a dynamic and relentless guard.

I realize that didn’t prove necessarily precise in the playoffs last season, but to Orlando’s defense, it was extremely atypical for the Magic to shoot as defectively as they did from long distance in their series against the Hawks.

4 I know everyone in Beantown will abominate me for this prediction, but I think ultimately the Knicks will prove to be the better “regular season” team than the Celtics and win the Atlantic Division. I realize New York has gotten off to a pebbly start, but eventually that monstrous frontcourt will wear down the competition.

With Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire providing unremitting offense and with Tyson Chandler protecting the paint on the other end, it should be enough to outlast Boston. Also, it will be interesting to see what Baron Davis can deliver when he returns from his back injury. I expect him to spark that club down the stretch.

5 I still think the Celtics are a worthy championship contender and if I were any of the other opponents in the East, I would not want to face them. But in terms of the regular season, I expect them to once again rest and not exult much in this truncated 66-game season.

I have them as the No. 5 seed, but quite honestly, I could easily see Boston with a 6 or 7 seed as well.

Come playoff time if they are healthy and motivated, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo may have one more run in them.

6 Signing David West was probably the best offseason acquisition in the NBA. He and Danny Granger form a fantastic one-two punch and their supporting cast, including Tyler Hansbrough, Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison, is rock-solid.

While I don’t anticipate the Pacers to win a playoff series (yet), I think they will have a very nice regular season and be a tough out to whomever they play in the postseason.

7 This is likely going to be one of those exasperating positions for a team to make major strides from a season prior but still end up with the same seed. Philadelphia is undoubtedly better than it was last season, especially because of Evan Turner is much improved.

But because of their competition, the Sixers don’t seem to have much malleability to climb up.

8 The Hawks will always probably be the most peculiar team in the league. This past week proves it. They lose in triple overtime to the LeBron and Wade-less Heat at home, barely squeak by the Bobcats in another OT thriller and then crush the Bulls in the finale of a back-to-back-to-back. It just doesn’t make sense.

I think ultimately the subtraction of Jamal Crawford and their thin front line will impact their seeding, but the Hawks are always a threat because of Joe Johnson’s offensive firepower and Josh Smith’s multifaceted skills.

1) MIA vs. 8) ATL

1) MIA vs. 8) ATL

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4) NYK vs. 5) BOS

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2) CHI vs. 7) PHI

2) CHI vs. 7) PHI

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3) ORL vs. 6) IND

3) ORL vs. 6) IND

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