NBA: A look at the Eastern Conference at the Break

Feb. 21, 2005, midnight | By Adith Sekaran Isamu Bae | 15 years, 11 months ago

It's looking like Shaq vs. the Wallaces again

Atlantic Division

Adith Izzy
The Boston Celtics are the second best in the Atlantic division at the same record as Philly (26-26). However, Philly is ranked above Boston because of a better division record and head to head record. The Celtics are similar to the 76ers although their superstar has a better supporting cast. Paul Pierce, since the departure of Antoine Walker, is the star of the Celtics team. The offseason acquisition of Gary Payton has given the Celtics a true point guard, if nothing else. Payton is nowhere near as talented as he was before going to the Lakers two seasons ago but distributes the ball enough to average slightly over six assists a game. Ricky Davis, the starting small forward, eases the scoring load on Pierce, who averages 22 points a night. Davis' 15 points a night are about all he provides because he does not rebound the ball or pass it well. The Celtics' starting big man Raef LaFretnz is nothing to boast about however he is the rebounding leader with 7.6 rebounds a game. This supporting cast beats the 76ers supporting cast, which tells you something. The Celtics have a chance of surpassing Philly for the lead of the Atlantic division because the one man show in Iverson has to end eventually. The Celtics will make the playoffs as either the third or eight seed but success past the first round is bonus. Boston Celtics Amazingly, this team is 27-26 at the break- over .500! I suppose that's what you would expect from a team with Paul Pierce and Gary Payton. The big question heading into the season was whether Gary Payton would play and whether he would play hard, given the team is definitely nowhere near championship material. Averaging 12.2 ppg, 6.1 apg and 1.27 spg is pretty good for a player most expected would simply retire in anger. Now the big problem is whether the Celtics can transform themselves into a deadly team in the second half or whether they'll falter. As it is, the Celtics are out-scoring their opponents by an average of a measly 0.8 points, which hardly will cut it when the intensity rises. Any team with Paul Pierce has a chance, but unless the Celtics somehow manage to grab a versatile, defensive swingman or a center who can actually rebound, it's hard to imagine this team getting better rather than worse from the wear and tear on their undersized big men.
The Philadelphia 76ers with a record of 26-26 are on top of this sorry division. The 76ers have been plagued by injuries to their best player, Allen Iverson, causing many of their losses. Glenn Robinson, who contributed nearly 17 points in 42 games for Sixers last season, has not yet played a game this season. The team still struggles with surrounding Iverson with talent, as Iverson leads the team in every statistical category. This team will probably make the playoffs in the weak Atlantic division however any significant success in the postseason is unlikely. Philadelphia 76ers After quite a horrible start to the season, the Sixers have come storming back, riding the hot-shooting Allen Iverson and the role players who have become comfortable in their roles. The addition of people that can actually score (!) is a big plus, too. Iverson is averaging .416 on FG%, which is almost unheard of. Chipping 29.8 ppg and a nice 7.6 apg to top that off (the 2.19 spg should not be a surprise), Iverson is definitely having one of the best years of his career. The problem for the Sixers often has been the supporting cast of A.I. For the past who knows how many years, the folks up top have been trying to find someone to get the pressure off of A.I. and provide scoring options. The key to the season may in fact be Kyle Korver, a second-year forward out of Creighton who already has dumped 150 three-pointers. The presence of Korver has forced teams to ease off of A.I. (who tends to dump the ball out to Korver for easy threes), resulting in a good inside-outside scoring tandem. The Sixers are going to have to improve defensively in the second half in order to really pose a threat to other teams. Belying their 26-27 record is the fact that they're being out-scored an average of 1.6 points. Their defensive presence lies largely in FC Samuel Dalembert and swingman Andre Iguodala, so O'Brien will have to keep trying to find a rotation that will let the Sixers keep an up-tempo offense and still maintain a defensive presence.
The New Jersey Nets (22-29) have improved and look half decent now compared to the beginning of the season. After a tumultuous offseason where the Nets lost Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles for virtually nothing, the Nets made some moves to regain their losses. They acquired Vince Carter from the Toronto Raptors, who got very little in return. Carter has made an impact on the Nets averaging over 26 points since he made his New Jersey debut. Jason Kidd is still on this roster which is about the rest of the optimistic news the Nets will receive. An injury to Richard Jefferson ruined more of the Nets' hopes for a successful season. Instead, the Nets will spend a season near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, a drastic change from the last few years. New Jersey Nets When Kenyon Martin was dealt to the Denver Nuggets, most people had written off this team for good reason. The Nets showed just why with a horrible start despite the Richard Jefferson show. And then the top brass did something no one expected. They got Vince Carter. Oh yeah, the return of Jason Kidd helped, too. Even though Richard Jefferson is most likely out for the season, the Nets' high-flying duo of VC and JKidd has propelled the team back into plausible contention in a horrible division. The stingy-top then acquired FC Cliff Robinson, immediately helping the Nets' versatility and scoring options. While a championship contention is definitely out of reach, the Nets suddenly look interesting to watch. It's really just a pity Richard Jefferson got knocked out just as VC and JKidd were getting their gears on, because the Nets would have been dangerous.
The Toronto Raptors (21-31) were supposed to be bad this season and they only gotten worse. Carter has left the team causing them to have no definite stars. Jalen Rose and Chris Bosh are the two best remaining players on the team and should prepare for another horrid season. The Raptors will finish as one of the worst teams in their division and conference, largely because they do not have enough talent. The talent that they do have is either too young or too unproven. Toronto Raptors Mission Number One: Unload Vince Carter. Check. Mission Number Two: Unload Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall. Still pending. What is up with this Raptor team? First they try to start winning by signing arrogant PG Rafer Alston to a mega-deal. Then they unload Vince Carter for essentially nothing. Now they want to unload one of their highest scoring players and their most versatile player. The team is now "officially" in the hands of second-year forward phenom Chris Bosh, but coach Sam Mitchell is scratching heads with his curious inability to communicate with players. Of course, how much of that is the players' fault is not known. The Raptors are struggling largely because Rafer Alston refuses to dish the ball more than he should be and because they cannot find an identity. Yet again the Raptors' problem is the lack of a true center. Chris Bosh was absolutely battered in his rookie season trying to man the post (he's a PF), and the lack of a center has wasted Chris Bosh' improving game because no one else is trying to grab rebounds. You would think someone shooting .476 would be averaging more than 16 points, but that's just why the Raptors are being pummeled with a 21-32 record- their team is shooting a collective .439 despite the presence of Bosh. Toronto fans, don't think the world is getting any better any time soon.
The New York Knicks (20-32) should be better than the last in the Atlantic Conference. Stephon Marbury, the league's self proclaimed "greatest point guard," should lead his team to success. Marbury is accompanied by two scorers in Jamal Crawford and Allan Houston that should ease the offensive burden. However, injuries and changes have ruined this Knicks' season thus far. Their President Isaiah Thomas fired head coach, Lenny Wilkens and replaced him with Herb Williams. Williams does not have any previous head coaching experience and this team will likely falter until they find a better coach. Overall, the talent is there but generating the wins from the talent requires a solid coaching approach. New York Knicks Self-proclaimed best point guard in the universe has led this team to a stunning 21-32 record. Sarcasm, anyone? The Knicks may be the most curious team in the NBA. They are starting two SG/PGs at both guard positions and they both take an inordinate number of shots. Think two Baron Davises. That can't be good. Then they have Kurt Thomas and Tim Thomas, the latter of whom no one can understand why he is starting, with Mike Sweetney (arguably one of the best F prospects left in the game who never plays) sitting on the bench most of the time. He's averaging 8.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and a good defensive presence in just 17.8 minutes per game. Then they have Nazr Mohummad manning the center position despite the fact that he's just 6'10 and no Ben Wallace or Theo Ratliff. For all the talent they have on their roster, it's a shame their president, Isiah Thomas, and coach, Lenny Wilkins, both seem to have misplaced ideas on who can play and who can't play. Don't hold your breath waiting for the team to do any better- not unless the coach is changed.
Central Division
Adith Izzy
The defending NBA champions, Detroit Pistons, have the best record in the Central Division and the second best record in the East. The Pistons are sitting 11 games above .500 (31-19) and have really turned around their play since the beginning of the season. The fights at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan caused them to lose Ben Wallace on a suspension. Recently, they have got their act together and started winning games. This was expected since the beginning of the season because of the talent, including Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Teyshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and Wallace. This roster won them the championship last year and expectations were high with another season of experience playing together. Despite the setbacks at the beginning of the season, this team looks strong now. Putting together several win streaks and winning eight of their last ten has caused them to become the second seed in the East and a powerhouse come playoff time. Detroit Pistons This team was supposed to be a serious challenge to repeat as NBA champions, as their lineup got even deeper and Larry Brown was still around to knock home the meaning of team basketball. At first glance, their 32-19 record is not too shabby. That is, of course, until you factor in the fact that opponents are scoring 88.2 points on them on average and they still have a death of scorers. The team is led again by the scoring back-court of Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups, but the two only average 36.4 points. The rest of the team manages to scrape together about 55 points. The big problem is that opponents are shooting .428 against them while they only shoot .439. If the Pistons truly hope to repeat, one of those has to change. A .428 opponent shooting percentage is splendid, and pushing that down is entirely possible for the Pistons. The big problem is their .439 shooting which, given their abundance of big men, is a curious phenomenon. Of course, that shooting percentage is dropped by Rasheed Wallace, who will have to pick up his scoring (only averaging 13.6). Taking less threes might help. The team still lacks a solid scoring option, whether it is at SF or PF, although a deal to shore that up is questionable, as they have two defensive stoppers at the respective positions (Tayshaun Prince and Sheed). If anything, it may very well have to be the bench that steps up and scores more.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and the owners of the third best record in the East. LeBron James has led this team to success in just his second season. James is posting monstrous numbers for a player who just turned 20 a few months ago, averaging 25.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 7.7 assists. The dangerous thing about James is that at 6' 8," he can play positions one, two and three. James has received helped from the Cavaliers' offseason acquisition, Drew Gooden. Gooden is having the best season of his three year career, averaging nearly 15 points along with ten rebounds. Jeff McInnis has also helped them team in point guard duties, averaging 5.5 assists along with 15 points. As long as this team stays healthy, they will remain one of the premier teams in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers can probably advance to the Conference Semifinals, however here they will be defeated by some of more experienced teams. Cleveland Cavaliers I'm almost certain not even the most optimistic of expectations would have imagined LeBron James taking over the league like this. King James leads his team with 25.4 ppg, 7.7 apg and 7.1 rpg while staying aggressive defensively on 2.33 spg. Shooting an amazing .491 FG%, too. As expected, as LeBron goes, the Cavs go, and the Cavs are a good 30-21 this season at the break. The Cavs have become one of the most exciting teams in the NBA and while much of that rests upon LeBron, his supporting cast is what makes the team churn. Zydrunas Iglauskas, Jef McInnis and the inconsistent Drew Gooden have together helped the Cavs outscore their opponents by an average of 3.3 points. What's scary is that the Cavs have reason to hope for an even better second half. Rookie Anderson Varejao will return to action in March and in similar fashion, the losses of Ira Newble, Robert Traylor and DeSagana Diop for extended periods of time have forced the Cavs to rely on a hodgepodge of players. Assuming the Cavs can stay healthy, Paul Silas may have himself a serious contender for the Eastern Championship.
The Chicago Bulls, surprisingly, are back to their winning ways without Michael Jordan. The Baby Bulls have matured recently and the inexperienced players are playing like seasoned veterans. The benefits of college experience through looking at this Chicago squad. The difference makers have been Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, and Ben Gordon, who all spent time at prestigious college programs at Kansas, Duke, and Connecticut, respectively. These three have brought success to a team that did not have any under Eddie Curry and Tyson Chandler, who both skipped college. Hinrich is the starting point guard and is averaging seven assists with 15.6 points an outing. Gordon is being efficient with his minutes averaging 14 points in 23 minutes. This team will reach the playoffs which should be enough good news for Chicago. However, the experience will hurt them in the postseason. Chicago Bulls One of the surprising stories of the season, the Baby Bulls have matured enough to create a strong franchise, as they have gone 26-23 after a horrible start (0-9). They have collected themselves a group of young players through the past four drafts and now are wreaking serious damage in the league. Defense, hustle and playing smart are the keys to their above .500 record- three keys one would not expect from such a young team. No player on the Bulls really stands out among the rest, which may lead to the increasing chemistry. Aside from Tyson Chandler, who comes off of the bench, five bulls rebound close to five a game and no player has more than three turnovers a game. The Bulls are also holding opponents to less than .418 shooting, which is a remarkable achievement for a team often called "soft" in recent years. The Bulls also can hope for a good second half because their record since that horrible 0-9 start would compute to 26-14 and chemistry should only get better. If certain players like Eddy Curry can push aside trade and contract thoughts, the Bulls could launch headlong into the playoffs and pull some upsets.
One of the most disappointing teams in the NBA this season is the Indiana Pacers at 24-26. The Pacers do not even own a playoff spot in the pitiful East because of suspensions. The altercation at Auburn Hills caused the biggest problem for this squad, as they lost 60 percent of their starting roster to suspensions. Ron Artest, their starting small forward and one of the best defensive players in the league, is suspended for the season after punching fans. Besides Artest, the Pacers also lost offseason acquisition Stephen Jackson for 25 games and All-Star Jermaine O'Neal for 15 games. However, since they got these two back the Pacers have putting the wins together. Veteran sharp shooter Reggie Miller has elevated his game to the level during his prime. If the team can learn to play together without Artest, they might be able to make a late season run towards the playoffs. There is not much ground to gain because the Pacers are only seven games behind being second place in the East. Indiana Pacers As they hang onto a 25-26 record, the Pacers can only think about how their season could have been and what will happen when their veteran leader and franchise icon retires. The Pacers have been a very .500 team this season with the absence of Ron Artest, and while that could have been enough to reach the playoffs in previous years, that likely will no longer be enough. Rick Carlisle will have to put the ball in Jamaal Tinsleys' hands more often. The temptation with a big man like Jermaine O'Neal is to have him control the game, but the Pacers have one of the most creative point guards in the league with Tinsley. Tinsleys' production has dropped off remarkably with the return of O'Neal and Stephen Jackson, but that also has led to a more predictable offense. The Pacers could very well struggle into the playoffs, but the top eight look remarkably decent this season. The weakest team in the top eight currently may be the Boston Celtics, and they are no push-over, especially with the emergence of rookie Al Jefferson. It is next year the Pacers will have to look at- the first time in almost two decades Reggie Miller will not be there to provide leadership.
The Milwaukee Bucks, 20-29, are horrible right now. They are playing without their point guard of the future, T.J Ford due to an injury. Michael Redd continues to shoot beautifully, the one positive about this team, averaging 22 points a night. However, Redd does not do much besides scoring as he only averaged four rebounds and two assists. Desmond Mason helps put the ball in the hoop but similar to Redd that is it. Mason averages 16.4 points but only 4.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists. This team lacks a superstar and will continue to suffer until Ford returns to his collegiate level of play. Milwaukee fans be patient, someday you will have a winning team. Milwaukee Bucks It is defense that dooms this team and will likely continue to doom the team this season. The team simply misses the up-tempo system possible with T.J. Ford, who will miss this season and may miss next season as well (his career still is in jeopardy). The team is shooting a good .446 FG% (led primarily by Michael Redd) and rebounds fairly well (out-rebounding opponents by 0.8), but the problem is in ball distribution and defensive intensity. Opponents are shooting .461 against them and barring any immediate changes, the pattern will probably continue. That means the 20-30 record is probably here to continue.
Southeast Division
Adith Izzy
As expected, the Miami Heat own the best record in this division and the Eastern Conference. They have won 40 games and only lost 14, putting them six games ahead of the second best team in the East, the Pistons. The Heat have been led by Shaquille O' Neal and second year guard Dwyane Wade. O'Neal has proven himself in the league, as one of the, if not the most dominant centers. In his second year, Wade has proven himself as an All Star and joins the elite company of other talented young guards. He averages 23.5 points, 7.3 assists, and 5.2 rebounds a game, almost as good numbers as someone named James. However, James lacks a big man like O'Neal, who averages a double double. O'Neal scores just about as much as Wade, 23.1 points a game, but grabs 10.6 boards to go along with the points. The combination of these two reminds me a Lakers combination of Kobe Bryant and O'Neal that won three championships together. The Heat should contend for a championship this season. Miami Heat Sitting atop the Eastern Conference is Shaq, as pretty much expected. The Heat are third in the league in no small part to Shaq and the emergence of second-year phenom Dwyane Wade. Wade is averaging 23.5 ppg on .478 shooting, 7.3 apg, 5.2 rpg and chips in 1.5 spg and 1.12 bpg. Talk about a five-tool player! The biggest problem facing the Heat entering the season was the lack of outside shooting (specifically, three-point shooting), but that has been answered with the revival of Eddie Jones' shooting touch after a pretty bad start (93 threes now) and the emergence of PG Damon Jones and his outside three-point shooting tour (147 threes). This outside game has helped clear some space for Shaq (23.1 ppg on .599 FG%) and Dwyane Wade to do their stuff inside. There is little to doubt the Heat can continue this for the second half as well as the playoffs (they enter as favorites to win the East), but perhaps the biggest problem is the lack of a true backup to Wade and Shaq. The Heat know there is no replicating Wade and Shaq, but a slashing SG and an inside presence are missing from their bench (their entire bench is filled with jump-shooters). This won't be a problem unless Wade and/or Shaq begin to show signs of fatigue or are hit with injuries.
The Washington Wizards are second in this division with a record of 30-22. Wait, the Washington Wizards? Yes, actually the Wizards have the most dangerous backcourt in the game. Uniting the Golden State teammates Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Larry Hughes has worked wonders for this team. Arenas is averaging 24.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 5.3 assists a night. However, Arenas does not need to do much on this team because he gets help from Jamison, 20.8 points and 8.1 rebounds. Arenas is averaging career highs and Jamison has regained his play from a few years ago. Before Hughes, the third part of this backcourt, got injured he was averaging 21.2 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.3 rebounds. That backcourt would relieve the pressure on the rest of the team. However, Washington showed their strength when Hughes went down and their deep bench stepped up. This team looks for a rare postseason appearance where they will have a high seed. The Wizards can probably advance to the second round but the inexperience of winning will not let me advance further. Washington Wizards Even though Larry Hughes went down, the Wizards have stayed on their toes and have tried to keep running with the pack. They enter the second-half of the season having gone on a three-game losing streak, but there is plenty of hope, as Larry Hughes and Kwame Brown are both slated to return following the break. Hughes and Gilbert Arenas have combined to form one of the most dangerous back-courts in the league, averaging more than 40 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 4 steals together. There is a simple reason the Wizards have a worse record than they should despite one of the best scoring teams in the league: the opposite, defense. The Wizards give up 101.6 points per game while scoring 101.5. In case you don't get it, that doesn't compute. Hughes and Brown should help the Wizards' defensive presence when they return, but it definitely remains a priority heading into the second half if the Wizards seriously wish to challenge for the Eastern throne- something that is possible if they would only defend.
The Orlando Magic, owners of the first pick in last year's draft, are back in competition in the East with 28 wins and 24 losses. The Magic who have a new looking roster with the trade of Tracy McGrady for Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, who has since been shipped to Sacramento for defensive specialist Doug Christie. Francis is having arguably the best season of his career averaging 21.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 7.1 assists a game. Grant Hill has recovered from his chronic injuries and is playing as he always could, 19 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. Their first pick, Dwight Howard, is almost averaging a double double just out of high school. Howard averages 10.5 points and 9.8 rebounds, Rookie of the Year numbers if it were not for Emeka Okafor. The Magic will end their short playoff drought but past that depends on injuries. If Hill can hopefully continue to play at this level, the Magic have a chance of advancing past the first round in the playoffs. Orlando Magic The Magic have revived this season along with SF Grant Hill. Their trade of T-Mac definitely looks like a coup, as Steve Francis puts on a high-flying show with 21.9 ppg, 7.1 apg and 6.3 rpg. Unshackling him from Jeff Van Gundy's plodding system in Houston looks like one of the best moves ever. First overall pick Dwight Howard is proving to be a solid rebounder and defensive presence and Grant Hill has given this team a second option on scoring. That has added up to a 28-24 record. Like the Wizards, though, the Magic need help on defense. Despite trading for Doug Christie, their defense has not improved very much, which means there is something wrong going on. For a team that essentially died last season, though, the Magic are doing quite well sitting as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference if the playoffs started now.
The expansion Charlotte Bobcats have exceeded their expectations despite a record of 11-39. Before this season, the Bobcats were expected to finish with a similar record of the NBA's worst team, the 1972-1973 Philadelphia 76ers who finished 9-73. However, the Bobcats have been able to win some games largely due to the presence of their first draft selection, Okafor. After graduating from Connecticut in three years, Okafor was supposed to be the first overall pick. However, instead he dropped to second but still shows his worth by averaging a double double. Okafor averages 14.8 points a game and 11 rebounds a night. Four of his 11 rebounds are offensive, a number that leads the league. Bobcats point guard Brevin Knight has also gone unnoticed largely due to the team's failures but ranks number two in assists per game, 8.6. A few more building years for this team should put them in position to compete for the postseason. Charlotte Bobcats The expansion team isn't the worst team in the league, much less their conference, much less their own division! Much of that is attributed to the incredibly play of Emeka Okafor, averaging 14.8 points, 11 rebounds and 1.48 blocks per game. The team is in disarray, however, due to lack of experience, lack of defense and lack of scoring. Oh wait, that's the entirety of basketball. The Bobcats need to shoot better than .428, need to hold opponents to less than .465 shooting, need to rebound better and need to hit free throws better. Luckily, this is their first year in experience, so they appear to have plenty to build around.
The Atlanta Hawks look miserable with a record of 10-41. Antoine Walker is having a decent season, averaging slightly over 20 points and grabbing 9.5 rebounds. However, the team does not play well together and will likely be in the lottery this offseason. For the Hawks fans out there, be patient and maybe there will be a day of success Atlanta Hawks Where to begin with this sad team? The team can't defend, can't shoot, can't hold onto the ball and can't even pass. At least they can rebound and dunk… Perhaps the most puzzling factor about the Hawks is that they drafted two small forwards despite adding Antoine Walker and Al Harrington during the off-season. That left them with four small forwards, no legitimate PG, no legitimate PF and no legitimate C. So let's try to figure this team out, because it's fun picking on bad teams. They need to upgrade their PG, which they presumably did by going to Tyronn Lue, who has been dumped by three teams in the past two years, including the Wizards. He's second on his team with a .789 FT% and shoots a grand .407. Their SG is Josh Smith, who actually is a SF. Smith's lack of minutes is puzzling, mainly because he is such a defensive threat, has a high FG% (.48) and can dish the ball around relatively well for a dunking swingman. Their forward tandem of Antoine Walker and Baby Al would be nice except neither of them know how to shoot free throws (.538 and .665 respectively). Then their center is… Predrag Drobnjak? Well, I suppose they don't have any centers because their SG (Smith) and backup swingman and rookie Josh Childress both follow Walker and Harrington with roughly five boards apiece, meaning whoever plays center gets less than four boards per game. Sad.

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Adith Sekaran. Adith Sekaran is finally a senior at Blair. Adith is a man who is a big time sports fan and can spend any day to its' entirety watching sports or ESPN. Football season is his favorite, which he spends cheering on his ‘Skins to no … More »

Isamu Bae. Isamu Bae (AKA Izzy) is a senior and finally put up his staff bio. He's 17 and has no idea what he's supposed to put here, so this is all some filler material. He writes, draws, reads, plays games, practices martial arts (for lack of … More »

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