NBA Eastern Conference Preview

A week into the NBA season, and there has been nothing short of the spectacular happening on the hardwood. In the Eastern Conference, the Heat anticipate a 3-peat, while Brooklyn loads up on legends and an MVP returns to Chicago. Here’s a look at the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

Atlantic Division

1. New York Knicks (last season: 54-28)

The Knicks aren’t my favorites to go past the second round in the NBA playoffs, but they will find a way to repeat as division champs for the first time since 1994. Carmelo Anthony is now paired with Andrea Bargnani at the 4. His presence on the wing will replace the departed Steve Novak. Metta World Peace comes home to NYC to provide some defensive effort. The cast of characters are generally the same, except for the loss of Jason Kidd, but the Knicks will only go as far as two men can help them: Can JR Smith have a controversy-free, Sixth-Man Award-type season, and will Amar’e Stoudemire stay healthy?

2. Brooklyn Nets (last season: 49-33)

The Brooklyn Nets decided now is the time if they want to win an NBA championship. What they did was trade for Celtics legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The addition of Pierce & KG into a lineup with Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson gives Brooklyn arguably the best starting lineup in the NBA. Mason Plumlee, Jason Terry, and Andrei Kirilenko join Reggie Evans and Aundray Blatche on the bench. Jason Kidd goes from the court to the bench as the new head coach of the Nets. It’ll be interesting to see how the team meshes and if Kidd has growing pains as a head coach.

3. Toronto Raptors (last season: 34-48)

Toronto hired a new GM in Masai Ujiri, a former Nuggets executive. He heads a squad with Rudy Gay as the star in his first full season north of the border. Steve Novak and Tyler Hansbrough join a squad that could sneak in as a low 7-8 seed in the playoffs. With the right guidance, this Raptors team will be a couple years away from consistent playoff berths.

4. Philadelphia 76ers (last season: 34-48)

Brett Brown is the new head coach in Philly. He’s taking over a team that could have the best chance in the NBA lottery. Michael Carter-Williams and Evan Turner lead a team that traded Jrue Holliday and will miss Nerlens Noel for possibly the entire season. MCW has already turned in some performances that have some thinking the Syracuse rookie can be a budding superstar in the NBA.

5. Boston Celtics (last season: 41-40)

Boston faces a complete overhaul with Doc Rivers, KG, and Paul Pierce gone, and former Butler head coach Brad Stevens running the shots. It’s Rondo’s team when he comes back from injury. A host of new faces and draft pick are in tow for a team geared for the future. Despite the drop in production, the Celtics are still motivated to make the playoffs, highlighted by a last-second three by Jeff Green to beat the Miami Heat on November 10th.

Central Division

1. Chicago Bulls  (last season: 45-37)

The prodigal son has returned to Chicago as Derrick Rose comes back from a torn ACL suffered in the 2012 playoffs. An improved Bulls squad joins him, with Jimmy Butler the new starting 2. The Bulls feature a much different bench than the last time Rose played. Familiars are Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich, who played with Rose from 2008-10. Rose is now joined by rookie Tony Snell and shooter Mike Dunleavy. It's been a struggle for the former MVP to get going so far this regular season, but he'll be back in game shape in no time.

2. Indiana Pacers (last season: 49-32)

The Pacers were one game away from the NBA Finals last year, taking the Miami Heat to 7 games in the East Finals. Paul George emerged as the NBA’s next superstar, and David West and Roy Hibbert form one of the best big men tandems in the East. The Pacer bench is strengthened by the additions of Luis Scola and C.J. Watson. Paul George's team is currently 7-0, the only undefeated team in the NBA. They'll be a challenge for the Chicago Bulls, who they defeated earlier this week.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (last season: 24-58)

Mike Brown returns as head coach of the now Kyrie Irving-led Cavs. A highly talented group of players like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters only got better with the additions of Jarrett Jack and the #1 pick out of UNLV, Anthony Bennett. The Cavs can sneak into the postseason if new center Andrew Bynum can play healthy after missing all of last season.

4. Detroit Pistons (last season: 29-53)

New everything in Detroit. New head coach in Maurice Cheeks. New stars in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to pair with Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey, and Andre Drummond. The old is back as well, as Chauncey Billups rejoins the Bad Boys a decade after leading them to a championship.

5. Milwaukee Bucks (last season: 38-44)

The Bucks were a mediocre 8th seed in the playoffs last season. Monta Ellis was swapped for O.J. Mayo, and Caron Butler will play out the rest of his contract on a near-talented Bucks team headed for the lottery. Larry Drew is the new HC in Milwaukee, but all eyes will be on stud forward Larry Sanders.

Southeast Division

1. Miami Heat (last season: 66-16)

The Heat look to 3-peat, and depending on what happens this upcoming offseason, they could be in line to win a whole lot more. LeBron is the greatest player in the world, and his core of Wade, Bosh, Battier, Chalmers, Haslem, and Ray Allen stick around. Michael Beasley is back for another run, but the most polarizing figure on the defending champs will be former #1 pick Greg Oden. LeBron James looks to 3-peat as NBA MVP as well, giving him 5 MVPs in total by the age of 30.

2. Washington Wizards (last season: 29-53)

The Wizards played pretty good once John Wall returned to the court last season. The team acquired Marcin Gortat last week to give Washington a low-post presence. The core of the team returns along with two rookies – Georgetown’s Otto Porter and Georgia Tech’s Glen Rice, Jr. Randy Wittman may have a potential playoff team on his hands.

3. Charlotte Bobcats (last season: 21-61)

Steve Clifford leaves the Lakers and takes over Charlotte, who added big man Al Jefferson in the offseason. Captain Kemba Walker leads a team that at best can finish an 8th seed. MJ reached for Cody Zeller in the draft, but many believe he has what it takes to succeed in Charlotte.

4. Orlando Magic (last season: 20-62)

Midway through last season, I said that the Orlando Magic got the best end of the Dwight Howard deal. Howard left LA for Houston, Andre Igoudala left Denver for Golden State, and Andrew Bynum never played a second for the Sixers. Nikola Vucevic continues to grow into one of the East’s best young centers, and Mo Harkless and Aaron Affalo only get better. But the biggest prize? The #2 pick in the draft, Victor Oladipo.

5. Atlanta Hawks (last season: 44-38)

The Hawks run of postseason appearances seems to have ended. Paul Millsap and Elton Brand come over to join Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and Lou Williams. John Jenkins is a sharpshooter, but these Hawks are heading into rebuilding mode.

LeBron James gets set to defend the NBA title against a slew of hungry opponents.