1. Miami Heat.
When the Celtics added Ray Allen & Kevin Garnett to Paul Pierce in 2007, they went from 24 wins to 66. (And they won the NBA title.) The Heat’s addition of LeBron & Bosh to D Wade is a more impressive upgrade. Don’t love the bench, though. We’ll project 69 wins, which would tie the 1971-72 Lakers for 2nd most wins in league history, but fall short of the 72 by the 1995-96 Bulls. We are, however, looking forward to the inevitable friction between Wade & LeBron over whose “team” it is.
2. Orlando Magic
Still think that 1-10, they have the best players in the league. Mickael Pietrus is an upgrade over Matt Barnes starting at SF. Hopefully, Stan Van Gundy is ready to handle the Vince Carter Situation, which will be a problem all year. Come playoff time, JJ Redick is the significantly better option. Would like to see more Brandon Bass at PF. We’ll guess 59 wins, matching last year’s total. (And yes, we’re mildly impressed by the 20 straight preseason victories.)
3. Boston Celtics
Age and injuries caught up with them last year (only 50 wins), but they still made the Finals and barely lost to the Lakers in game seven (83-79). They’ve added two O’Neals and Delonte West. Is the bench strong enough to handle heavy minutes in the regular season to keep the old men fresh come May/June? Guessing 53 wins.
4. Chicago Bulls
They’ll miss Boozer early, but ultimately, this team probably has the best starting lineup in the East: Rose, Ronnie Brewer, Deng, Boozer, Noah. Ideally, the Bulls would land the 4th seed so they can play the Heat in the 2nd round. That’d be very fun. We’ll go with 51 wins and taking the Heat to seven games in the conference semifinals.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
On paper, if healthy, it’s impressive what the Bucks have become in about 15 months: Jennings is a keeper at PG, Bogut was having his best year as a pro before that gnarly injury, they picked up two solid role players (Gooden for rebounding and Maggette for pure scoring) and two players off the bench (Ilyasova & Delfino) were pivotal in the playoffs last year. Scott Skiles deserves most of the credit. Last year’s biggest surprise in the East should win about 46 games.
6. Washington Wizards
Probably a bit high for a team that will trot out two combo guards (one’s a rookie, the other is Gilbert Arenas), but we think the Wizards will be surprisingly good in the regular season. Yes, even though Flip Saunders is coaching them. Actually, it smells like boom or bust – Will Arenas & Wall work? Will Blatche deal with fewer shots because of the dribble-happy guards? How will an overrated coach like Saunders handle the personalities he has at SF (Al Thornton, Josh Howard). The bench – Hinrich, Jianlian, Nick Young, Howard – has promise, too. 44 wins.
7. New York Knicks
Bullish on the Knicks for the first time since … 1999? They’ve made the playoffs only once in the last nine years. Highest win total in that span: 39. They’ll be entertaining, trigger-happy from deep again, are very athletic up front (Amare, Randolph) and have a foreign project with some buzz (Timofey Mozgov). We’ll guess 43 wins and hopefully, in the mix for ‘Melo and CP3 down the road.
8. Atlanta Hawks
Essentially, the same team that won 53 games last year. Except the rest of the East got stronger. 42 victories and a first round beatdown – no game closer than 15 – in the first round. Note: We slept on the Hawks last year, and they were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA.
Where’s Charlotte? Next Town Brown is already plotting his next move, and they caught the East last year in a really, really down season.
Where’s Cleveland? Ha. That’s funny.
Worst team in the East: We’ll guess Indiana, but mostly because we think it’ll be active trading away some expiring deals.