The Celtics trinity are a year older but they’re still only 31, 32 and 33, one could even argue that they’re in their prime. They lost James Posey who was instrumental in their title run but as we’ll see this season that when you have three Hall of Famers on the roster, you tend to make up for things like that. The Big 3 might be a year slower but Rajan Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe and Baby Davis all gained experience last year that should help the Celtics in the regular season. Short of the Celtics putting it in cruise control and waiting for the playoffs, the Atlantic division is theirs. I highly doubt Boston will “take it easy” during the season because they realized last post-season how important home-court advantage in the playoffs can be. They’re not going to challenge for 70 wins but they’ll win the Atlantic.
The second spot in the division has to go to either the Raptors
or Sixers and I’m leaning towards Philly for two reasons: 1) They play better defense and 2) They play harder. They also happen to have more talent and athleticism across the board with Dalembert, Iggy, Brand and Miller headlining the roster and the team has their coach’s attention, something that can’t be said for the Raptors. Philly has a tight unit that can run, slash, block shots, rebound and starting this year, play in the post. There’s also something to be said for having a PG who can penetrate at will and pass it off to two double-team threats in Iggy and Brand, it’s combination like these that make for fourth quarter scores. Philly edges the Raptors
to take second place.
The team with the most “ifs” in the division. The hope is to finish with home-court in the conference but that would likely mean finishing above Philadelphia which is hard to see happening unless many things go right. Not saying it can’t happen, just that the odds are against us. Areas of concern last year were: perimeter defense, rebounding, fourth quarter scoring/lack of SF production. Of those three major needs we seem to have addressed one - i.e: rebounding. The Raptors
are hoping that the players who played mediocre or bad last year simply play better and produce more. They’re hoping that Bargnani’s miserable season (BTW, great piece on Andrea Bargnani
at Hoops Addict) was an anomaly and he can get back to terrorizing centers by taking them off the dribble. They’re hoping that the “addition by subtraction” at the PG spot works out in their favor and that Jermaine O’Neal returns to All-Star form and out-play the Dalembert-Brand combo in Philadelphia. Sam Mitchell needs to gel the team like Mo Cheeks did last year and I simply don’t have the confidence in him. I’d like to think we could beat Philly by a game or two but the reality here is too much to ignore.
Vince Carter, Bobby Simmons, Yi, Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and CDR sound like a good young exciting team but there’s very little of substance here. The lazy Carter’s 15 million dollar contract sticks out like a sore thumb on a team that’s trying to rebuild from the ground up and get some momentum for their eventual move to Brooklyn. The priority here isn’t winning, its developing some young talent and hoping somebody takes Carter
off their hands. At least they know exactly the direction they’re going in. The Nets will be fun to watch and might even surprise some people but at the end of the they’re a couple notches below the Raptors, Sixers and the Celtics.
If the Knicks go with the lineup of Gallinari, Crawford, Jeffries, Duhon and Malik Rose they’ll manage to win a few games. This team plays hard as often as AC Green gets laid so its always going to be an uphill battle for them. Mike D’Antoni’s a run ‘n gun coach without a run ‘n gun team. It’s not going to surprise me if the Knicks falter and fail but if all things go right and Marbury returns to mediocrity along with Eddy Curry showing a glimpse of his Bulls days, they might challenge the Nets for the 4th spot.