They definitely are who we thought they were…..
Going into the season, most people thought the Eastern Conference was pretty much a known commodity. It was the Heat, the Bulls and everyone else. A couple of teams are better than we thought (Sixers…Magic…) and few are worse (Knicks…Knicks…), but for the most part we’re all just waiting for the expected Conference Finals matchup of the two teams wearing red n’ black. In the interim, though, we’ve learned a little more about the teams that make up the East…..
Did this team learn nothing from their NBA Finals loss to Dallas last year? They’re just as mentally weak as they were this time last season…and it’s embarrassing. This team can’t even beat the Bulls minus Derrick Rose, let alone send a message to them by killing them. Then they follow-up a loss at OKC (potential Finals matchup) with a poor performance at Indiana. This team’s two strongest players mentally are the old-Heaters that are holdovers from the 2006 championship squad, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem. The rest of the cast doesn’t have that killer mindset. Lebron James and Chris Bosh have proven that they’re spectacular players just as long as the clock reads more than 2:00 to play. Heat fans are just hoping that new addition Ronny Turiaf, heart surgery survivor, will inspire this squad to show more of theirs when it counts.
This team is everything that the Heat are not. The Bulls are strong mentally, play together on both ends of the floor, and strong mentally. They’ve proven this all year, even without their main cast. Derrick Rose has been in and out all year, while Rip Hamilton has been out and out….even All-Star Luol Deng missed a stretch early on. Nevertheless, this group just keeps moving forward, with guys stepping in as if no one is missing. Calvin Lucas the Third has been doing his Rose impression with Derrick out recently, and Taj Gibson continues to make people wonder why Boozer is starting ahead of him. This is an impressive group that plays both ends better than anyone in the league. Weakness? not being together all year may show in some of the postseason’s stickier moments.
This surprising group of young ballers boasts one of the league’s best defenses. Philly’s opponents shoot the worst % in the league, the most telling stat about a team’s overall D. There’s just one problem, this team can’t close ballgames to save their lives. How do you think this team will fair in the playoffs? Just look at their record in games decided by 4 points or less…..it’s 0-8! Sure, it’s cool to have both your leading scorer (Lou Williams) and your most versatile player (Thaddeus Young) coming off the bench…but it’s not playoff cool. In the postseason you want a set go-to scorer, a set interior rotation, and a floor leader to bring it all together. Doug Collins doesn’t know the answer to any of these questions. He’s just hoping they can hold off Boston in the division. If not, they’d fall from 4th to 7th…and lose homecourt advantage in the 1st round.
This team has taken the next step. Last year they learned a lot losing to the Bulls in the 1st round. They came back with a few roster upgrades (PF David West, guards George Hill & Leandro Barbosa). Nobody wants to play this team in the playoffs, especially not the Heat. Indiana seems to matchup up really well with Miami…Paul George and Danny Granger guard Wade and Lebron, while Roy Hibbert shuts down the paint. I’m just disappointed that, as a 5th seed, they’ll have to face Chicago in the 2nd round and not Miami…..Coach ‘Spo’ got lucky this time.
While some say that nobody wants to play this team either, I disagree. They don’t have another gear to go to in the playoffs, not unless they make every 3-pointer they take. Ryan Anderson is good but he’s not that good. Plus, they may have to face their nemesis (the Atlanta Hawks) in the 1st round. Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins have Dwight’s kryptonite. The Magic will probably win, as payback for last year’s defeat, but will ultimately get rolled in the 2nd round…just in time for the Dwight Drama – the Summer Episodes.
Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks
I call these the blah squad…as in, whatever. It’s not that they don’t have an identity, it’s just that I don’t expect them to show it well in the postseason. The Hawks do just enough to slide by and be mediocre…the Celtics don’t have enough mileage or even the bodies to win some nights…..and the Knicks just don’t have a clue, though they’re starting to find one under coach Mike Woodson. However you slice it, these guys are going to be in Cancun before the draft lottery in NJ.
STANDINGS (as of 3/28):