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Team-by-team Eastern Conference Preview

Lebron James gives a thumbs-up as Miami Heat prepares for the upcoming NBA season. (photo/ ESPN.com)

After a long four months of no basketball, the NBA is back once again, starting Tuesday with some big name games on opening night. The openers will be headlined by the Miami Heat vs. the Chicago Bulls, and the Los Angeles Clippers vs. the Los Angeles Lakers in the battle of L.A. Fans everywhere are once again looking forward to an exciting regular season and even more exciting playoffs, a lot like we had last season, with the Miami Heat once again bringing home the Larry O’Brien Trophy as champions of the NBA. I’ll give you a team-by-team outlook on this upcoming 2013-14 season as the 30 teams once again give their best shot to bring Larry home. Look for my Western Confernece preview next week.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(Team order based on 2012-13 regular season finish)

The Miami Heat are the two-time defending champs and are looking for their fourth consecutive Eastern Conference title. The big three will be back, and the Heat also added Greg Oden and Michael Beasley to help out Coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotation. It also helps that LeBron is still on the team, as they look to get to that 70-win mark this year. The New York Knicks are essentially the same three-point firing team they were last year, when they set a new NBA record with 891 threes made. New acquisitions include Metta World Peace and former #1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, but a question mark will be at the power forward position where Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin will fight for playing time. The Indiana Pacers gave Paul George a max contract as he solidified himself as one of the league’s best. Indy’s core is back once again with Hibbert, George and West giving teams fits down low. Danny Granger could finally play a role this season for the Pacers after missing basically all of 2012-13 with a knee injury.

The Brooklyn Nets may be the most intriguing team in the NBA this season, as they made some huge off-season moves. They traded for Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Kevin Garnett from the Celtics, and still have Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez in the projected starting five. A veteran point guard like Deron Williams, who had a down year last year, should see a revival with the help around him, if they can prove they can still play. This team should help first-time coach Jason Kidd adjust to the coaching life in 2013. The Chicago Bulls found success without Derrick Rose last season, but won’t have to worry about that this year. Guys like Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, along with Coach Tom Thibodeau help make this team a defensive powerhouse, and should get them to 55 wins in the east. If the pre-season is any hint at all, the Atlanta Hawks look to be in some trouble. Good thing it doesn’t matter, as the Hawks bowed out of the playoffs in the first round for the fifth year in a row. Josh Smith did not re-sign with the team, but Paul Millsap should fit in nicely. Jeff Teague is a nice point guard who will have his hands full this season. Kyle Korver may be past his prime, but shooters can shoot, and Al Horford will have to step up if the team looks to make the playoffs.

The Boston Celtics look to be rebuilding, but don’t let them fool you. Rajon Rondo will have to play big coming off of an ACL injury, as it is finally his team. Brad Stevens, a first-time NBA coach will coach up these guys, but they will still have to get major contributions from guys like Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Gerald Wallace. They’ll be pretty solid on defense, but can they score enough points to win games? The Milwaukee Bucks are between theories right now, as they traded many pieces of their team for draft picks, but then signed free-agents like OJ Mayo and Caron Butler, who is from the Milwaukee area. A trade of Brandon Jennings to Detroit for Brandon Knight will either look really, really good or really, really bad this season, Look for John Henson and Larry Sanders to lead the NBA in blocks, and grow up fast with increased minutes. The Philadelphia 76ers competed for best/worst moves of the off-season award, as they traded some key pieces such as Jrue Holliday and Andrew Bynum, who was nowhere to be found last season. They will either have a ton of young talent who will compete and play scrappy, or be the worst team in the NBA, which is what I’m leaning towards. Michael Carter-Williams, their first-round pick this year will be their best player, and it’s not even that close. Maybe this is the year for the Toronto Raptors, as they are keeping and attracting talent to Toronto, something not seen in the past. Center Jonas Valanciunas could be either their best or worst player, as he will be playing big minutes for the first time in his short career. Rudy Gay could finally be the scorer he was in Memphis, point guard Kyle Lowry is sneaky good, and slam dunk champion Terrence Ross is a human highlight waiting to happen for the Raptors.

Right there with the Nets for intriguing off-season moves are the Detroit Pistons, who traded for Brandon Jennings and signed Chauncey Billups, a fan favorite, and Josh Smith. With all these shooters around, it could limit the growth of young big-men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. They’ll score a lot of points, but the team is suspect on the defensive end. Fresh off the trading block, the Washington Wizards hope to make some noise as John Wall is becoming one of the premier athletes and guards in the Eastern Conference. Marcin Gortat, a new pickup, will start immediately alongside Otto Porter Jr., Bradley Beal, and Nené. Glen Rice Jr. might be the best rookie on this team, potential-wise, but Porter will start right away. Again, these young kids can score, but can they win games? John Wall’s evolution as a point guard will have a lot to say about that, and for what it’s worth, Eric Maynor might be the best backup PG in the league. Post-LeBron era, the Cleveland Cavaliers might finally be able to contend for that elusive playoff spot. Andrew Bynum joins the team along with first overall pick Anthony Bennett out of UNLV. Tristan Thompson will shoot right-handed this year and Kyrie Irving looks to continue his growth as a PG. If Bynum can find something that he had a few years ago as one of the best big men in LA, the Cavs could get into the playoffs. Anderson Verejão will be the sixth-man or starting center depending on the health of Bynum.

Without anyone that really stands out or scares you, the Charlotte Bobcats don’t look like a playoff team on paper. The starting five looks a lot like you’d think it would look, with Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and newcomer Al Jefferson. Jefferson will be a welcome addition in the low post, where he will be the most productive player for Charlotte in 2013-14. After finishing last in the east last season, the Orlando Magic will make some big strides this year, not to say they will get into the playoffs, but they’ll be better. Tobias Harris will be a bright spot and could be a 16/6/6 type player for Orlando, as he was at the end of the season last year. Rookie Victor Oladipo will be the guy for the Magic when he takes over the PG duties and gets good minutes for the team.

Predictions (top 8):

Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors

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