Now that (just about) every team in the East has played at least one game (still waiting on Atlanta), I'd like to present you with my predictions for the final standings for the NBA's Eastern Conference. I have to say, there are a ton of selections that I feel very nervous about, and I don't really feel comfortable with any of my selections for tomorrow's Western Conference post. So, with trepidation, to the blog!
1. Miami Heat (ESPN Projected Wins: 50)
The best team in the NBA. You know that. Are they really going to lose 16 games? Reeeeeeally? I know the Mavericks played like crap again today, but the Heat are a great team. I'd take the over if someone you offers and over/under of 50 wins.
2. Chicago Bulls (ESPN Projected Wins: 48)
I thought they were going to be better on opening day, but any team with Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Rip Hamilton is going to win a lot of games. But let's not forget the real reason they're going to eclipse ESPN's projected win total: Kyle Korver.
3. New York Knicks (ESPN Projected Wins: 39)
Again, I'm taking the over. The best frontcourt in the NBA, the second-best player in the Eastern Conference, and a strange combination of old guards and young guards that I think will work out for them. I'd be willing to bet that they win the Atlantic Division easily.
4. Indiana Pacers (ESPN Projected Wins: 36)
The most underrated team in the NBA, led by the most underrated player in the NBA. I love the concept of this team: overachieving guys, low payroll (only 3 players above $3 million, and Granger is the most expensive at only $12 million), and a lot of young legs and depth. Two viable starting point guards, two above-average power forwards, and three centers that can all share playing time. They really are just missing a dynamic 2-guard; which means it's time to play around in the NBA Trade Machine:
Pacers Receive: JJ Redick, G ($6.75 million)
Magic Receive: Paul George, G ($2.4 million)
Roy Hibbert, C ($2.6 million)
Okay, so maybe I just like the idea of JJ Redick getting out of Orlando to a team that he can start on so he can live up to the expectations everyone had for him when he left Duke. But I really think this trade would work. Like I said, the Pacers would still have 2 centers left (Lou Amundson and Jeff Foster). Paul George has basically reached his ceiling. He is a less-talented version of Redick. The Magic can dump some payroll (less than $2 million, but still) and pick up a long-term replacement for Dwight Howard. If you're trying to move him and don't want the Bynum/Gasol/Bynum's knee package, either trade him for a player of another position or pull a Mets and just let him walk after this season. Which team says no to this trade? Hey, speaking of Orlando...
5. Orlando Magic (ESPN Projected Wins: 36)
I know there's a lot of controversy around the Magic and a similar situation ruined the Nuggets last year. But this team is too talented to not do well: Howard, Redick, Jameer Nelson, Turkoglu, Ryan Anderson, Jason Richardson, and Von Wafer actually looked very good in their opener.
6. Philadelphia 76ers (ESPN Projected Wins: 33)
Here's where I start to get nervous. I like the talent on the Sixers' roster. But I liked them last year and the year before, and where did that take them? But the core of Holiday-Meeks-Turner-Iguodala-Brand-Speights-Williams is one year older and one year more of a team, so hopefully maybe possibly it can somehow kind of sort of work.
7. Boston Celtics (ESPN Projected Wins: 41)
I'm also really nervous about this pick. The Celtics have been so good for so long and Rondo/Allen/Pierce/Garnett are among the best top 4's in the league. Rondo looked unbelievable on opening night. But they're so old. It comes down to this: Allen, Pierce, and Garnett will not be able to play in every game. Rondo can't win with Brandon Bass and a team that is worse than the Syracuse Orangemen. So I can't see them winning this many games and I definitely can't see them winning the Atlantic over New York and Philly. I could end up eating my words. We'll see.
8. Atlanta Hawks (ESPN Projected Wins: 35)
I hate the Hawks. Like I don't even know what to write here. Teague-Hinrich-McGrady-Johnson-Smith-Horford. But they always look like shit. They baffle me.
Blah Blah Blah Nobody Cares About These 9-12 Teams
13. Charlotte Bobcats (ESPN Projected Wins: 21)
It's going to be a rough year. The best case scenario for Charlotte would be for Kemba Walker to establish himself as the emotional leader of this team and build on his skills. Then they need to develop Bismack Biyombo as a power forward and draft a small forward (Harrison Barnes?) to replace Corey Maggette. Assuming that they can just have a big body play center, that's a decent team a few years down the road. Just not this year.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (ESPN Projected Wins: 18)
They can't possibly play every game as bad as they played tonight.. right? Kyrie has to come around eventually.. right? Taking Tristan Thompson fourth overall wasn't a horrible move.. right? They were justified in not taking Derrick Williams and then Kemba Walker.. right?
15. Toronto Raptors (ESPN Projected Wins: 19)
I don't care that they beat the Cavs tonight. They are such a terrible team and they will continue to be all season. They actually will probably get worse.