Eastern Conference Race is Heating Up

The NBA's Eastern Conference is garnerning a lot of attention and not just due to East Coast bias and Carmelo Anthony's presence in NYC. Some teams are imploding, while others are rising, and there are actual races for playoff spots.

The Western Conference race is also tight for the eighth and final spot and there are notable headlines, but an examination of the Eastern Conference is a little like watching a favorite movie with a twist. There's laughter, tears, and drama along the way.

The Miami Heat's Apparent Implosion

We are being told that LeBron James can't hit a game-winner, Chris Bosh is soft, the team may or may not be crying, and the coach's job is safe.

Will any of this matter when the playoffs start? Dwyane Wade can hit a late game jumper, but he will need to be asked to do so. Miami's issues might have more to do with whose team it is. The topic has been debated since "The Decision" and it may be time for LeBron to think about dominating the first three quarters and let Dwayne Wade take over the last. After all, Wade's championship ring shows he can lead a team to the promised land and LeBron has already proven he can take a team to the Finals.

With Kendrick Perkins not a Celtic, Chris Bosh may not need to play as "big" as was thought, but it could matter who the coach is in Miami. Pat Riley has assured us that Erik Spoelstra is the coach, and they are still one of the top seeds in the East, but it is hard to imagine the Heat playing so poorly against the elite teams in the NBA if Riley was in charge.

It is also hard to believe Riley would talk about players crying in the locker room. Spoelstra is Riley's hand-picked protégé and maybe it was a motivational tactic that backfired, but even Riley's unorthodox tactics probably wouldn't have invited such widespread criticism and apparent implosion.

Having a high seed should help the Heat advance to the second round, but as the playoffs progress, the Heat could find their late game non-heroics problematic. Beating the Lakers is never a bad win and the Heat have done it twice, but the Heat won't play the Lakers in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Derrick Rose and the Bulls are Suddenly Championship-Ready

Jerry Reinsdorf recently proclaimed this current group of Bulls is capable of winning four championships. It is unclear if he realizes that this team not only has zero trophies, but Jordan finished with six. Although Jordan took some time off playing baseball, it is hard to imagine a team that consistently plays without key starters for long stretches of games will win this year's championship let alone four.

Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah are too important to this team's championship hopes to miss games on a consistent basis. Boozer's current injury doesn't appear to be serious, but time will tell and winning a championship means a minimum of 16 games and everyone will need to stay healthy throughout the playoffs. Derrick Rose can overcome team injuries during the regular season, but in the playoffs, the margin for error gets much smaller.

Derrick Rose is an MVP contender and Tom Thibodeau has the Bulls pointed in a championship direction. This may be the year they advance to the conference finals. Anything less than a conference finals appearance will most likely be a disappointment for the NBA's current "it" team and latest MVP contender. The Bulls need to spend the final part of the NBA season getting healthy and staying healthy.

The New York Knicks Are the Center of the Basketball Universe

From the attention the Knicks are receiving, it may seem as though they are the sun and the rest of the NBA are mere rocks in orbit around them. They are surging with Carmelo, are a media darling, and everyone is salivating at a Heat vs. Knicks first-round playoff matchup.

The Knicks, however, have to deal with Chauncey Billups, who is missing games sporadically, and a defense that doesn't offer much resistance. If defense wins championships, the Knicks may be celebrated with an early-round exit.

The countdown to the Chris Paul sweepstakes may be what gets Knicks fans excited in the coming months, but so did the LeBron sweepstakes and that didn't go very well. It may be wise for the Knicks to take the rest of the season and start to play some defense.

The Celtics Have Been Good All Year

Boston has done nothing but win this season and yet they don't seem to grab headlines the way the Knicks, Heat, and now the Bulls do. The subtraction of Kendrick Perkins would appear to hurt this team if it has to face L.A.'s bigs in the Finals.

Perkins and the rest of Boston's height looks like it will dominate Miami in the playoffs and be able to deal with Dwight Howard and the Magic in the playoffs, as well. The absence of Perkins is really the only drama this team faces, which, when compared to the rest of the conference, isn't too bad.

The drama of missing Perkins puts the attention squarely on Shaquille O'Neal as the regular season begins to wane. O'Neal's pursuit of another championship will add some juice to Boston's run to the playoffs, but his ability to stay healthy and guard Dwight Howard for 10-15 minutes a game may decide whether the Celtics will make the finals.

It is hard to imagine the Celtics giving up the top seed in the East over the last part of the season, but a surging and healthy Bulls team could overtake them.

What About the Philadelphia 76ers?

The Sixers aren't likely to advance to the conference finals, but their stifling defense will most likely give whatever team they face in the first round fits. Philadelphia will probably finish as a low enough seed that it will play one of the top three seeds. If they don't upset a team in the first round, they certainly could force one of the top seeds into a seven-game series. The remaining games are giving their coach and defense more time to gel and prepare for the playoffs.

Sixers coach Doug Collins doesn't have the star power to advance, but teams with stars like Chicago, Miami, or the Celtics will need to be wary of the Sixers.

David Stern isn't Feeling Magical

It is late in the season, which means Dwight Howard will now start to face game suspensions as punishment for racking up the requisite technical fouls. Like clockwork, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy is now complaining publicly about officiating in an effort to have the next technical fouls rescinded. It has worked in the past and will most likely work in the future, as the NBA doesn't necessarily want a game or series decided because Howard is on the bench. The most likely scenario is Howard will be called for a few more technical fouls and will have a handful rescinded after further review.

Of course, Stan Van Gundy has done his best to work the officials all season and now it is time to start to work the league office and tweak NBA Commissioner David Stern. Stern has explained he is disappointed and will speak with Magic ownership. Stern's stern parenting is also predictable, but the last part of the season could be unpredictable for Orlando fans.

How much of an impact will Howard's technical foul situation have on the Magic's pursuit of the Finals and a high playoff seed? It's a little like asking how important LeBron was to the Cleveland Cavaliers; in retrospect, it looks like he was pretty important.

If Howard continues to get technical fouls and is forced to miss games, it would be much better for the NBA and the Magic if Howard missed games against Cleveland, New Jersey, and Toronto as opposed to New York, Atlanta, and Chicago. The NBA has suspended Howard for big games in the past, but they have also taken the fouls away for critical games.

The Race For the Last Playoff Spot

Indiana, Charlotte, and Milwaukee's race for the last playoff spot will provide their fans with excitement for the rest of the season. It is likely any team occupying the eighth slot in the east will be eliminated quickly, but the race to be the sacrificial lamb could be exciting. If the Detroit Pistons decided to pull in the same direction as opposed to the tug of war that is coach and team, even they could make a run at the eighth spot.

Of course, Larry Bird's recent criticism of the Pacers could either ignite the Indiana or aid in their implosion, but either way, the race for first out should get interesting.

The Eastern Conference is picking up steam as the NBA enters its last third of the season. The last stretch of the season will most likely see more drama and bickering, but probably not Heat players crying or rather not crying.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site