NBA Preview: Beasts of the East

Don't miss part one, NBA Preview: West's Top Guns.


That's the only way I could describe it. And I'm not sure that Miami's reigning champs had much more to say about the record-worst butt whippin' on All Hallows Eve. But this couldn't be a ghoulish sign of the Heat showing all of their skeletons, right?

Despite the 42-point crush job, there are two pieces of good news for South Beach fans. First, I'm not too concerned ... yet. Second, my Halloween character, Sherlock Homeboy, has solved another case.

"People ask, 'where did the gross national income of Suriname go?' I have found it. As my motto goes: 'Check out da bling. Check out da bling.'"

"Next case: Who makes the Eastern Conference playoffs? I must tell you."

1) Miami Heat (Southeast Division champs)

Even with the beatdown they suffered on opening night, the Heat are the defending champions. Basically, everybody is back this year, including head coach Pat Riley. The one-two punch of Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade has proven itself to be the best in the Association. And, as always, the champs are still the champs until they're knocked out.

Downside — Diminished level of role player production; Older, more tired legs

2) New Jersey Nets (Atlantic Division champs)

The three-headed monster will rear its head out of the swamps of Jersey again. Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson are probably enough to dominate the Atlantic by themselves. However, the Nets decided to bring in some young talent, including former UConn stars Marcus Williams and Josh Boone, at key positions.

Downside — Still need some inside presence; Will Boone find more focus in the pros?

3) Chicago Bulls (Central Division champs)

The free-agent signing of the offseason occurred when Ben Wallace defected from the Motor City to the Windy City. The young core of players (Kirk Heinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, etc.) has won, getting to the playoffs the last two years. Wallace's presence in the interior should mentor rookie Tyrus Thomas and help push this squad to new heights.

Downside — Too early for high expectations?; Possibly toughest division in the league

4) Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James could taste the conference championship series last season as the Cavs pushed Detroit to a seventh game. Now, Bron Bron and the boys are predicted by some to win the Central. It isn't a bad pick, due to the fact that Larry Hughes started to look more like James' version of Scottie Pippen last season. Question is, can he stay healthy enough to advance in his sidekick role?

Downside — Need to improve their performance on the inside

5) Detroit Pistons

Although one big piece shifted to the west, Detroit still has a large part of the puzzle that won the title in '03-'04. Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Rasheed Wallace are a formidable foursome. The Pistons recent team chemistry and swagger usually accepts any player into the mix. Now, we'll see how effectively that style blends into the team's starting lineup.

Downside — Loss of Ben Wallace really hurts; Still don't have much bench depth

6) Washington Wizards

Beyond Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, there might not be one player more valuable to his team than Gilbert Arenas. The guard was fourth in scoring last season (29.3 ppg), but he isn't alone. Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler are also key members of the Wizards' attack. And at the helm sits Eddie Jordan, probably the most underrated coach in the league.

Downside — Do they have enough bench?; Do they have enough in the post?

7) Philadelphia 76ers

Remember that Gilbert Arenas argument? Yeah, I misspoke. Allen Iverson is definitely in the top three of most valuable to his team. However, his young teammates didn't seem ready to step up and help their superstar in '05-'06. With another year of experience and a playoff chase under their belt, the other A.I. (Andre Iguodala), Kyle Korver, and Samuel Dalembert should be more equipped to get into the second season this time around.

Downside — Can they stay healthy?; Chris Webber more of a liability than a help.

8) Orlando Magic

These guys might not be on a lot of radar screens, but they have some talent at key positions. There's a tough, young point guard in Jameer Nelson. Add in a versatile, strong big man in Dwight Howard. Don't forget the veteran scoring of Grant Hill. And we conclude with the newest piece, rookie sharpshooter J.J. Redick. These four (amongst others) should keep the Magic stay ahead of Indiana, Boston, and Milwaukee for the last playoff spot.

Downside — Hill's nagging injuries; Another year of "Where's Darko"?

Is the East deep enough to defend its bragging rights? Only eight more months will tell. But it should be a lot of fun following the twists and turns. Or maybe it's dribbles and bounces. Doesn't that sound more appropriate, Sherlock?

"Where did this man's funny bone go? I must find it."

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