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NBA Preview of the Eastern Conference: Atlantic Division

September 17, 2012

Features, NBA

Editor’s note: Curtis’ previews of the Southeast and Central Divisions.

Atlantic Division:

Boston Celtics-

Here’s the fun thing about talking about the Boston Celtics: they seem to stay relevant when I want to write them off. Originally back in 2008, I was not a fan of Doc Rivers in the slightest. I felt that he was given a team, and received credit for something that he definitely should not have.

That was 2008 though.

He seems to know what he Is doing now, and while Boston has not won a championship since 2008, they sure did make a splash last season. They won 39 games, and made it quite comfortably into the playoffs. They beat Atlanta in six games, but what amused me was the 76ers giving them trouble. It took all seven games to beat the lowly Sixers, and to be honest, that may have cost them the series against Miami afterwards.

There is not a doubt in anyone’s mind that Boston was not entirely healthy, and it is true. Ray Allen was fighting off ankle issues that seem to plague him the back end of the season. Now, that is only part of an excuse. Miami was not entirely healthy as well with Chris Bosh being out, so both teams cannot be handicapped, right?

Let us move on to this coming season, and try to talk about what happened in the off season: Ray Allen left. This seemed to surprise a lot of people, and it partly surprised even myself. Realistically, it is weird to see Allen outside of that Boston jersey, more so after the memorable playoff runs this team had. Does anyone remember the epic first round series they had against the Chicago Bulls? When Ray Allen and Ben Gordon were going back and forth all series? The triple over time playoff thriller? Could you have imagined after that point that Ray Allen would end up with Miami? No, you probably could not, and in my opinion, if you did imagine it, you are a much better analyst than myself.

Okay, okay. You get it. Ray Allen left. Please tell me what Boston did to help themselves be relevant? All right, I can do that.

Boston has been more or less silent in the off season as long as you decide to shelve the Ray Allen talk and only talk about incoming free-agents. They have managed to sign Jason Terry, who is Allen’s replacement. It’s hard to not be excited for this move. Terry is typically healthy and has ice water in his veins. He is not afraid to take the big three when needed and would come off the bench if required. He is a team guy by all means, and Boston needs a lot of that. They will have to band together to considering being a contender this season.

Boston did have a few big re-signings this season in Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, and Chris Wilcox. As well as their more recent announcement of bringing back Jeff Green.

Do I think Boston will make the playoffs with this roster? Absolutely. I firmly believe they have a chance to win the division. More so because they are in the Eastern conference (where as divisions may not be as competitive, but that is not always the case) than anything that really is not particularly strong (although, there is an exception), but I do give credit to Doc Rivers where credit is due. I feel like he can coach this team into the playoffs with his eyes closed; having Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce as veteran talent will help keep the locker room from exploding too much. Even if 2011-2012’s leading assist man Rajon Rondo is not a happy guy. Although, happy or not, this guy will play, and he will play hard. He seems to be improving, which is a scary thought for anyone having to defend him. That three pointer sure helped out last season, right?

Do I think Boston is a true contender this season? No. Not even close. Sure, they will make the playoffs, could win 55 games (but probably will not) but realistically they could not go toe-to-toe with Miami right now. In Boston’s defense, they could easily push it to seven games again. Also, this means that Boston needs to stay healthy, and hope for some miracles if they plan to prove me wrong. I never want a team to root for injuries, but realistically that is the only chance they have this season of winning the East.

Brooklyn Nets:

Well, here is a team that made, ahem, splashes in the off season. By splashes, I mean tidal waves. Here they are signing (the highly publicized) Deron Williams, one of the top five point guards in the league. Of course, while that was big, it certainly was not the biggest. You could easily make the argument that the signing or trade that never happened was even bigger news, seeing as they never received Dwight Howard (it’s not a solid article unless I can mention Dwight Howard 500 times) via trade. Don’t worry Nets fans, they definitely made up for it (in my opinion).

First, they signed Gerald Wallace, who is a great defender as well as a mean high-flier. He is not going to hesitate to throw it down given the opportunity. Moving on, they have also resigned Brook Lopez. Probably the most underrated signing, considering I think Brooklyn considered that they were stuck with him until January, but let’s just think about this for a moment: Brook Lopez averaged a bit over 20 points per game two seasons ago (I’m ignoring 11-12 season because he only played five games). That is about what Dwight Howard puts up points wise. Obviously, where the two centers really differ is in blocks per game as well as rebounds per game. Howard is much better there, but what is important to note is Lopez is not going to be asked to carry the load like Howard, so while Lopez needs to get his rebounds and blocks per game up, he does not need to get them quite as high as Howard.

Next, they have received via trade Joe Johnson. A huge acquisition. He is a reliable swingman who can hit any shot at any time. He will put up big numbers per game given the opportunity and is not afraid to throw down one the lane. Plain and simple, Joe Johnson is a scorer. I have always liked Johnson from his days in Phoenix, and provided he was able to stay healthy, he probably would have helped win that franchise their first championship, but that’s another story and argument for another time.

Another underrated resigning is power forward Kris Humphries. He will start at power forward for the new look Brooklyn Nets team, and in my opinion, will be the better team in New York. Humphries is 27 years old, and the past two seasons has played a descent amount of games. He averages much more rebounds per game than his counter part at center, although his points per game is a bit lower, I think it evens out quite nicely. A really quick add, Jerry Stackhouse is now on the roster. I do not think he’s a huge pick-up by any means, but he does offer veteran presence and could help build chemistry.

I do not think it is too much to ask of the Nets to win at least 45 games, but the argument there lies in whether this team is going to mesh well. An important thing to note is that at least this new look team happened this year as opposed to last. They will have training camp as well as pre-season to help mesh and get some chemistry, which is really important in this league. I think the Nets could be contenders if healthy. I think they should be able to handle Boston as well. There really are not too many contenders left in the Eastern Conference realistically, and Brooklyn could easily (ahem) net the second through fifth seed. Somewhere in there anyway. Boston will not play for seeding, so if Boston can make the playoffs without having to win the division, and thus rest some starters for a bit, I don’t see why Brooklyn could not win it. It really all comes down to chemistry for this team.

New York Knicks:

Ah.. New York City. Home of (ugh) Spike Lee (as a side note: I really do not like Spike Lee. While I do appreciate his passion for the home team, there is a form of ignorance that comes with being that type of fan, and it’s severely annoying to me), the Brooklyn Nets and of course, the New York Knicks.

While making the playoffs, the Knicks were promptly beaten up and sent packing home in the first round. Not a success, not in the Knicks fans eyes, and I do agree. While it would be an accomplishment for some teams to make the playoffs, Knicks fans have seen greater days. They seem to be looking up though, with Melo and A’mare seeming to mesh or pick up the load by themselves.

The issue really does not lie with chemistry here, it lies in health. Both stars of this team (not counting J-Kidd, more on him in a moment) seem to have durability issues. We all know A’mare’s story. Knee-fracture surgery, eye surgery and he still is a strong playing, double-double machine. Defensively, while getting better, he is still lacking nonetheless. As for Carmelo Anthony, he seems to be (as of late) having difficulty staying healthy. Make no mistake, for this team to compete, both of these stars need to be healthy.

The durability of gold medal Olympian Tyson Chandler is not in question here. Since winning a championship in Dallas, Chandler really seems to have a grasp on his game and how he should play. He is a dominant center, and if we’re talking about the other New York team, he is easily the better player as well. Seeing Chandler play this summer has made me a believer. Mainly because he does seem to have great humility; he seems to be one heck of a team player and if given the opportunity he will shine bright.

So, moving on, the Knicks have a quality back-up point guard in the old veteran Jason Kidd. Some claim him to be washed up, and while I would not quite say that is the case, I can see why he is coming off the bench. When healthy, Raymond Felton seemed to be a quality starter. The run and gun system seems to give his number a slight bump, and he does seem to have a descent grip on the teams offense. Now, before we yell at me, I do not for one second believe that Felton is better than Kidd. I think J-Kidd will put up better numbers if given the chance to start, and I believe he should start over Felton, I’m just not sure the Knicks agree with me.

They have also signed a power forward to back up the oft injured A’mare Stoudemire in Kurt Thomas. I actually do like this signing. While Thomas is not a starter by any means, in short bursts he can give quality minutes and put up some quality numbers. He also adds veteran presence in a must-win-now mentality New York City. He is reliable as well. Also being signed (actually re-signed more or less) is shooting guard J.R. Smith, the old teammate of ex-Denver Nugget Carmelo Anthony. I think having Smith back is a great thing for the Knicks, and I feel like they have a ton of firepower on offense.

Now, onto where I think the Knicks are going to end up. It’s a safe assumption to say that this team will make the playoffs. With Orlando no longer being a contender, and Atlanta realistically not being able to contend, extra playoff spots are way open. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the Knicks can get anywhere in the playoffs. Out of the first round? Probably. Depending on who they play anyway, but why not? What bothers me about this team is that I don’t think that they can make a deep run because of their biggest flaw: defense. This team has next to no defensive presence. After Chandler and Thomas (although I suppose even I can’t call the second one a “defensive presence”) they are supposed to rely on Anthony and Stat to defend in clutch situations? Oh my. The only logical thing from there I see is just live by the three, and blow teams out by 30 points, that way there are not any clutch situations to worry about. Who doesn’t want to blow a team out, right?

Philadelphia 76ers:

The 76ers are a team that has made a splash this offseason after there surprising (more so lucky) run in the playoffs. Maybe the Sixers noticed that, which is why they made this move in the first place in bring in Andrew Bynum and shipping off Andre Iguodala. I won’t go to in depth with this, because I covered it in my Dwight Howard trade reaction.

It’s difficult for me to see the Sixers improving without having Iguodala, who was having a stellar Olympic run. I really do not think Bynum will stick around and he is often injured anyway, so it’s hard to count on him.

The bottom line comes down to not seeing the Sixers making the playoffs at all, but the thing is, they are in the East, which has, as of late, been the weaker conference (tell that to the Heat). They are in a tougher division this year than they had last year, and they are not really in a position to seem to better themselves. Then again, having below fourty wins could still net you into the playoffs. So, it’s had for me to say they absolutely will not make it. This division could, with other teams that are in the East that are no longer really contending for playoff spots, send four teams to the playoffs in theory. I’m sure they are going to fair better than the next team however.

Toronto Raptors:

Oh Canada, I do not even know where to begin. Sigh. I am going to power through this and definitely find some good for you all. Maybe you are more improved than I give you credit for.

Well, let us start with the good for you: there really is not anything good about the Raptors. This is a rebuilding time, and it is starting (and probably going to continue this way) very slowly. The roster does possess a few quality names in Calderon as well as Bargnani.

I am not trying to say that the other names on the list are necessarily bad, I get that they are NBA talent, I just need to clarify that there is not one All-Star on this roster, and without even one single all-star there is not much they can do to compete. It was a difficult summer for the Raptors. They lost out on the Nash sweepstakes, and realistically it would not have mattered if they won. They sure would not be going to the playoffs. Since losing Bosh, this team has been in free fall. I really do not know what else to say other than hope for amazing depth in the next few drafts. Provided Toronto picks smart, they could rebuild and make the playoffs several years on down the road.

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About Curtis Dasch

Curtis Dasch is currently a student at Bowling Green State University, majoring in English. He is a go-to for NBA opinions and knowledge of the intangibles, but enjoys most sports in general. Considered a "jack-of-all-trades," he also hosts a weekly gaming podcast known as Satellite Gaming's Satellcasts.

View all posts by Curtis Dasch

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