Baseball season has started...only one million games left. That said, baseball starting can mean only one thing - The NBA Playoffs!! Since the West seems to be in a constant state of flux, let's take a look at the Leastern Conference, and see how things look like they're going to play out (standings are of April 3, 2008):
8. Atlanta Hawks
Well, I guess I'm confident enough to risk the dreaded jinx. And let me clear something up: I know that nothing that I write has even the slightest impact on the real world, but I still felt guilty after Trent Green went down in week 5 after I predicted it here, and I would feel bad if I jinxed my Hawks' playoff run.
Strengths: A super athletic starting 5 that can push the pace. Mike Bibby's growing comfort with the Hawks has proven invaluable as they make the big push for the playoffs. Joe Johnson is a proven leader and scorer, and Josh Smith is a literal swiss army knife. Al Horford should be the ROY, and all these pieces add up to a pretty good first team.
Weaknesses: Everything else, including but not limited to: bench play, coaching, lack of clear ownership, front office infighting, fan support, home court advantage.
2008 Playoff Forecast: 1st round swept by Celtics...and a parade thrown by a grateful city for the first playoff appearance in 10 years.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
What the hell, man? Okay, so Billy King puts together this team over the past few years basically with scotch tape, bubble gum, and loads of money, the ownership FINALLY fires him, and the team goes on a miracle run not only to the playoffs, but potentially as high as a 5 seed in the East? Ew.
Strengths: Um, I really don't know. Okay, they play hard, they play fast, they have a lot of young legs, and they play good defense.
Weaknesses: No outside shooting since Korver left, and they have no defining star on their team. Maybe if you could merge Andre Igodala and Andre Miller into one player, but until then, who is taking the last shot in crunch time?
2008 Playoff Forecast: Could get swept in the first round. Could push Detroit to the wire, and very well could upset them. I can't seem to figure this team out. Parade given due to Billy King being gone.
6. Toronto Raptors
Ever since they eliminated purple from the team color scheme, this has felt like a new franchise. Gone are the hangover effects from Vince "Cancer" Carter, and instead it has been replaced by a high scoring, up-tempo, international team.
Strengths: Chris Bosh. This kid tends to get overlooked for some of the flashier stars in his generation, but watching him last night (lose) against Atlanta, he is very, very good. Coupling his talents with a talented PG, and a bench with Bargani and Calderon, and you have a good team.
Weaknesses: No matter how much I like Bosh's talents, I have to question his toughness, especially looking at a first round match-up with Dwight Howard down low. I also question some of the defensive ability of their back court players.
2008 Playoff Forecast: An all out war against Orlando in round 1, falling in 6 games to the Magic. Vince Carter is hit by a bus. Toronto throws parade.
5. Washington Wizards
Last night Agent Zero returned to the former Bullets, and ushered in the beginning of the end for the 2008 Wizards. All season, a certain chemistry had been built without the Hibachi, putting Eddie Jordan in COY discussions, and his return can threaten everything.
Strengths: Versatility. They can play lots of different ways, and have lots of different scorers. Coach Jordan has showed these guys that they can play without Gilbert, and they are confident heading into the playoffs.
Weaknesses: The reintegration of Gilbert Arenas, from both a stylistic and a emotional point of view. This is a unit that has defined itself separate of Agent Zero these past months, and now all of that may be shaken.
2008 Playoff Forecast: 1st round KO, as Mr. James attempts to reclaim the crown he gave away last year. Washington ownership lets Gilbert leave. No parade in the District.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James' playoff ceiling has officially been removed. After singlehandedly dismissing the entire Eastern Conference last year, anything is possible.
Strengths: The Boy who would be King. 30 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists a game. Need I say more?
Weaknesses: A team that has the single most naturally talented basketball player in the world has a negative point differential on the season. Reason? Defense and supporting cast. Big Z has shown promise, but injuries have slowed Ben Wallace from returning to underrated/overrated form of 3 years ago. On paper, the two deep doesn't look bad at all, but then you realize that you think this because Daniel Gibson went crazy last spring. Don't count on he or Delonte West to duplicate that.
2008 Playoff Forecast: They go as LeBron goes. If they want to keep him from running to Jigga in a few years, Cleveland better throw him a parade.
3. Orlando Magic
I LOVE this team...if this was last year. While Rashad Lewis hasn't had the impact his price tag would demand, the unit as a whole has developed from the jump into a real contender in the Least. Building an efficient offense around Dwight Howard, who has proven to be more mature than you may realize by rising to the public challenge Stan Van Gundy laid down earlier this year.
Strengths: Interior presence and outside shooting. Howard's development as a passer has been the most impressive and impactful aspect of this season as Turkoglu has been lights out all year. The team plays extremely well together, and just seems to get things done.
Weakness: One year too late.
2008 Playoff Forecast: Following a tough Toronto series, they fall in an absolute war against Detroit in 6 games, since the two teams split 4 close games this year.
No parade joke, sorry.
2. Detroit Pistons
Lather, rinse, repeat. Every year these guys are in the mix, and every year, certain problems tend to rear their ugly heads. But, they have proven the toughest, most consistent team in the Conference, and this year is no different.
Strengths: You've heard it all before. Their mental toughness and ability to adjust to different styles of play allow them to confuse and wear down any opponent. Except, I guess, LeBron James.
Weaknesses: This anti-Flip thing has gotten way out of hand. No one listens to him anymore, and this team is an implosion waiting to happen. Plus, this is a team that has a history of utilizing the dreaded 'on-off' switch against teams they feel are beneath them.
2008 Playoff Forecast: Surviving to face the final team on this list, they are summarily dismissed in 5 games. Parade for firing Flip Saunders, bringing back Larry Brown!
There, I bounced back.
1. Boston Celtics
Wire to wire, the single best team in the NBA all year. Pick your conference, home and away, this has been the dominating team of the 2007-2008. The Boston Three Party has run over everyone else's favorite team all year, but they should give us hope: a couple of shrewd free agent signings, and our team too could go from the outhouse to the penthouse in a year.
Strengths: Everything. Their better is better than your better. Rebounding. Clutch shooting. Playmaking. They do it all. Plus, Kevin Garnett's effect on their defense has created the most dominant defensive team today too.
Weaknesses: Who takes the last shot in crunch time? Garnett has habitually shown aversion to doing so, and if Sam-I-Am is on the floor, will he give up the ball?
2008 Playoff Forecast: I see an O'Brien Trophy in their future. And a really big parade.