Welcome to your annual Eastern Conference Playoff preview, and since for the first time in the oughts (that's this millennium to you double-zero preferring folks), the East has secured a winning record against the West, I get to stop calling it the LEastern Conference. Good for you fellas.
On to the playoff picture:
8. Detroit Pistons
Apparently, whether they want it or not. At the time of this writing, it doesn't look like the Bobcats are going to finish the push to catch them, and since the Bucks vanished since beating the Celtics 10 games back (including a home loss to the current number 4 seed last night), it looks like the Stones are going to be backing into the playoffs. And they are going to run into the 'we've got home court all the way through, and the best player in the league' buzz saw that is that Cavs. G'night Dumars and co.
7. Chicago Bulls
Sure, they currently hold the same record as the woe-begotten Pistons, but a head-to-head edge gives them the seeding advantage...and what an advantage it is. Instead of facing the Boy who would be King in round 1, they get the Boston Retirees. I thought that they would have enough to repeat, or at least be feisty in these playoffs, but between the injury to KG and the wear and tear on the remaining big two, look for Derrick Rose and the Baby Bulls (are they still really that young?) to put up more than a good fight, and if they can steal one in Boston, pull of the upset.
6. Philidelphia 76ers
What? Despite the Elton Brand experiment going awry (I told you so!), Andre Miller, AI 2.0, and company have somehow snuck into the playoffs. The less said the better. I am literally in shock.
5. Miami Heat
Dwayne Wade has sufficiently erased any hope that he is the second coming of Penny Hardaway, cementing himself possibly as the Karl Malone of this current generation; destined to toil away, and always fall short of the transcendent player of his time.
4. Atlanta Hawks
Home playoff series baby. After having to wait 10 years between playoff appearances last time, the denizens of the Highlight Factory are headed to their second straight postseason. What's more is that they are going to have a home playoff series. That's right, a home series for one of the NBA's best home teams (29-10). The only thing I would ask for now is a healthy Marvin Williams. Oh, and tickets. So if you have either of those, holla at ya boy. I'll hook you up with a shirt. Or something.
3. Orlando Magic
And now we separate the weak from the chaff. The men from the boys. The effeminate from the possibly Canadian (do I have to capitalize that? *looks it up* dammit). The real beauty of the Boston meltdown? They've positioned the Magic to be within striking distance of the 2-seed as we head to the stretch run, and I think they'll push for it, not because of a match-up issue, but just to assert their dominance in this new East.
2. Boston Celtics
This is a rough one. Fresh off of last years dismissal (yeah, I said it) of the rest of the Association, they are in one of the worst positions heading into the Second Season. Not only did their title-quest last year leave everyone else in the League hating their guts, but they lost their emotional center when KG went down in a very fishy, worse-than-they're-saying non-contact injury. My love of hyphenation notwithstanding, I don't think these guys have it in them to get out of the first round with either the 76ers or the Bulls waiting, and smelling older blood in the water. It is every generations intent to replace what has come before, and it looks like their time is now.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
And here we are. 2009. The final coronation of LeBron James. Feels about right, doesn't it? I know that the 2008 Olympics showed that all the other players consider Kobe to be the best, but I think that the combination of a year of non-stop ball, plus picking up workout habits from the rest of the the Redeem Team, minus hosting the ESPYS has really pushed him ahead of the Mamba in that respect. These guys aren't losing at home (boasting a 38-1 home tally to date), and look for the intensity inside Quicken Loans Arena to be stepped up in the post season. Once they secure home court all the way, go ahead and get the crown ready: King James, indeed.