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Tag:Emeka Okafor
Posted on: November 10, 2010 8:37 pm
 

Big B's Early 2010 Defensive Highlights

I figured with everyone raving over the amazing offensive skills being displayed early on in the season with guys like Kevin Durant, Monta Ellis, Dwyane Wade, Rudy Gay, and Derrick Rose lighting up scoreboards; or Celtics fans going insane about Rajon Rondo dropping almost 15 assists a game so far; or guys like LeBron James and Pau Gasol putting up triple doubles; I thought how about we talk about the other side of the ball and give some love to defense being displayed so far this year. Now I know it's early so this is not a "top defensive player of the year candidates" list. This is just a place to shine the light on some great defense being played so far this season. I'm going to touch a few players a teams, but feel free to give a shout out to a guy on your favorite team for his defense.


Dwight Howard

He is the two time reigning Defensive Player of the Year and he's definitely proving why he's just a huge impact on defense this year with Magic. Now Howard isn't putting up huge statistical numbers this year like he has in the past; he's ONLY putting up 11.3 rebounds per game, 2.7 blocks per game, and 1.2 steals per game (I say only just because he's put better statistical numbers than that before, but these numbers are still impressive nonetheless). However, it's how much of an impact on his team that truly makes his defensive worth so valuable. The Magic so far this year are allowing only 88.7 points per game (1st in the NBA), 41.4% FG (1st in the league), have an 11.2 ppg differential, have 46.5 rebounds per game (2nd in the league), allowing only 38.8 rebounds in the league (2nd in the league), and have a +7.7 rpg differential (1st in the NBA). The Magic are no lower than 2nd in all the major defensive categories and that speaks volumes of Howard's defensive impact. It's not like he's getting lots of help from Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, or anyone else on the team. Without Howard, this team is bad defensive team, but with him, they become one of the best defenses in the NBA.

Dwyane Wade

While I think Heat fans have been playing better defense for their team than post defense of the actual Heat players, the team has been solid overall on defense. The Heat allow only 90.1 points per game (2nd in the NBA) and allow only 41.6% FG (3rd in the NBA). Since we know it's not their post defense that is making this team respectable, we have to look to their perimeter players. LeBron James has been good, but their truly most valuable defender has been Wade. He's been all over the court for the Heat and ever single game I've watched for the Heat I've seen this guy hustle his butt off to not only stay in front of his man, but go play help defense (especially in the paint where they struggle). He's averaging 6.6 rpg  1.6 spg and 1.0 bpg and has had two games where he's got double-digit rebounds. Wade has definitely been working hard to just keep the Heat defense from being absolutely abyssmal and has actually made it at the very least respectable.

Josh Smith

Boy this guy has come a long way since a few years ago. Remember when he use to be in love with his deep jumper (which he couldn't hit consistently) and didn't know how to use his athleticism to actual impact his defense instead of just getting block and steal numbers? He has become a much smarter player and it shows not only on offense but on defense. He realizes that while he has the athleticism and ability to play on the perimter, he's far more dangerous in the post. He's such an excellent leaper and uses that do very well on the glass above much bigger players. So far this season he's averaging 9.6 rpg 3.4 bpg and 1.4 spg and has been all over paint on defense as well out of it as well. It's tough to find easy passing lanes and cutting lanes to the basket when J-Smoove is roaming the court. He's been swatting the ball left and right this season and proving to be a dangerous threat on defense in the paint for the Hawks.


Joakim Noah

He has become a very good defensive presence for the Bulls in the paint. He's leading the league averaging 15.0 rpg and also chipping in 2.2 bpg and 1.0 spg so far this season. While Rose has gotten the highlights with his flashing offense and big time dunks, it's been Noah who has been leading their defense and has put the Bulls 6th in the league in rebounds with 45.0 rpg, allowing only 39.3 rpg (5th in the league) and has them 2nd in the league in rpg differential with +5.7 rpg. He look freakish and has a gap tooth grin that would make Michael Strahan proud, but he's a very tough defender in the paint and he's establishing that early on this year.


The New Orleans Hornets

I can't choose just one player from this team because it's been such a great team effort on defense that has allowed the Hornets be very impressive so far on defense and has been a big reason why they are undefeated so far through the early goings this season. They are 3rd in the NBA in ppg allowed with 90.1 ppg and 4th in the NBA in FG% allowed with 42.3% FG allowed. Chris Paul has been impressive not only with his thievery of 2.4 steals per game but also being impressive on the boards with 5.4 rpg on the season. Trevor Ariza has looked good defending defending the perimeter while adding 5.0 rpg and 1.9 spg. Emeka Okafor has proved he is still a very good defensive presence in the paint averaging 2.3 bpg and 8.1 rpg on this season. But while no single player has stood out and looked like a top defensive player, they have been a very good defensive unit together and the whole team is looking sharp on both ends of the court this year which has led to their great start.


Andrew Bogut

The Aussie big man has picked up where he left off last season and has been getting it done on defense for the Bucks. So far he's averaging 10.3 rpg and 1.9 bpg on the season while making the Bucks a good defensive team. The Bucks are allowing 91.4 ppg (good for 4th in the NBA) and 42.3% FG (5th in the NBA). He missed one game so far with an injury and I'm sure got some Buck fans and others (including myself) worried his injury problems would return again and keep him from being a top big man in the NBA. If he can stay healthy like he did last year and consistantly prove to be a defensive presence and overall good post presence for the Bucks, he will finally be living up to that #1 status.


Ben Wallace

You know I had to give my Pistons boy some love when I'm talking about defense. Now this isn't the Ben Wallace of old for the Pistons, he isn't getting 13-15 rpg and 3-4 bpg and making people "Fear the Fro" anymore, but he's shown when he's motivated now again back with the Pistons, he can still get it done for the Bad Boys on defense, even if you can see the gray in his hair now (which is the reason why he's not growing that fro out anymore). He's an old man now so he's only playing 24.3 minutes a game so far this season, but he's been impressive on the defensive end during the time he's in. He's averaging 8.3 rpg 1.3 spg and 1.0 bpg in the limited time and giving the Pistons their only post defensive presence (which is sad, I know).



Well that's all the guys I'm showing loving right now, but I'm sure there are plenty more guys that could use some spotlight for the defense so far this season. Feel free to throw out some guys you've been impressed with on defense so far this season.


Posted on: September 28, 2009 8:24 am
Edited on: September 28, 2009 5:59 pm
 

NBA Southwest Division Preview - 2009/2010

The Southwest division has become the best division in the NBA. There seems to be a lot of rivalry games and tough competition mainly to due the fact that 3 of the teams are located in Texas (San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston). They've had four of their teams making the playoffs for the last couple years now, all four of those teams constantly flirting or reaching 50 wins in a season. The division is filled with some of the best players in the game with Duncan, Nowitzki, and Paul. For the last three years, at two of the top three seeds in the West have come from this division. The division is filled with legends like Timmy D, J-Kidd, and AI, but it also has young stars that will be among the best players in the NBA for years to come in CP3, Tony Longoria, and possible Mayo. There are also three MVP candidates (two of which have won the award before) in Paul, Dirk, and Duncan.

The division is always very competitive and only Memphis has been a team that doesn't contend in the playoffs.   There won't be a team that dominates this division because of much talent each team has and how competitive each team is. Following will be my analysis of this division and how I see each team turning out this season.

1. San Antonio Spurs

Since Duncan has been here, this team has always been among the best teams in the league, and has always been a contender for the title. Duncan is the kind of player that has the greatness to lead his team to victory no matter what the talent around him. However, he does have a good amount of talent around him and that just gives this team an even better chance at success.

Starting at the point we have Tony Parker , a.k.a. "Eva's husband." A Top 5 PG who is lightning quick and has improved his scoring each year. He is one of the best players at penetrating to the basket, and that proves very valuable to his team. Then you have the other guard in Manu Ginobili , a.k.a. "The Argentinean Flopper." He is one of the best shooters in the game and makes it harder on defenses with his ability to take it up with his left hand or right hand (being naturally left handed). He is a good team player that has won championships at both the NBA and Olympic level.

We move to the forwards with the newly acquired Richard Jefferson . He is a very gifted scorer that can shoot or penetrate the lane. However, he has been known as one of the weaker defenders in the league. Then we have the also newly acquired (damn Joe D, why didn't you resign him?) Antonio McDyess . An aging big man that can do whatever you need him to. He can hit that mid-range jumper, he can rebound, and he can play good post defense.

Then at center we go to "Mr. Fundamental" himself, Tim Duncan . Getting older now, but still one of the best big men in the game and guy who just knows how to win. To quote Ricky Bobby, "he wakes up in the morning and pisses excellence." He has the best post moves in the league on offense, and is still one of the best post defenders and shot blockers in the NBA.

They have very good, young bench players in George Hill , Roger Mason Jr. , and their rookie DeJuan Blair . I might be higher on most about Blair, but I think he was a huge steal in the 2nd round for the Spurs, and they've had a couple other 2nd round draft picks turn out very well (Parker and Ginobili). Not to mention that he'll have one of the greatest big men in NBA history teaching in Timmy D. The only concern about him seems to be his injuries in the past (but they were both in high school, not in college and didn't slow him down in college). They also have veteran big men defender Theo Ratliff , and veteran scorer Michael Finely to add some more depth off the bench.

My prediction: 57-25 (1st or 2nd seed in the West)

Timmy D doesn't have much time left to get another title before he retires, but this is probably the best chance he'll get. Parker is improving to the point where he can take over any game with his scoring and playmaking skills, Ginobili should be at full health this year, and the additions of Jefferson and McDyess should prove very valuable to this team. The only weakness I can see for this team is the loss of Bruce Bowen. He never contributed a lot in terms of offense or stats, but he was their best perimeter defenders and one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Now that he has retired, they don't have any great perimeter defender to rely on. Ginobili can look good at times with his flopping, but that won't be enough when playing against some of the best perimeter players in the league.

I don't think that will keep them from being one of the best teams this year and making to the Western Conference Finals, but if they have to play the Lakers to go to the NBA Finals, there is no one to stop Kobe Bryant and that could prove costly. But Timmy D and the interior defense will really have to step it up if they want to make up for Kobe beating them on the perimeter. However, that interior defense has proved to be very valuable in the past and can get them to the Finals if it's at it's best with Duncan and McDyess. If they play the Lakers, I think it goes to 7 games without question and it's going to come down to Duncan and Kobe, who can will their team to victory. It's a toss up for me, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Spurs won or the Lakers won.

2. Dallas Mavericks

This is the team I will enjoying watching the most out of the West this year (of course I won't favor them over my Pistons though). They have two of my favorite players of this past decade, Kidd and Marion, who were teammates earlier in their careers for the Phoenix Suns and will now be teammates on the Mavs.

This is a team of aging veterans who have a small window of time for winning a title before their careers are over. However, they are still very good players that can contribute a lot to a successful team. Also, the amount of talent doesn't always equal the amount of success you have. A factor that comes into play in their advantage with these older veterans are, ironically, their age. With their age comes years of valuable NBA experience. They know how to play the game just as well as anyone, but it depends if their bodies can keep up with their brains.

We start with the floor general Jason Kidd . He's not the same player he use to be, but he's still among the best playmakers and passers in the game. Also, he's still one of the best defending PGs in the game as well. He knows how to run the team and is unselfish as they come, looking to find his teammates for open shots. Then we move to Josh Howard , the perimeter scoring threat. He has plenty of talent, but it's his attitude that hurts him at times. If he can keep his attitude in check and play team basketball, this guy can score very well and prove very valuable to this team.

At forward, the Mavs have newly acquired Shawn Marion . He has struggles the last two years, but that is due to him not being with a true PG. Other than the one year between Kidd leaving Phoenix and Steve Nash joining the Suns (with Stephon Marbury at PG), he's always had a true PG to play along side with him until he joined the Heat . However, he stepped up his game quite a bit after being traded to the Raptors last season (coincidence that he was playing with another true PG again in Jose Calderon ?). Marion is not a guy that can make plays for himself and be one of your main scoring threats. However, now with the Mavs he won't have to do that since they have Howard and Dirk. He can spread the defense with Kidd being able to find him for open shots, and he can use his athleticism to cut to the basket for easy buckets and alley oops being set up to him from Kidd. But this biggest value is his defense, which has not gotten worse regardless of his struggles. He is still a very good perimeter defender that can cover anyone from the 1 to the 4.

Of course we can't forget the team's best player, Dirk Nowitzki . Dirk is still one of the best scorers and most difficult players to defend because of his size and shooting abilities. With Marion being able to defend the team's best perimeter scorer and Dampier or the newly acquired Gooden being able to cover the post threat, Dirk will be able to focus more on offense this year than ever; which should provide some very good results (possibly MVP again?). Then their other post player will be either Erick Dampier or Drew Gooden . Dampier has become old, slow, and pretty much just a guy to clog the lane now. However, Gooden is still relatively young and could be valuable to them as a starter. He is not a great defender, but he's is not a bad one either. He's a very capable post defender and very good rebounder as well.

They also have possibly the best 6th man in the game in Jason Terry . "The Jet" should get lots of playing time again this season being able to fill in at either guard spot and provide lots of scoring. He will prove to be very valuable to this team coming off the bench, especially to give the old J-Kidd a breather and keep his legs fresh.

My prediction: 54-28 (3rd or 4th seed in the West)

I think the Mavs are going to have a very good season this year and will be a Top 4 seed. Marion should be able to find lots of success and chemistry with his former teammate in Kidd, and also contribute a lot of defense thus taking the pressure off Dirk and Howard that will allow them to score better and more efficiently. The only issue with this team of course is their post defense, and that should prove to be costly when going against the Lakers and Spurs who both have post-scoring threats.

I'll root for them to make a huge upset and somehow win the West, but I just don't seem the being able to overcome Duncan with the Spurs and Pau Gasol and Kobe with the Lakers. Who knows though, miracles can happen.

3. New Orleans Hornets

After CP3 had his breakout season in 07/08 leading his team the 2nd seed in the West and being the runner-up to the MVP Kobe Bryant, the Hornets were not able to repeat their success in 08/09 (although they still came within 1 game from having another 50 win season). However, Tyson Chandler missing 37 games seems to be at the root of their problems. After getting rid of Chandler this off-season, they replace him with athletic center in Okafor. The question is will he be able to provide a better center for them than Chandler> Well let's take a look

At the point they have the best PG in the game and one of the best players in the NBA in Chris Paul . He's become an amazing playmaker that can score, pass, and defend all at a high level. He is a very good leader at such a young age, and that can only improve with more experience. After losing last year's starting SG Rasual Butler , they will now have to turn to Morris Peterson to start. But we've seen his minutes drastically decrease each year since '06 so I expect him to share time with Devin Brown and even Posey at times here. Really doesn't matter who's there because Paul has the playmaking capabilities to get his players open shots.

At forward you have the 3pt specialist in Peja Stojakovic . He's as good as he was in his Kings days, but he's still a very good outside shooter that Paul can find on plenty of open shots. James Posey should see some time here as well as (seeing time at both wing positions) because of his valuable defense, outside shooting, and clutch play. Posey has contributed quite a bit to two previous NBA champions ('06 Heat and '08 Celtics ). At the other forward is David West . He has developed a very good chemistry with Paul, best two-man PNR game in the league, which provides the main source of offense for this Hornets team.

Then at center you have the newly acquired Emeka Okafor . He's not as tall as Chandler but he's younger, just as athletic, just good of a rebounder, and even better defender. We might not see the alley-oops like Paul did with Chandler so often, but he is solid post scorer and can do more in one-on-one situations instead of having to be set up by Paul every time (like Chandler did). He won't need to be a main post scoring threat for them with West, but mainly their post presence on defense. He's been among the league's best shot blockers and rebounders, and his post defense is very good as well. It may take him a little while to get some chemistry with Paul and his other teammates, but he can be just as valuable or even more valuable than Chandler was. Plus he's not an injury risk like Chandler has become since getting older.

My prediction: 50-32 (5th seed in the West)

A team led by Paul will always make the playoffs and no matter whom the other four players are he's going to be at the top of his game and win this team games. The system and style they run fits perfectly into his game, and he has players that compliment him very well. That's key for your best player to have all those things working for him. They only issue for this team is a lack of a perimeter scorer. They have Paul at point, they have West down low, but Peja is no longer that legitimate perimeter scoring threat that they can rely on. That's the only thing standing in the way of them making it to the WCFs and having a good shot at beating the Lakers or Spurs. However, they should still have plenty of success and get around the 5th seed in the West this year. I just don't see them as being a contender with the two favorites, but Paul has already shocked the world once in 07/08, so he could always shock the world again (and prove me wrong) and take his team to the WCFs and give either the Lakers or Spurs a run for their money.

4. Houston Rockets

After finding out Yao Ming will miss the entire year for 09/10 and T-Mac will likely be out until after the All Star Break, the Rockets are really going to have rely on their young players to step up and keep this team competitive and successful. The Rockets have had success before when Yao was out with an injury for extended time, and they've had success when T-Mac was out with an injury for extended time. However, they've never had to deal with them both being injured at the same time for this long. How will they fair this season because of it? Well.....

At the point they will have the young Aaron Brooks . He became a big scoring threat for the Rockets towards the end of the season and the playoffs last year, and he should only improve on that this year. To start out, Shane Battier should look to get the start at the other guard position until Tracy McGrady returns from his injury. He is still arguably the best perimeter defender in the game, and that is valuable to this team's success.

At forward is the newly acquired Trevor Ariza . Ariza is a good defender and good shooter with lots of athleticism who contributed to a title with the Lakers last season. However, with T-Mac out for the first half and Yao out for the year, he will look at to be their main scoring option. Can he take his game to another level and step up to fill that role? At the other forward is young big man Luis Scola . Scola is not athletically gifted nor does have any unique and special abilities. What makes him a good player is his hard work, hustle, and toughness that makes him successful. He works hard on the boards to get rebounds and he uses smart, precise moves in the post on offense to score. Like Ariza, he's going to have to step it up even more this year with the loss of Yao.

Now that Yao is out for the season and Mutombo has realized, what we all have known a couple years now, that he is to old to play anymore the Rockets had to scramble to find someone to play center for them. All they could find was David Anderson. Anderson was drafted by the Hawks in 2002 but has spent his career playing for Australian and Europe leagues. He's big and has size, but so was Shawn Bradley and that guy was horrible. I don't know much about this guy so I can't really say how good he will be for them, but I can tell you that he will not come close to filling Yao's shoes.

My prediction: 46-36 (8th seed in the West, or barely missing playoffs)

I think Brooks, Battier, Ariza, and Scola can keep this team from completely falling apart until T-Mac returns. When he returns, he will be rusty and still getting over that micro fracture surgery so he won't be at the top of his game. However, despite having injury problems every year the Rockets some how always find a way to make the playoffs. This year is a little different though with both their stars out until at least the All Star break. It all depends on how T-Mac heals from his surgery. If he is able to come back at 100% shortly after the All Star break, this team should be able to make the playoffs, but if he struggles to get healthy at all this season they could be barely missing out on the playoffs this year.

5. Memphis Grizzlies

When you have a team with lots of young talent in players like Mayo, Gay, Conley, Arthur, and the #2 overall pick in Thabeet what do you think the best acquisitions would be to make in the off-season? Would you get two notorious "me first" players in Randolph and Iverson? I know I wouldn't if I was the GM. However, a bigger concern for this team is their financial issues and the need to sell more tickets and merchandise. So from a business standpoint, it was something that had to be done regardless of what it does to your actual team.

However, I think AI has gotten a bad rap for being too much of a ball hog when frankly until he joined the Nuggets , he had no one else to do the scoring when he was on the 76ers . However, that has made it more difficult on him to fit into a different role than the one he has been use to his entire career. We seen last year with the Pistons that he couldn't fit into that team player/role player and not the star role. With the Grizzlies it should be different because they don't need him to be a set up guy and a role player; they need him to be one of their stars.

Allen Iverson will have to play the point position for the Grizzlies this year because of his size and the fact that they won't bench their star in the making in Mayo. Despite getting the reputation as a ball hog and selfish player, he is a very capable passer and playmaker. He has shown that with his assist numbers, and for anyone that has actually watched a lot of him you'd see he is able to penetrate the lane so well that defenses collapse on him and give other players open shots. I'm not saying he will be Jason Kidd or anything, but he's not going to be jacking up 30-40 shots and never passing the ball. He will draw the defense to himself and pass it to the open man if he can't find a shot for himself.

At the other guard is O.J. Mayo . Then 2nd year guard out of USC has shown he was worth the hype. He is a very good scorer who is a capable passer himself. He has a very bright future in the NBA, but he may see his numbers dip this year with AI and Randolph on the team now. At the other wing position is Rudy Gay . Gay is a very athletic forward who can score very well and loves to play above the rim. Like Mayo and the other young players on the team, his numbers might see a dip because of the scoring veteran additions, but that doesn't mean he is declining at all.

The newly acquired Zach Randolph should see most of his time at power forward for Memphis. I can see the Grizzlies rotating Gasol here at times to give their first round draft pick Thabeet more time at center. Randolph is a very good scorer and rebounder. He's a weak defender, but he doesn’t have many weaknesses outside of that as far as his talents are concerned. The problem with his is that he can become what is known as a "black hole" on offense. He will rarely give the ball back to his teammates after he gets the ball. He's going to put up good numbers, but that's going to affect the overall team negatively.

At center they have the young Marc Gasol , a.k.a. "The Other Gasol." He showed that he is a very good big man in the NBA and has benefited from his time overseas. He is not an athletic or physical gifted player, but he is a very fundamental player that knows how to play the game well. He has good post moves on offense, is capable rebounder and defender, and knows how to play team basketball. The problem is, not many other players on this team know how to play team basketball as well. Expect Hasheem Thabeet to steal some minutes from Gasol this year to provide rebounder and post defense off the bench. Thabeet has tons of talent and potential, and they won't let their No. 2 overall pick go to waste on the bench.

They also have two young talented players in Mike Conley and Darell Arthur who will most likely see limited playing time this year. Those players are young and need time to improve, but they might not get many chances this year to do that.

My prediction: 36-46

From a business standpoint, this team will have achieved it's goal of making more money than they have in the past with Iverson and Randolph putting up numbers, selling jersey and other merchandise, and winning this team a few more games. However, this will hurt their young players and not give them as much chances to improve and develop like they should be. So while the Grizzlies will be happy with this decision now, they will regret a few years down the road. They don't have a shot at making the playoffs, and I'd be surprised to see this team win 40 games.



So that's it for my preview of the Southwest division. Look out for the other 5 division previews on the blogs of other posters (Feanor, ignorepeter, HurricaneDij39, GoHornets21, and kmvenne)

Posted on: October 10, 2008 8:39 pm
 

2008-2009 Southeast Division Preview

I feel that the Southeast Division will be one of the most competitive divisions, if not the most competitive, out of all the divisions this year. They may not be the best division, but all the teams will be fighting each other this year and there will be no team that just dominates the division. I think all teams will be within a few games of each, and they will be battling each other all season long. Most of the teams have improved this off season, and look to do some damage in the playoffs this year.

The Orlando Magic, led by Dwight Howard, look to get into the playoffs again this year and make it even deeper into them this time. The Miami Heat have their star player, Dwyane Wade, back healthy again along with new teammate Shawn Marion and 2nd overall pick Michael Beasley. They look to get back into the playoffs after finishing with the worst record last season. The Wizards are again with out Gilbert "Agent Zero" Arenas until December, but their star players, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, look to keep them in the playoff race. Last year's surprise team, Atlanta Hawks, look to prove that taking the defending champion Celtics to 7 games wasn't a fluke. The Charlotte Bobcats, led by new coach Larry Brown, look to finally have a good season in their 5th year as an expansion team.

It should be a good race in the division this year, and here is how I see things turning out:

1. (4) Orlando Magic (50-32)

As long as Dwight Howard continues to anchor this team, they will be a higher seed in the playoffs. Howard is just a monster in the paint on both offense and defense. He is probably the most athletic big man (only rivaled by Amare Stoudemire and Kevin Garnett), and knows how to use it to his advantage. He will definitely be in the running for MVP this year, and should continue to improve his game and solidify himself as the league's best center.

They also have talented forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis to contribute as well as young point guard Jameer Nelson, who I believe will make a big improvement in his game this year and become a reliable and solid PG. Now these guys have to step up on defense for the Magic. They can all be great on offense, but their defense wasn't too great last year. Howard is a great defensive player, but he is only one player and can't stop everyone.

Adding guard/forward Mickael Pietrus this off season to be their possible new starting shooting guard was good for them. He can contribute on offense with his athleticism and quickness to finish in the lane, and is solid defense (good rebounder) as well.

The Magic make it into the playoffs as the 4th seed (behind Philly in record even though they win their division) by getting 50 wins again this season. Their run in the playoffs all depends on who they draw in the first round. If they matchup like I think they will (with the Heat) they could see them selves out early in a first round upset. However if they draw an easier opponent, and make it to the 2nd round again they could go deeper. They will most likely have to play the Pistons or Celtics, but if they can build momentum in the first round, they could pull of an upset themselves in the 2nd round and make it to the ECFs or even farther (NBA Finals).

2. (6) Miami Heat (46-36)

Dwyane Wade is back and healthy again. Yes, I do believe he will stay healthy all season long finally, and get the Heat back to the playoff instead of being at the bottom the whole conference. Wade will have a fantastic year, and must if they Heat want to make the playoffs. I believe he will have a great year, in fact the best year of his career which should win him the MVP this year.

Rookie forward Michael Beasley should be able to produce very well for the Heat as well. His athleticism should come in handy for Heat by using him at both forward spots and being able to have play down in low post or up in the high post as well. I think we will contribute to his team better than any rookie other than Greg Oden this year.

Now let's not forget about Shawn Marion. This guy has not gotten enough credit, which is why he left the Suns. He deserved just as much or even more credit than Steve Nash for making that team so good. He is one of the most athletic players in the league, if not they most athletic. He can cut through the lane in the half court or fast break looking for the alley oop dunk. He can slash the lane and finish at the basket as well. Not to mention, he is a great offensive rebounder getting lots of 2nd chance points for his team. Then comes the biggest part of his game: his defense. He can guard the shooting guard, small forward or even power forward and do a good job at it. He is so versatile of a defender; he can impact a defense so much (was the only thing that kept the Suns from giving up 120 points every game). He be huge for the Heat on defense, and in the fast break on offense.

They have 3 guys that will compete for time at the beginning of the year for point guard. They have Marcus Banks, Chris Quinn, and rookie Mario Chalmers. They also recently signed Shaun Livingston Now Livingston won't get a lot of time off the bat, but once he begins to get back into the flow of things, as long as he can stay healthy (that's the key), he can be great for the Heat. They also have good role players off the bench in Udonis Haslem (good rebound and defender), James Jones, and Dorell Wright.

Their biggest weakness is their center spot. Right now their best center is Mark Blount with Jamaal Magloire backing him up. Now Blount showed last year, after Shaq was traded, that he can contribute a little. He won't be able to compete with top centers like Dwight Howard though, and that's what will keep the Heat from winning their division.

Now they could win their first round matchup depending on who they draw. Wade has shown he is a great player in the clutch, and steps up his game during the playoffs. He could lead the Heat to a first round upset victory, but making it to conference finals don't look to good for them this year. They need to get a better center, and then they will be back to being a contending team in the East.

3. (7) Washington Wizards (44-38)

The Wizards always find their way into the playoffs. They have their star point guard, Gilbert Arenas, out until December again, but that proved not to be a problem for them last year. In fact, they even played a little better for awhile will Agent Zero was out. Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison stepped big time and both had great season. I see them doing that again this, and they must if the Wizards want to make the playoffs. Both guys can contribute on offense. Jamison can help on defense with his rebounding, and Butler has turned into a great defender which is huge for the Wizards.

They guy that has to step up again for them is Antonio Daniels. He is the starting point guard with Arenas hurt. Last year he stepped up very well in Arenas's absence. He showed that he can run the team at the point and keep their team running smoothly. He needs to do this again to keep the Wizards in the playoff hunt.

The other starters, DeShawn Stevenson and Etan Thomas, have to do their jobs and Stevenson needs to learn to keep his temper and attitude under control (the opposite of how he acted in the playoffs against the Cavaliers). Stevenson needs to give them the scoring and outside shooting, and Thomas needs fill in for the injured Brendan Haywood by rebound and play some defense. They have their role players off the bench as well in Andray Blatche, Juan Dixon, and Darius Songaila.

I don't expect the Wizards to go anywhere in the playoffs this year. They will most likely draw a higher seed and face one of the tougher teams like the Celtics, Pistons, 76ers, or Magic. Agent Zero will be back then, and any team he is on doesn't have a very good chance with his selfish play. Even without him though, they just can't beat those top teams.

4. Atlanta Hawks (40-42)

The Hawks were a great surprise last year by making the playoffs at the 8th seed and taking the defending champion Celtics to 7 games. After trading for point guard Mike Bibby, the team seemed finally set for success. Even rookie Al Horford stepped up big for them last year.

Their key players this season will again be Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. Johnson is one of the league's best shooting guards and one of the best scorers. He is one of the team's veteran leaders and has done a very good job in that role. He needs to do just as good or better this season for the Hawks if they want any chance at making the playoffs again.

There best player however this year will be Josh Smith. He is an extremely athletic player and has talent on both offense and defense. However, his attitude has been the only thing holding him back from becoming a start player in the league. He drives too wildly in the lane and doesn't have a good shot (basically is only good for dunks and alley oops). However his great rebounding can get him some 2nd second chance points sometimes. His defensive however, I think we will be huge this year. He not only will be a terrific shot blocker and get steals with his quick hands, but he will learn to stay in front of his man and be a good on ball defender as well. He will be able to guard the opponents’ best scorer, and be a great on help defense. I believe he will be finally become a great defensive player this year and possibly win the Defensive Player of the Year award.

The real key to their success however will be Al Horford and Mike Bibby, or there point guard and center. Bibby can bring that veteran leadership and lead the team. He should be even better this year now that he has been with them longer and gotten some chemistry with his teammates. Horford needs to have an even better season than his rookie season. He can't have a sophomore slump, and needs to keep improving so he can anchor the Hawks' down low on offense and defense.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, I don't think they can make the playoffs. Even though they will technically have more wins than last year (I believe), they will miss the playoffs due to the other teams in the East improving a lot more than they have. However, they could surprise me and barely make it again at the 8th seed, but I just don't think it will happen.

5. Charlotte Bobcats (38-44)

The Bobcats should improve a lot this year with new coach Larry Brown. This team has had lots of talent, but couldn't figure out how to play as a team. Now, one of the NBA's best coaches will be able to get them to do that. Seeing as how this team has some young talented defenders, and that's Brown's specialty, it should work out well for them.

Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace, and Emeka Okafor are all great defenders and that's music to Brown's ears. If he can get all those good defenders to play good team defense, he can have success with the Bobcats. However, they key will be getting them to play together.

They also have their veteran leader in Jason Richardson. Richardson has proved to be a great scorer them, and their biggest contributor on offense. Wallace has also turned into a good offensively player as well, but he tends to be too reckless and gets himself injured. He needs to keep himself healthy if he wants to help the Bobcats be a competitive team in the division and conference.

Their biggest weaknesses are at center and point guard. Felton is a good defensive point guard, but hasn't done a good job of leading the team at the point and distributing the ball. He also needs to improve his shooting percentages as well (41.3% field goal shooting and 28.0% 3pt field goal shooting last year). Nazr Mohammed is a solid center, but shouldn't be a starter. He can be a good role player off the bench, but wouldn't be good enough to start on most other teams. This is the biggest problem for the Bobcats; their biggest weaknesses are two important positions for team's to have success. That will be what holds them back this year.

Brown will improve them this year, but not enough to make the playoffs yet. They still need a better point guard and center, and I don't think Brown will be able to get them to play as team as much as they need to right off the bat. Now as long as he stays there and works with them, they could be a playoff team in a year or two.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com