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2006-07 Eastern Conference Preview
By Clayton Ruley

The Eastern Conference is much improved and the Miami Heat look to repeat as NBA champions. "Big" Ben Wallace has moved from the Detroit Pistons to the young Chicago Bulls and LeBron James is a year older and better. New York Knicks President Isish Thomas is now coaching for his job and Larry Brown made 18 million for less than two years of work. Go figure! The NBA season is here and it's time for our annual preview of the teams...We have kept you in suspense for too long already so lets get in the action starting with the Eastern Conference


Atlantic Division


Scoring will not be a problem for this team because of these three stars.

*New Jersey Nets - This team has superb guard play and length at every position. Their big three of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter one of the best trios in the game. They rebound well but don't have big men that rebound exceptionally well. This team like to run the floor but struggles with physical teams. Rookie Marcus Williams will add another nice passer.


*Philadelphia 76ers - Allen Iverson returns for his 11th season amid rumors all off-season that he would be traded and that will be a motivating factor for "The Answer" and the rest of the Sixers. Chris Webber returns as to help the club and brings his intangibles on offense as well as his aging knees that limit him on defense. Head coach Maurice Cheeks is bringing an emphasis to the defensive side of the ball and has increased his scoring off the bench by bringing Kyle Korver off the bench and starting Kevin Ollie which leaves Willie Green to also come off the bench.

Samuel Dalembert's consistency especially on the defensive end and Andre Iguodala's growth on the offensive end are the key to the Sixers having any chance at the playoffs.


New York Knicks - The Knicks will play better this season but have too many people playing the same positions. While most teams would be hurt losing a player like Jalen Rose (now of the Phoenix Suns) but the Knicks are ok because they have players like Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, Quentin Richardson and Jamal Crawford. Eddy Curry will play better and Nate Robinson will be a energy guy off the bench.

Isiah Thomas is coaching the team with his job on the line and players know their backs are against the wall so expect more passion but this team has to do a lot of team building to make the playoffs.


Boston Celtics - The death of Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach marks a significant loss in the NBA community but don't think this will make the Celtics a cinderella team! The Celtics have a lot of young players with a high upside but this season I see them doing more soul searching than finishing off teams down the stretch. Paul Pierce will get his numbers and Wally Sczcerbiak will add his seventeen or so a game but the lack of power forward with experience will hurt as will the dependance on young point guards, who are often prone to turnovers and shaky decision play will hurt. Theo Ratliff (when healthy) is a superb shotblocker but I doubt he will stay healthy. Delonte West will continue to improve and be a key contibutor on this team but the rest of the players are green. Doc Rivers may resign after this season.


Toronto Raptors - The Raptors are a team in transition and will be more like the Phoenix Suns with General Manager Bryan Colangelo (formerly of the Suns) in tow but it will take time and the Raptors are too young! Chris Bosh is a regular All-Star and acquiring T.J. Ford brings a pass first guy into town but the besides Morris Peterson who's played in the league and put up regular numbers? Colangelo brought in players like 2006 NBA Draft number one overall pick Andrea Bargnani, Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa to bring the European style of ball to Canada but the this team is young and will run out of mental steam towards the end of the season.


Central Division


Will Wallace be the key to the teams knocking his former team out out as Central Division champs?

*Detroit Pistons - The team took a big hit when they lost "Big Ben" Wallace but improved on their scoring depth by adding Ronald "Flip" Murray and Nazr Mohammad. The team still has one of the best starting fives in the league with Mohammad added to Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Tayshawn Prince.

*Chicago Bulls - Detroit's loss is the Bulls gain and Wallace brings a player whose willing to take the other teams best player out of the picture! The Bulls are looking to take the baby off their names and they have the best young players to work with. This team has Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon in the backcourt and Andres Noccioni and Luol Deng at the small forward spot. Chris Duhon is more than capable at the back up point guard and PJ Brown brings another veteran to the mix. This team will win a first round playoff matchup.

*Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James led his team to the conference semi-finals last season and comeback this season with the same team save the addition of veteran guard David Wesley. This team looks to have everything a teams needs to win but they are lacking a killer instinct and experience from the players who will need the ball in their hands in the clutch. Eric Snow, Wesley, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones have made significant big shots and plays during the playoffs so they can be counted on and Anderson Varejao provided some good energy off the bench but will Drew Gooden put up the good numbers against good players. The answer to that will decide how far the Cavs will go past making the playoffs.

*Indiana Pacers – The Pacers reacquired Al Harrington and look to rebound from a disappointing season in which they lost in the first round in the playoffs. A very talented team the Pacers, if healthy, can content for the Central Division title but that's a very big if! Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley have missed several games over the past few seasons and the chemistry of the team has been shaky at best. When you couple the injury bug with the off the court problems the Pacers haven't had much time to focus. The team lost Peja Stojakovic and Ron Artest in the same season, getting nothing for the trade midway through last season since Peja went to New Orleans.


The team did pick up a nice piece in Marquis Daniels from Dallas and he will look to help out at small forward and shooting guard and Danny Granger was a pleasant surprise at the power forward and small forward position. The problem with this team is leadership. They have none and it will keep the talented team from making the conference finals.


Milwaukee Bucks – The Bucks have two good big men for the future in Andrew Bogat and Charlie Villanueva, who was acquired for TJ Ford. The also have the sharpshooting all-star Michael Redd. This leads to a middle of the pack finish in the tough Central. Ruben Patterson adds athleticism and hustle to the bench and Bobby Simmons third option in the starting lineup but the rest of the team is either just average or just learning the NBA game. The strength of the team is its guard play and between starter Maurice Williams, Steve Blake, Charlie Bell, and rookie Lynn Greer there should be no problems getting the ball up the court.


Southeast Division


Will each of these great contributors to the game have another ring by the time the season ends?

*Miami Heat – The defending champions return and still keep all of their key players. Shaquille O'Neal is officially on the downside of his career after being carried by Dwayne Wade in the NBA Finals but he's still a force to be reckoned with. Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning return even though they could have retired and look to provide one more season of defense and veteran leadership. Zo, in particular looked fantastic in the 2006 NBA Finals blocking shots and being a true presence. This team will win the Southeast because of their vets and the fact that Atlanta and Charlotte are in the division too! They are well coached by Pat Riley but I don't see a repeat of last year. Oh, by the way, Dwyane Wade is fabulous and can do it all on offense. I hope to see his improvement on the defensive end so he can truly be added to my top five players in the league!


*Orlando Magic – The Magic will ride the broad shoulders of PF Dwight Howard and hope that leads them to a playoff seed. Howard is accompanied by third year PG Jameer Nelson and veteran Grant Hill, who is looking to stay healthy and stay productive. The team has talent but it's young talent and they are inconsistent. Trevor Ariza, Keyon Dooling, Darko Milicic and Hedo Turkoglu will be counted on off the bench, especially Turkoglu with his three point shooting skills. First round pick J.J. Redick will come off the injury rack and has chance to do some spot shooting off the bench but don't expect him to handle the ball.


Washington Wizards – Led by USA team members Antwan Jamison and Gilbert Arenas, the Wizards have made the playoffs the last two years but it's now time to either win or make some changes. Caron Butler is a nice player and the team have a good three players for the future but a still short for contending fulltime. Jamison isn't a true power forward and would probably benefit by being a six man. Players like Jarvis Hayes and Brendan Heywood need to show they can be productive and recently acquired DeShawn Stevenson has to take the scoring load of Arenas, who in turn needs to become more defensive minded. In fact the whole team needs to be more defensive minded.


Charlotte Bobcats – The Bobcats are in their third season in the league and while they have a roster full of All Americans and some former NCAA national champions they still have no leadership and no go to guy yet! Now first round pick Adam Morrison has a chance to be that guy soon because he can flat out put the ball in the hole but everyone else is not bad but not great which leads to low expectations. Oh, their coach isn't the best either but at least the team has a plan that most can see and agree with. This season is about keeping Emeka Okafor on the floor for the whole season and seeing what you have with him, PG Raymond Felton, SF Gerald Wallace, Morrison, Sean May and the rest of the young guys.


Atlanta Hawks – No consistency. The Hawks are the revolving door of the NBA. Former NBA champion Speedy Claxton signed with (significant considering most leave at first chance) to play with Joe Johnson and collect a significant payday! He has players around who can do a little like Tyronn Lue (also a former NBA champ) Zaza Pachulia and Josh Childress.The Hawks also have young talent around them waiting to develop including rookie Shelden Williams, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams but they all play the same two positions: shooting guard and small forward.


This team needs to pick 10 players and make a 5 or 4 for 1 player deal because although they are talented they have little play inside. This will lead to a battle with Charlotte for last place again. Who draws up the gameplan for the Hawks? That is one of the biggest questions in the league yearly. For the third straight year, the Hawks are the league's youngest team with an average age of 23.6 years. The league average is 26.5 years.


*Indicates Playoff Team


Go to the Western Conference Preview

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