NBA Eastern Conference preview

Photo/AP Images THE KING'S CROWN: Lebron James looks to lead his Miami Heat team to a second straight NBA title.

Photo/AP Images THE KING'S CROWN: Lebron James looks to lead his Miami Heat team to a second straight NBA title.

by MATT GORDON
Editor-in-chief

The NBA season is set to begin at the end of the month and there could not be more excitement around the country. Will the Los Angeles Lakers be able to form their own big three and make a run at the Miami Heat? How will the new Brooklyn Nets fare against the highly competitive Eastern Conference? Which teams will step it up in the postseason and make a run for the championship? All of these questions and more will be answered during the season, but for now, here are the rankings of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, from most likely to contend to basement dwellers.

1. Miami Heat- How can you not rank this team as top in the Eastern Conference? Coming off of a championship season, this team only got better with the signing of Ray Allen. All of the haters out there can step off, because this team is in their prime and the King finally got his ring. I am sure he will be hungry to rule the kingdom once again.

2. Philadelphia 76ers- This may be a surprise to some, but the 76ers are one of the best teams in the league going into the season, knocking off the Bulls in the playoffs last year and adding some much needed interior talent. With the acquisition of center Andrew Bynum in a blockbuster deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, the 76ers added a force in the middle. His rebounding, shot blocking, and hard-nosed offensive attack will help outside shooters Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday find their offensive rhythm that has been lacking the past couple of seasons.

3. Indiana Pacers- The Pacers are set for a big season as Roy Hibbert and George Hill come back to a team that already has star Danny Granger. This is a young and improving team that is eerily familiar to the Oklahoma City Thunder three years ago. They will live off of their speed and defense. Expect this team to make it far into the playoffs and pull off some upsets as the season comes to an end.

4. Chicago Bulls- The Bulls come off of a disappointing end to their postseason as their star point guard, Derrick Rose, went down with an injury that all but ended their hopes of an NBA title last season and this season. Although this team may look far weaker than the Heat on paper, they have the recipe to possibly knock the super power in the playoffs. The Bulls are a rugged-style team with big rebounders and scrappy position players that put defense first, which is the only way to stop the Heat’s high powered offense. It will be interesting to see how these two team compete against one another during the season and, hopefully, during the playoffs.

5. Boston Celtics- This team lost a very important outside shooter in Ray Allen, who left for the rival Heat. Even though they lost one part of their Big Three, the Celtics keep their superstar leader Rajon Rondo and sixth man Jason Terry. The only problem for this team is their aging veteran stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who are nearing the end of their careers. An injury to either one of these stars will ultimately lead to the downfall of the once perennial contenders.

6. New York Knicks- The Knicks should be able to contend this year, but has it not been said for the past couple of years? This team can either rise up with the superpowers of the conference or fall back, fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the season. One positive for this team is the arrival of Raymond Felton, who ran the pick-and-roll with Amare Stoudemire to perfection two season ago. This team has a lot of expectations and they look to please the hopeful Garden crowds.

7. Brooklyn Nets- Can the Nets prove that they belong in the birthplace of street ball? Talk about expectations, this team may have the highest in the league. Deron Williams looks to lead his team to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, along with the help of acquisition Joe Johnson. The biggest problem for this team is inconsistency. The Nets can only make it into the playoffs if they are able to consistently produce on offense and play solid defense, something that was not done over the past five seasons.

8. Atlanta Hawks- The fact of the matter is, the Hawks are in a rebuilding stage. This team traded away star Joe Johnson and many other important parts of their team during the off season. Although they seem to be falling off and out of the playoffs, this team still has a lot of experience, and forward Josh Smith will not give up so easily on this team. I see them fighting for a playoff spot toward the end of the season.

9. Cleveland Cavaliers- This team has a lot for which to look forward. With one of the youngest rosters in the league, I see this team surprising the older, more experienced teams. After his great rookie year, Kyrie Irving looks to lead his team to their first playoff appearance after the Lebron era.

10. Milwaukee Bucks- I do not see this team making a run for the playoffs this year, like they have the past few seasons. They traded away their seven foot center Andrew Bogut for point guard Monta Ellis, even though they already have an established point guard in Brandon Jennings. The down-low and shooter offense they have been running successfully is now demolished without their presence in the middle. The only way this team makes it into the playoffs is if Monta Ellis scores 40 plus points a game and they can somehow stop big men on defense.

11. Washington Wizards- John Wall gets some much needed help down low as veterans Nene and Emeka Okafor are added to a young and growing team. No doubt about it, this team can now run down the court and play a balanced half-court offense, an element that was missing the past two seasons. I would not be surprised if this team can make a run to the playoffs and even knock off a few quality opponents on the way there.

12. Detroit Pistons- Can Brandon Knight lead this team or will Jonny Flynn get his chance as the point guard of this hopeful team? With Greg Monroe as a force in the middle, the Pistons look to give a reason for their fans to believe in them. This team can make a run to the playoffs, but everything will have to be clicking as they rebuild.

13. Orlando Magic- With the inevitable departure of superstar Dwight Howard, the Magic look to rebuild and find their next big man down low. With no actual center on their roster, it is going to be hard for this team to get the much needed rebounds and interior defense they received with Howard. This is the start of a long and grueling rebuilding process.

14. Toronto Raptors- I do not think this team is able to play with the superstar teams or the teams on the rise. With Landry Fields being their biggest offensive power, this team will not be able to score enough points to stay with the high-powered offenses in this strong Eastern Conference. Things are not looking good for the Raptors or their fans.

15. Charlotte Bobcats- They are bad, need I say more? With no offense and very little defense, I would not be surprised if this team met their record-breaking lows of last season. Hopefully, this team is able to stay healthy and rebuild for the future.