Here are my predictions on who will make the playoffs and how they will stand.
1. Boston Celtics-54-13, 1st place
The Boston Celtics have a 4 1/2 game lead right now against the Detroit Pistons, and it is hard to see them coming any lower than first place, considering that they are 9-1 in their last 10 games and are on a nice 2 game winning streak. The "overuseness" of the Celt's Big Three never came, and their backups came up big surprisingly many times. The are actually one of the deeper teams in the league, having Glen "Big Baby Davis", James Posey, and Rajon Rondo. All of the Celtic's Big Three are averaging close to 20 points per game, and if they can just put up 15 points per game each, they will be fine. James Posey has had very good games in the past this season. And to top all of this all off, Boston just beat the Houston Rockets, who were on a 22-game win streak before that game, ending the second longest winning streak in NBA history. The Celtics will play good in the playoffs because of their verteran expirience. Everybody is still saying that the Big Three don't have any playoff expirience. Well, do your research. Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Pual Pierce have played in almost 40 playoff series (combined) and that's not adding players like James Posey and Sam Cassell. The Celtics are just a monster, just too good to overcome the first spot from them.
2. Detroit Pistons-49-19, 2nd place
Some critics thought that the Pistons "didn't want the title as much as other teams" such as the Cleveland Indians, Boston Celtics, and Orlando Magic. Well, I think that their hard work in recent wins against the San Antonio Spurs and the Denver Nuggets shut those critics up. The Pistons have been doing really well this season, better than expectations this season because of their great bench. Yes, I admitt that they act like rookie Rodney Stuckey is a superstar (which he's not) but he is still a solid player. Jason Maxiell is one of the best 6th men around, Amir Johnson, Stuckey, and Aaron Affallo have all been consistent rookies, and Jarvis Hayes has been one of the Piston's MVPs this season, he has always been there in the clutch. One of the problems I will have with Detroit in the playoffs will be their questionable desire to win. In quite a few games that they have lost this season, either Flip Saunders, Chauncy Billups, or some other Piston would speak up and say something like "We didn't need to win that game," or "Who cares about that game, that's ancient history." Let's hear them saying that when it's game 7 of the 2nd round of the playoffs, I can just see Chauncey saying it now: "We didn't even want to win that game." Yeah, right, and I would hate to be a billionaire too.
3. Orlando Magic-45-25, 3rd place
The Orlando Magic have been a pleasent surprise this season, sure, the signing of Rashard Lewis ensured them a winning season but nobody expected them to be third in the Eastern Conference at this point. The Magic have another Big Three, like the Celtics, who have flied under the radar quite a bit for some reason. The Big Three is made out of Hedo Turkoglu, Dwight Howard, and Lewis, and who says that the Celtics top this one? Not me, lets compare some stats: 60.8 points per game, 25.8 rebounds per game, and 3.2 blocks per game.
Magic: 60.8 PPG, 25.8 RPG, and 3.2 BPG
Celtics: 57.1 PPG, 18.7 RPG, and 1.9 BPG
Those stats are the stuff that will keep the Magic in the playoffs for a chunk of time. After all, the Magic's Big Three have better stats than the Celtics, and look at what has happened: the Magic have more wins than losses against Boston. The Magic don't have the best of depth and both of their starting guards, Maurice Evans and Jameer Nelson, are not that great. If the Magic's Big Three can control both the offensive play and the defensive, they should have a good finish to the season and a good start to the playoffs.
4. Cleveland Caviliers-39-30, 4th place
The Cleveland Caviliers, unlike the Magic, have beem some sort of a disapointment. Sure, they are still getting the fourth spot in the playoffs, most likely, but that is still disapointing for them. With that said, the Cavs still have a very good chance of upsetting higher seeds in the playoffs. LeBron James won't have to be a one man show anymore thanks to Daniel "Boobie" Gibson improving his skills and also thanks to the deadline trade that sent Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Delonte West, and Wally Szczerbiak to Cleveland. With all of this and King James, you would think that this team would be great but sometimes things like these just happen, like being 10 1/2 games out of the Central Division. In the playoffs, Szczerbiak and James will have to do most of the scoring, with some help from Boobie. Their defense is all set, with Ben Wallace, Zydranus Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Smith, and of course, James, who goes anywhere he will be needed. What the Cavs do need though is more scoring. Szczerbiak, Ilgauskas, and Boobie are all averaging under 14 points per game and they are the second, third, and fourth scoring options on the team. You obviously can't count on Big Ben to do much dunking or shooting, all of that stuff.
5. Washington Wizards-34-33, 6th place
The Washington Wizards have only had a slightly above .500 average for most of the year, maybe not even a .500 average at all, and they are still going to be the 5th or 6th seed for the Eastern Conference. How weird is that? In the Western Conference, they would be 11th right now. All of this was mostly because Gilbert Arenas, a.k.a Agent Zero, was injured for a lot of the season and is just coming back right about now. I am surprised that Caron Butler and Antwan Jamison were able to lead this team so far. When "Hibachi" gets back, so will the third member of the best scoring trio last year, who averaged well over 60 points per game combined. Their whole team, pretty much, is somewhat like a high-tech scoring machine. There strategy is to try to outscore people instead of playing good defense, and that strategy, as we all know, never works in the playoffs, and doesn't work to good in the regular season either, hence, the .500 record. I can't see this team coming out of the first round alive, especially with their weak defense, but don't be too cocky. This is a team that will challenge you, right til the very last game. So, be prepared . . . *supposed to be dramatic*
6. Philidelphia 76ers-34-34, 7th place
Who knew that the 76ers would be in playoff contention after all of their star players have left, Allen Iverson and Chris Webber. Well, the 76ers have done some of their best work in the past few years, thanks to that trade and the help of do-it-all-players Andre Igoudala and Andre Miller. Both are averaging around 18 points per game and around 6 assists per game, pretty good. But the main reason why the 6ers are in this position would have to be because of Samuel Dalermbert. Dalermbert has been one of the few, maybe just the only player on Philidelphia to play good defense consistently. Dalemebert is averaging 10.1 RPG and 2.3 BPG and has put up a strong bid for the Defensive Player of the Year award. The 76ers, however, will not do that great in the playoffs, possibly just the opposite. As I said, the 6ers main players, the two Andre's and Dalembert, have had almost none playoff expirience which will not help at all and they will probably be going up against either a team that has gone to the Eastern Conference Finals five consecutive times, the team with the OTHER Big Three, or the returning Eastern Conference Champions. Take your pick, I just don't see Philidelphia getting past any of those teams.
7. Toronto Raptors-35-33, 5th place
The Toronto Raptor players have been more talented than last year, but still, a big drop-off in wins from 2007 to 2008, unless the Raptors start a 15-game winning streak. The Raptors have Chris Bosh, a feared, young player who has earned respect around the year, and a fabulous point guard rotation which consists of T.J. Ford and Jose Caldreon. This wil all help in the playoffs, as well as Anthony Parker who is averaging 12.7 points per game. So now, you are asking, why did I rank the Raptors so low? Yes, they are fifth in the Eastern Conference right now, but look a little deeper than that. Aactually, save your time, I'll tell you. The Raptors are 2-8 in their last ten games and are on a five-game losing skid. This isn't the kind of momentum you want to bring into the playoffs. If they don't get their wins and losses straightened out before postseason, the Raptors are almost gaurenteed a first round out but if they get a good record going here in the last 15 games of the season, they may have a chance to pull an upset, the talent is already there.
8. Atlanta Hawks-29-39, 9th place
The Atalnta Hawks were also expected to enter the season as a losing team and they are, but they are still in the playoff race. The Eastern Conference is so crazy. The trade dealine deal that send Mike Bibby of Sacramento packing his bags and going to Atlanata really helped them out and Al Harford is having a breakout year. Joe Johnson, although named to an All-Star Game this year, is a really quiet star but his stats show that he should not be that quiet. He is averaging 21.4 points per game and 5.5 assists per game. The problem with the Hawks in the playoffs will be two things, one; they are not a playoff team. If this team gets 35 wins, they will probably make the playoffs and face off against a 60-win candidate. Two; they have too many young players on their team which will result to heartbreaking losses in playoff time. I can't see this team taking a playoff series to six games, let alone going to the second round. Sorry Hawks, but it will be a short trip for you.
Boston Celtics beat Atlanta Hawks in four games to none
Detroit Pistons beat Toronto Raptors in four games to two
Orlando Magic beat Philidelphia 76ers in four games to one
Cleveland Caviliers beat Washington Wizards in four games to two
Boston Celtics beat Cleveland Caviliers four games to three
Orlando Magic beat Detroit Pistons four games to three
Boston Celtics beat Orlando Magic four games to two
1. Los Angeles Lakers-46-21, 2nd place
Many NBA experts thought that the Los Angeles Lakers would hardly sniff a playoff spot this year. Well, after a hot start thanks to Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, and breakout star, Andrew Bynum, the Lakers are one of the best teams in the league this year. That has helped pursue players to come over to LA like Pau Gasol who came in a trade a little bit before the deadline. The Lakers are almost unstoppable now, and they will be the same in the playoffs. Just look at their All-Star starting lineup:
C-Andrew Bynum, 13.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.7 APG
PF-Pau Gasol, 18.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 3.4 APG
SF-Lamar Odom, 13.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 3.3 APG
SG-Kobe Bryant, 28.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.3 APG
PG-Derek Fisher, 12.0 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.4 APG
Decent lineup, eh? They will be able to intimidate teams in the playoffs, I mean, c'mon, who wouldn't be intimidating by Pau Gasol, a 7-foot monster, a scrappy point guard, a good forward, AND Kobe Bryant?
2. New Orleans Hornets-46-21, 1st place
The New Orleans Hornets have another Big Three on their team, like a few other teams in the playoff race. Their Big Three is made up out of Tyson Chandler, David West, and Chris Paul. Chris Paul has been good before but never this good. He has great leadership and he is using every bit of this, plus, he is trying to become the first player ever to have at least 20 points per game, 10 assists per game, and 2 assists per game. Sounds like MVP numbers to me and MVP caliber players don't fall too easily in the playoffs. Just look how far Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and others have came to winning a championship if not winning one at all. The help of David West and Tyson Chandler won't hurt at all either. The Hornets will do fantastic in the playoffs, they have the talent and the leadership. They may be young, but that will just help them surprise people in the playoffs. And youth doesn't really hurt you too much, I guess. Just look at their record again.
3. Phoenix Suns, 45-22, 5th place
Even though the Phoenix Suns are in 5th place, only one game seperates first and fifth, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Suns jump up to 3rd, if not higher. Many people thought that Shaquille O'Neal wouldn't fit in with the Sun's fast, quick offense. Well, they were wrong. Shaq plays like he is comfortable, acts like he is comfortable, and is just plain old comfortable in Phoenix. All he will have to do for the rest of the season and the playoffs is play strong defense, shoot some baskets, but mainly defense. Amare Stroudamare, Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Grant Hill, and Leandro Barbosa should be able to hold their own on scoring. Best of all, Phoenix should be able to do very well in the playoffs, for one thing, they are currently on a five game winning streak, and if they can extend this until the playoffs, they will be focused and have momentum. On ebad thing that may happen in the playoffs is losing. Well, everyone loses but it seems that it is the same old story with Phoenix every year: Win a lot of games then lose to somebody in the playoffs. Hopefully Shaq's expirience can help them erase this trend.
4. San Antonio Spurs-44-23, 6th place
The same old San Antonio Spurs. They aren't the flashiest of teams and always are quiet until the playoffs start. So, they don't need a great seed to make the championship, they could get the 8th seed and I still wouldn't be surprised if they went to the Western Conference Finals. What make the Spurs so good in the playoffs is partly because of their staggering defense which has only allowed 91.3 points per game, thanks to lockdown defender Bruce Bowen. They also have a great offense lead by All-Stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the best 6th man in the world in Man Ginobli, and Michael Finly who still has quite a bit left in the tank. But the thing that will help the Spurs the most in the playoffs would have to be their expirience. They have gone to the playoffs time, after time, after time. One of the few things going against them would be that in the past nine years when they have won four championships, they have yet to win back-to-backs. This is only a disadvantage if you believe in all of that jynx stuff.
5. Utah Jazz-45-24, 4th place
The Utah Jazz have aother Big Three. I know that the "Big Three" is getting kind of cheesy because I've used it a few times, but whatever. Their Big Three is made up of Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur. You also might be able to throw Andrei Kirilenko in there as well. The Utah Jazz have a strategy like the Washington Wizards, try to outscore people. It has been working fairly well for the Jazz this year but I don't know how well it will work in the playoffs. They have been letting up on average 100.1 points per game and this is during the regular season, when they AREN'T facing high-powered offenses 24/7. If they can score 105+ points per game on a consistent basis in the playoffs as they have been doing, they will be able to win some games, but they will also be facing some strong defense too.
6. Houston Rockets-46-22, 3rd place
After going on a 22-game win streak, the Rockets have been winless in their last two games. The loss of Yao Ming is finally starting to catch up with them. Tracy McGrady has been able to lead Houston to a great record, and I have to give him MVP considerations for that, but they are starting to slip. The Rockets will probably do pretty terrible in the playoffs because last year, when they had the 7' 6" monster, they still lost in the first round. Now they are going to have a below average center in place of a key player on the team tha the rest of the team usually depended on. The Rockets have strong defense but Yao gave them the extra defense to keep up with the other elite teams. The Rockets also have strong offense, but again, Yao gave them the offense to keep up wit the other elite teams. The Rockets had a 22-game win streak and you got to give props to that but that will probably be the only thing they will cheer about this season.
7. Golden State Warriors-41-25, 8th place
The Golden State Warriors have overcame a deficit at the beginning of the season and are now one of the best teams in the league. Baron Davis has been a great leader for them and none of the players have had any serious injury issues. I am pretty sure that the Warriors will catch up with Dallas for the 7th spot in the Western Conference then overtake that spot thanks to strong play from their bench players and hopefully from Chris Webber who has been quiet since he got to Golden State. The Warriors feature good, young scoring in Monta Ellis, Stephon Jackson, and David, who have been averaging over 60 points per game combined. When Golden State gets to the playoffs, they will need big games out of players like C-Webb, Matt Barnes, and Mikael Pietrus since Jason Richardson is gone. Without Richardson, don't look for the Warriors to pull off another upset like last year but they are still a young, scrappy team who's expirience last year won't hurt them a bit.
8. Denver Nuggets-40-28, 9th place
No, its not a mistake, I didn't leave the Dallas Mavericks out of this spot by accident, I left them out for various reasons. Well, a big one here is because the Nuggets are well-rounded. They have the scoring in Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, Iverson is also a great playmaker and passer, they have J.R. Smith to make the 3-pointers, Marcus Camby to make the blocks and the rebounds, and they have Nene and Kenyon "K-Mart" Martin's gritty play. This all should result in a playoff spot. The Mavericks will have to help them out a little bit too and thats where I'm going at right now. Since Dallas traded DeSagnia Diop in part of the Jason Kidd trade to New Jersey, the Mavericks have lacked a dfensive threat like Diop. Teams go right ahead and attack the basket because they know this team's weaknesses. The Denver Nuggets will play very well in the playoffs because of their well-rounded play, as I said earlier, and have a good chance of making an upset against a higher seed.
Denver Nuggets over Los Angeles Lakers in four games to three
New Orleans Hornets over Golden State Warriors in four games to one
Phoenix Suns over Houston Rockets four games to one
San Antonio Spurs over Utah Jazz in four games to three
San Antonio Spurs over Denver Nuggets four games to two
Phoenix Suns over New Orleans Hornets four games to three
Phoenix Suns over San Antonio Spurs four games to three
Boston Celtics over Phoenix Suns four games to three