Looking ahead to the 2011-2012, Take No Prisoners Sports will preview the Eastern Conference.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Boston Celtics (56-26 last season/ Division winner)– The Celtics will benefit the most from a short season. If the “Big Four” (Rondo, Pierce, Allen and Garnett) can stay relatively healthy, they can make a run at title number 18. The amount of back-to-back games will be challenging for Boston. Boston’s experience will be an advantage as they will capture another Atlantic Division crown.

New Jersey Nets (24-58 last season)– New Jersey has a lot at stake before they move to Brooklyn. If they don’t get Dwight Howard, it’s a good chance that they will lose Deron Williams. No disrespect to Brook Lopez but he isn’t a player that teams want to build around. The advantage of having salary cap flexibility can also be a detriment if they can’t land a player of Howard’s stature. The uncertainty of this team’s future will ultimately kill its team’s chances of competing for a playoff spot.

New York Knicks (42-40) – How scary is New York’s front court, now that they have Tyson Chandler ruling the paint? I’d say very scary. Add that with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire playing a full season with the club and you have a formidable front court. Now the back court is a different story. Mike Bibby is the projected starter. Landry Fields will try to bounce back from a horrible post season. Finally, who knows when Baron Davis will return from his back injury? This team will score but how well they play defense will determine this team’s success.

Philadelphia 76ers (41-41)– Philadelphia is a team that will compete night in night out. However, competitiveness alone won’t win most games. Philly lacks an inside presence, as well as a consistent deep threat. With that said, the 76ers are good enough to reach the playoffs as a seven or eight seed.

Toronto Raptors (22-60)– Toronto will have the same issues that plagued them last year and the year before and the year before….Poor defense, lack of outside shooting, inexperience and turnovers. A recipe for a bad season.

CENTRAL DIVISION

Chicago Bulls (62-20 last season/ Division winner)– Coming off 62 wins last season, the Chicago Bulls was a pleasant surprise. League MVP Derrick Rose agreed to a five-year extension  with the Bulls….Carlos Boozer is fully healthy…..Richard “Rip” Hamilton is signed…..Joakim Noah will control the boards and second year head coach Tom Thibodeau will have his team working on all cylinders defensively. Look for the Bulls to be more competitive in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat!

Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63 last season)– Attention Dan Gilbert! You don’t have LeBron anymore! Get over it! Time to move on! Cavs fans will have little joy this season even though they should improve from last season. Rookies Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson are the future. With enough cap room to acquire quality players, Dan Gilbert should learn from his mistakes and not put all of his eggs in one basket as he did with LeBron James.

Detroit Pistons (30-52 last season)– Detroit’s future isn’t very promising. The Ben Gordon/Charlie Villanueva experiment has failed. Ben Wallace is washed up. Tashaun Prince is playing at a fraction of what he used to be. The ability to rebuild isn’t a reality for this team, mainly due to bad contracts to players who aren’t playing well.

Indiana Pacers (37-45 last season)– The Indiana Pacers are one of those teams that have great potential but lacks leadership. Small Forward Danny Granger is an excellent player. But is he the player that can take a team to the finals and win it? Probably not. David West was a great acquisition. When healthy, West is a handful in the low block. He also will provide toughness to this group. The Pacers shouldn’t have any problems reaching the playoffs this season.

Milwaukee Bucks (35-47 last season) – This team will live or die with Andrew Bogut. His health will be key. Stephen Jackson is a great fit for Milwaukee. Brandon Jennings is the point but he’s really a two guard and the Bucks are definitely in need of a point guard.

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

Atlanta Hawks (44-38 last season)– Atlanta would like to build on what they accomplished in the playoffs last season by knocking out the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs. Compensating for the lost of Jamal Crawford via free agency will be a huge challenge for the Hawks. Look for Atlanta to finish in second place in the division and a possible 5 seed in the playoffs.

Charlotte Bobcats (34-48 last season)–  Charlotte is in rebuilding mode. Rookies Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo are good prospects for the future. Bobcat fans will have to be patient as team owner Michael Jordan is looking at all avenues to cut team costs. Good Luck!

Miami Heat **(58-24 last season/Division winner)– Anything less than a title this season will be a complete failure for head coach Eric Spoelstra and the Miami Heat. No excuses! In fact, Miami has been under the radar entering this season, a far cry from a season ago. A shorten 66 games season should favor the reigning Eastern Conference champs. Newly acquired small forward Shane Battier is a huge asset. His perimeter defense is underrated. Barring any major injuries, the Heat will make another NBA Finals appearance. Will they be good enough to defeat the team representing the West in the Finals? That remains to be seen.

Orlando Magic (52-30 last season)– The main topics of discussion this season for Orlando is…..When are they going to trade Dwight Howard and to which team?

Washington Wizards (23-59 last season)– Got to love those new Wizards uniforms! Reminds you of the Ole’ Bullets days. As for Washington’s hope for a playoff berth this season…probably not. However, I predict that the “Wiz kids” will collect more wins than last season.

** Conference Champions

By Keith Madyun

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