Ever since the acquisition of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and the re-signing of Dwyane Wade in the summer of 2010, the Miami Heat have ruled the Eastern Conference. Miami has won the Eastern Conference three seasons in a row, and have won the NBA Championship each of the last two seasons, however it’s time to look at which teams have the chance to take down the Heat and represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals this season.
The Bulls are finally healthy again. On Tuesday, Derrick Rose will play in his first meaningful game since Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs when he tore his ACL against the Philadelphia 76ers, a series the Bulls went on to lose. Most believe that when fully healthy, the Bulls present the biggest threat to the Heat in the East. One reason is that they have size. With Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah up front for the Bulls, they have been able to bully Chris Bosh and the undersized Miami front court. Chicago plays a tough, physical style, something Miami tends to struggle with. They also have another thing that separates them from some of the other contenders, and that is a closer at the end of the game. Derrick Rose has proven time and time again that he not only will take the big shots, but he will make them as well. However, the one thing that could keep the Bulls from defeated Miami has been the one thing that continues to elude them and that is the lack of a secondary scorer. Sure, Luol Deng is good for sixteen points a night, but he’s not the type of player that can create his own shot. When Rose gets double and triple teamed, who can the Bulls count on to consistently pick up the slack? The answer is nobody and that is what will ultimately keep the Bulls from taking over the East.
Indiana is fresh off a hard-fought seven game series defeat at the hands of Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and they’re back for revenge. Paul George solidified himself as a star in this league last year and the thinking is that he will only get better. Much like Chicago, the Pacers boast great size up front. Roy Hibbert dominated the Heat in that series last year, and David West can consistently give you fifteen to twenty points and eight to ten rebounds a night. Danny Granger is also expected to be back this season, however with the emergence of Paul George and Lance Stephenson, the question is whether the Pacers will look to deal Granger. The Pacers style models that of the Bulls and that is why they have given the Heat some trouble in the postseason the last two seasons. However, like the Bulls, they also have flaws. Indiana really struggled with turnovers last season, and against a team like Miami, you can’t give them fifteen to twenty easy points a night. While they did pick up Luis Scola and C.J. Watson to improve their bench, it is still not at the level of Miami, Chicago, or even Brooklyn. A team needs to be able to rely on their second unit to keep them in the game, and the Pacers don’t have that with their bench.
The new and improved Brooklyn Nets are coming off a somewhat disappointing first season in Brooklyn. A first round exit at the hands of the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls got interim coach P.J. Carlesimo fired and General Manager Billy King decided to make some player changes as well. Gone are Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, and Kris Humphries and in are Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry. When Doc Rivers bolted for Los Angeles, the Celtics new it was time to rebuild, and the Nets jumped at the possibility of getting proven winners. Garnett gives them grit and passion that was severely lacking last year for the Nets, and even at age 37, is a significant upgrade to Reggie Evans at power forward. Paul Pierce not only gives them a proven scorer, but he has also made a living in this league as a big shot maker, and while Joe Johnson was very clutch last season, Pierce gives them another option to go to at the end of games. One issue that could potentially plague this team is health. As mentioned KG is getting up there in years, and Deron Williams is currently battling an ankle injury, something that plagued him for most of last year as well. Another question mark for the Nets is at head coach. Yes Jason Kidd is one of the smartest basketball players we’ve ever seen, but is he really ready to become a head coach in his first year out of the league. Obviously Erik Spoelstra is a proven coach, but Chicago and Indiana also have championship caliber coaches in Tom Thibodeau and Frank Vogel, respectively. Obviously veterans like Garnett, and Pierce will help the transition but you do have to wonder how succesful Kidd will be as a head coach.
There are a few other teams that could’ve made this last, but out of all the teams in the East, these three teams have the best chance of knocking off two-time defending champion Miami. It should be a fun season.