, With the NBA season having started Tuesday night, it is time for a preview of the what the Eastern Conference could look like come playoff time. Following an offseason of drastic changes for teams like the Nets, New York Knicks, and Philadelphia 76ers, along with the big injury to Derrick Rose, the battle for the right to take on the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals is wide open. So we begin Nets101's early preview of The Top Eight Teams of The Eastern Conference.
1. Miami Heat- Hard to argue when the trio of Dwayne Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosh are now joined by veteran three point sniper Ray Allen. This spot is there's until proven otherwise.
2. Boston Celtics- They did a fantastic job of signing Jason Terry and drafting Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger after losing Allen, one of the vaunted Big Three. Along with resigning Jeff Green, and the continued rise of Rajon Rondo, this team has a solid foundation for the future to go with Paul Pierce and KG, but they are still a ways behind the Heat.
3. Indiana Pacers- Roy Hibbert and Paul George are on the rise, but losing Danny Granger could be a hinderance for a team that didn't have one major ailment last season.
4. Brooklyn Nets- They've put together, arguably, one of the best starting lineups in the league, health will be key (and this news is a bit concerning), but the big "X" factor will be the play of their second unit. If second year man MarShon Brooks, veteran castoff Andray Blatche, and import Mirza Teletovic can provide energy, scoring, and complement the Big Five, the Nets could challenge the Celtics for the Division, and a higher playoff seed.
5. Philadelphia 76ers- This team made it to the Conference Semifinals last year, largely on the strength of a core of young players built over years through the draft including; Jrue Holliday, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, Evan Turner, Lavoy Allen and veteran Elton Brand. Nick Young, Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright, and Royal Ivey will replace Iguodala, Williams, Meeks, and Brand, with Star Center Andrew Bynum being the big addition to this lineup, making it a potential force. But with Bynum possibly missing the beginning of the season, will the new additions be able to gel with the returning members of this team to form a cohesive unit could be the overriding theme for this season.
6. Chicago Bulls- The big challenge for this team will be getting through much of the season without their Superstar, Derrick Rose. Kirk Hinrich will be the starter at the point, and he's a steady floor general, but the key will be if Rip Hamilton, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer can carry the team until Rose can come back. If Joakim Noah could ever develop an offensive game, that definitely wouldn't hurt, either.
7. New York Knicks- Injuries and old age are going to be two problems going forward for the Knicks this year, as Amare Stoudemire is already expected to miss six weeks, rather than the original three weeks he was expected to miss, and Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby are also dinged up with minor ailments. Bringing in five players over the age of 35 this offseason, one has to wonder if this team will be able to hold up during the course of the season.
8. Atlanta Hawks- This will be the highly contested spot in the East, as the top seven teams are basically set, baring something unforeseen. The Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards could make this interesting at times this season, but right now, Josh Smith and Al Horford are healthy, and while losing Joe Johnson will hurt, the Hawks did a good job of adding guard and wing depth in Lou Williams, Anthony Morrow, Kyle Korver, Devin Harris and rookie John Jenkins, while still retaining their young point guard Jeff Teague. They might even challenge for a higher seed, depending on the fortunes of teams like the Knicks and Bulls.
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