NBA Eastern Conference Preview: 1st and 2nd Seeds

It’s Saturday, the World Series is set and there’s really only one good college football game, so take some time and read our NBA Previews.

We’re down to the final two seeds of the Eastern Conference, and one is a no-brainer, and the other is outrageous considering their starting unit has never played a regular season minute together. When we look at the East, though, and think about how easy it is to climb the ladder, the idea that one of these teams can ascend all the way into the top two isn’t absolutely crazy. All it takes is a little bit of talent, some hard work, and a handful of championship experience.

  1. Miami Heat

chris-bosh-spencer-hawes-nba-miami-heat-philadelphia-76ers-850x560

Last Year’s Finish: 10th

Projected Starting Lineup:

Point Guard: Goran Dragic
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade
Small Forward: Luol Deng
Power Forward: Chris Bosh
Center: Hassan Whiteside

6th Man: Gerald Green / Justise Winslow

Last year, Chris Bosh missed the second half of the season because of blood clots in his lungs. Wade missed a handful of playing time for the usual knee issues. Whiteside didn’t really come into his own until halfway through the year, and Dragic wasn’t a member of the team until Bosh had already gone down. This starting five has not played a single regular season minute together… but what a starting five. Goran can run an offense; Wade, while not as prolific, is as efficient as ever; Deng is a solid glue guy; Bosh is a top 20 player, top 5 at his position, and can spread the floor; and Whiteside was the best defensive center in the league in limited time last year.

I’m most excited about the Dragic-Bosh pick and roll game. How are opposing defenses going to switch appropriately when you still have to cover Hassan Whiteside down low? That’s ignoring the possibility that Dwyane Wade might be having a 20+ point game!

While most teams need an adjustment period, and I fully expect there to be an adjustment, most teams don’t have a President and Head Coach that’s been there before. Where the Heat no longer have LeBron, they have a shit ton of depth. So much that my only concern is… how are they going to decide who makes the rotation?

Let’s look at their B-unit. Mario Chalmers, Gerald Green, Justise Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Amar’e Stoudemire. That’s a starting lineup for less fortunate teams in the NBA. That’s a Phoenix Sun / Charlotte Hornet style lineup. Oh, and they still have fan favorites in Haslem and Birdman. I imagine McRoberts gets the nod over Amar’e and that Green and Winslow take time away from Chalmers… but what a nice problem to have.

As always, it will come down Miami’s ability to stay healthy, and maybe injuries will decide who falls in and out of that top eight rotation.

X-Factor?

At what point in his career does Dwyane Wade suck it up and pull a Manu Ginobli? I have been a fan of his for a long time, but when Miami gave Goran Dragic a five-year contract, they were making an investment for the future. Have you watched Dragic run down the court? Wade can’t keep up, but you know who can? Gerald Green.

If Spoelstra can muster the balls to do so, he might have to bench Wade for Green, just for the sake of getting the most out of that Dragic-Bosh-Whiteside trio. Then you have Wade coming in, dominating the ball for your second unit, and an easy pick for 6th Man of the Year. That’s a Championship team.

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Cavaliers at Wizards 11/21/14
Cavaliers at Wizards 11/21/14

Last Year’s Finish: 2nd

Projected Starting Lineup:

Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
Shooting Guard: J.R. Smith
Small Forward: LeBron James
Power Forward: Kevin Love
Center: Timofey Mozgov

6th Man: Iman Shumpert / Mo Williams / Tristan Thompson

I mean, why wouldn’t they finish on top? Sure, they’ll rest LeBron throughout the season, and you never know how Kyrie is actually going to play, but they lost Kevin Love and Kyrie and still managed to defeat a 60-win team on their way to a trip to the Finals.

I still think they play way too much iso-ball to win a championship, depending on who comes out of the West, and we can’t make much of David Blatt until we see at least one more season of him as Head Coach. But until he really falls apart, why bet against LeBron?

Just as the Heat do, the Cavaliers have a really solid B-Unit assuming everyone can stay healthy. Mo Williams, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao. Another Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings type starting lineup.

My worries mostly come from my suspicion that David Blatt will not be doing much play calling throughout the year, and that Kyrie won’t average more than four assists per game. Defensively they turned it up when they needed to, but say they face a healthy Miami team in the conference finals, or maybe even a Wizards team, both of which will run a pace & space / pick & roll type offense… the Cavaliers might not have enough basketball saavy outside of LeBron to make a repeat trip.

X-Factor?

Coaching. Simple as that. They have the talent, they have the depth, but give the ball on the wing and moving everyone out of the way is not the way to win a championship. Kyrie can score, he can handle the ball, but can he hesitate around a pick and read a defense to see where the open man is? I’m not so sure, at least not the way Steph Curry, Chris Paul or John Wall can.

The Cavaliers need to run plays this year. Real basketball plays. Spoelstra doesn’t get enough credit for what he did in Miami, and David Blatt is going to have to have his Spoelstra moment this year if Cleveland is going to elevate their game to championship level.

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