Eastern Conference Power Rankings
1. Boston 41-9. Basketball is back in the Hub City, thanks to The Big Ticket and Jesus Shuttlesworth arriving in town. The Celtics had an amazing start to the season and are the only team left with less than ten losses. The Big 3 have done their job, but what has made this team formidable is the development of young guns like Rajon Rondo and Big Baby Davis as well as the veteran presence of Eddie House and James Posey. Questions remain however. Can the 3 big veterans stay healthy and have enough energy for a big postseason push? And will Rondo be good enough to carry the Celtics to the finals?
2. Detroit 39-13. Probably the most underrated team of the season so far. While Boston has gotten all the recognition, the Pistons are knocking on their doorstep while primed for a 60 win season. By integrating a much more solid bench along with the usual suspects in the starting lineups, Detroit will not only be fresher heading into the playoffs but have more matchups to exploit against the other teams in the east thanks to the larger and better rotation.
3. Orlando 33-21. Nobody better doubt Stan Van Gundy's coaching prowess after this season. After unfairly getting run out of Miami, and being the Magic's 2nd choice behind Billy Donovan, Stan the Man has only led the Magic to the division lead while helping develop players like Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu into all-star level contributors. They probably don't have enough to knock off the big 2, but they are set up to be one of the premier teams in the east for the next decade.
4. Cleveland 29-23. Want to know the difference between Lebron James and Dwyane Wade? Its being able to win 20 more games with little or no support behind you. While James has been the MVP of the league so far, he is going to need help from someone else on the squad to get this team anywhere near the playoffs. The Cavs either need to start Daniel Gibson, trade for Andre Miller, or hope that Varejao learned a jump shot while being hurt to have any chance of knocking off the top three teams in the east.
5. Toronto 28-23. The Raptors haven't been bad this year, but they have been dissapointing. After last year's breakthrough season, people were expecting them to be more than 5 games over .500 in the weak EC. The Rap Show does have the talent to make a push in the second half, but their just doesnt seem to be the same energy with the squad this year compared to last.
6. Washington 25-27. The Wizards limped into the All-Star Break, losing 8 of their last 10 games, but to be only 2 games under .500 with as many injuries as they've had is still impressive. If Agent Zero can assimilate in with the other guys when he comes back healthy, the Wiz may be the only team capable of pulling an upset in the first round of the playoffs.
7. Atlanta 21-28. The bottom of the Eastern Conference is so bad, that one trade could push any team into the playoffs. It looks like the Hawks got the jump by adding Mike Bibby who will help give a young team some leadership and some much improved point guard play.
8. Philadelphia 23-30. The Sixers are only going here because they finished the first half on a 5 game winning streak. But if they end up holding onto Andre Miller for the whole season, is there really anyone with the talent below them to pass them?
9. Chicago 21-31. The Bulls have been one of the biggest dissapointments in the entire league so far and yet they are only a game and a half out of the 8th spot. Maybe if Luol Deng can get healthy and Gordon and Hinrich make some jump shots they can salvage a lost season.
10. New Jersey 23-30. Nobody knows what this team will look like a week from now if Jason Kidd and Vince Carter get traded. What we do know is that they were a monumental dissapointment this season and blowing this team up and starting over is definitely the right move to make.
11. Indiana 21-32. Jermaine O'Neal continues to be a bitch, but the Pacers have actually been better than most thought. Mike Dunleavy and Danny Granger have thrived in Jim O'Brien's 3-point system, but there isnt much else to inspire fan support in Indy.
12. Milwaukee 19-34. For the talent they have, this team should be better. If Michael Redd and Mo Williams can stay healthy, this could be the team to go on a run in the 2nd half and sneak into the 8th seed in the east.
13. Charlotte 19-34. Drafting Emeka Okafor over Dwight Howard sure does look bad in hindsight doesn't it. As does drafting Sean May, Adam Morrison and re-signing Matt Carroll. This team should have never been created in the first place.
14. New York 15-37. One of the biggest disgraces in the league. They have some decent players, but none of them have the motivation to be any good. The best the Knicks fans can do is look forward to Lebron possibly joining their team in three years.
15. Miami 9-42. A flat out embarassment. I don't care how bad your teammates are, if you are as good as Dwyane Wade is, shouldn't your team have more than 9 wins? They'll probably just pack it in from here and hope for Michael Beasley in the draft.
3 Key Players in the 2nd half to watch
1. Kevin Garnett. KG has made a huge difference in Boston this year, bringing a winning attitude and unmatched intensity to a team that desperately needed it. The problem is that he has an abdominal injury that takes a long time to heal. While he did the right thing and rested it, there's no guarantee the injury won't flare up again. With KG in the lineup, the Celts can win the east. Without him, there's no way they're beating Detroit in a 7 game series.
2. Dwight Howard. The star of the all-star game now has the pressure to carry his team into the playoffs for the first time. While the tempest with his coach over playing defense seems to have passed, its a lot to ask of such a young player to lead his team on a deep run into the playoffs. But after seeing him this weekend, don't you feel that its at least possible?
3. Gilbert Arenas. Thanks to the weakness of the conference, the Wizards are still in good shape to make the playoffs even though Hibachi has missed the last 40 games. If he can come back healthy, the Wizards are going to have as much talent as any team in the east besides the top two, and could possibly make a run in the soft eastern conference.
Young Swole's 2nd half prediction
Its pretty safe to say that the Celtics and Pistons aren't going anywhere. What is to be seen though is what teams below them are going to step up. Can Lebron get any help in Cleveland? Can the Raptors make a 2nd half push, and can any on the bottom teams make a push to become a solid team? While Swole looks for the Wizards, Raptors and Hawks to have good 2nd halfs, there's no way the Conference final isn't going to be Celtics and Pistons. There's no other team remotely close to these two and this will be evident until they finally clash late in May.