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thebac
02-23-2004, 01:54 PM
Can the Pacers, Nets or Pistons win it all?

It said here in mid-October that none of the 15 teams that make up the Eastern Conference had a shot at winning the NBA championship this season.


Rick Carlisle has the Pacers atop the East, but how will they fare against the West's best?
Yes, David Stern was still going to allow them to compete for the right to get trampled by the best team in the West. But the ending had all of the suspense of Titanic. We already knew who was going to sink into the icy ocean depths at the end.

At the All-Star Game, Stern reiterated that he isn't worried about the shocking disparity between the haves and have nots in the NBA. Calls to re-seed the playoffs 1-16 irrespective of conference have fallen on deaf ears. Yes, the East's elite teams still live on the wrong side of the tracks, but in the wild and tumble NBA, Stern feels change is always just around the corner.

"These things are cyclical," Pacers president Donnie Walsh told Insider back in October. "When the Bulls were dominating, GMs in the East were crying the same thing about the West. Shifts happen. Eventually, free agents who are hungry for a title will look at the West and decide to move East to have a better shot at a title."

Walsh was right. With recent upgrades in Detroit and New York, the leveling appears to have started. But don't get us wrong -- the West is still the conference to beat.

As of this morning, the West had eight teams that were seven or more games over .500. The East? Just three teams -- New Jersey, Indiana and Detroit -- have that distinction.

It gets worse. The East has just two teams (the Pacers and Pistons) with winning records against the West. The West has eleven teams with winning records against the East. The head-to-head records of the top three teams in the East vs. the top five in the West don't look much better. The Pacers are 4-4, which is pretty good. But the Pistons (3-6) and the Nets (1-4) haven't fared so well against the West's elite.

“ The Pistons play great defense and have great guard play. Now you combine 'Sheed with Ben Wallace and [Mehmet] Okur, and you have the makings of team that can beat the best in the West. ”
— A Western Conference GM

So what's the point? Over the past few months several of the best teams in the East have improved. Start with the Pistons, who now have one of the most intimidating front lines in the NBA.

"The Pistons play great defense and have great guard play," one Western Conference GM told Insider. "Now you combine 'Sheed with Ben Wallace and [Mehmet] Okur, and you have the makings of team that can beat the best in the West. I'm not sure they can take down a healthy Lakers or Kings team. But I do believe they'd press them seriously. I also think they've got the firepower to go seven games against the Wolves, Mavs or Spurs at this point."

You can make the same, albeit weaker, arguments for the Pacers and Nets come May. Both teams, in the right match-up against the West, could have a fighting chance. The other most-improved teams -- the Knicks, Bucks and Cavs -- also should be making some real noise come playoff time, though we don't think we're going out on a limb when we say a Finals appearance for any of those three is a serious long shot.

The Leastern Conference has gussied up this season. Give them another year or two and they might just make the Finals more than a ceremonial coronation for the West.

Today, with around 25 games remaining, Insider breaks down its modified predictions for the playoffs. On Tuesday, we'll break down the West.

Ron Artest
Small Forward
Indiana Pacers
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
52 18.0 5.3 3.9 .419 .741


1. Indiana Pacers
Projected Record: 56-26
Current Record: 41-15 (No. 1)
The Pacers didn't make the changes that teams like the Pistons or Knicks did, but the team has matured under the tutelage of new head coach Rick Carlisle. The Pacers sport the best big man in the East in Jermaine O'Neal, and they also have the league's top on-the-ball defender in Ron Artest. His loss for the rest of the season, however, should be a significant blow to Indiana. How will the Pacers reincorporate him into the flow come playoff time? As good as Al Harrington is, he isn't Artest. A so-so bench and a marginal backcourt also could pose problems in the playoffs. Jamaal Tinsley is better this year, but is he good enough to lead Indiana to a championship? Carlisle has found a way to make the Pacers into an athletic, cohesive unit, and that counts for a lot in the postseason. Their huge lead in the standings should make them locks for the No. 1 seed in the East. But come playoff time, watch out for the Pistons.

2. Detroit Pistons
Projected Record: 52-30
Current Record: 34-24 (No. 2)
With the addition of Rasheed Wallace, the Pistons have the balance they need to compete with anyone in the league. 'Sheed will always be a question mark because of his inexcusable mental lapses when his team needs him the most. But if he's focused (and he seems to be right now), he's one of the most dangerous players in the league and gives Detroit something no team in the East has had in years -- a starting front line as big or bigger than anything you'll find in the West.

Kenyon Martin
Power Forward
New Jersey Nets
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
47 17.8 9.7 2.5 .494 .680


3. New Jersey Nets
Projected Record: 50-32
Current Record:34-20 (No. 3)
The Nets, who we all but wrote off a month ago, are rolling under new head coach Lawrence Frank. The team has won 13 straight and is playing with inspiration for the first time all season. The Nets, too, have a player in Kenyon Martin who is turning into a dominant force in the paint (18.7 ppg, 10 rpg in February). And Richard Jefferson's play in February has been even better. His 19.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.7 apg on 55 percent shooting has given the team a huge boost. Kidd, who just didn't play like himself early in the season, is still struggling with his shot (he is shooting just 36 percent from the field in February) but his assist numbers are finally back up in double digits. Does New Jersey have the depth or the front line to go all the way? There are serious questions about their long-term viability, but right now they're the hottest team in the league.

4. New Orleans Hornets
Projected Record: 46-36
Current Record: 30-25 (No. 4)
Once again, injuries have plagued the Hornets all season. They are getting great play from Baron Davis and Jamaal Magloire. And, with the return of Jamal Mashburn, the Hornets finally should be in a position to make a surge. They have great balance between their frontcourt and backcourt, but there always seems to be something missing. This year, a lack of cohesive defensive effort likely will trip them up before they get too far into the playoffs.

Keith Van Horn
Small Forward
Milwaukee Bucks
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
49 16.4 7.3 1.8 .446 .829


5. Milwaukee Bucks
Projected Record: 44-38
Current Record: 29-26 (No. 5)
The surprise team of the year just got stronger with the addition of Keith Van Horn. Now the Bucks can be as lethal offensively as they are defensively. No one's sure what the playoff viability of this team is, though. Van Horn will give them another 20-point-a-night scoring threat, which will take some of the load of Michael Redd. But will the lack of any real inside scoring threat combined with shaky point-guard play kill them come playoff time?

6. New York Knicks
Projected Record: 43-39
Current Record: 26-31 (No. 6)
The Knicks have done more to improve themselves this season than any team in the league. With new additions Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway, Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed on board, the team is more athletic and can now run teams off the floor. Allan Houston's back is still an issue, but we still expect the Knicks to finish strong (17-8?) and give a team like the Nets a run for their money in the playoffs. But we still have to ask the question, Isiah: Do you really believe this team is a Finals contender? While it's easy to like all the moves the Knicks have made, they continue to paint themselves into a corner long-term. If Kurt Thomas gets re-upped this summer, who are they going to trade if they find out this doesn't work?

Lamar Odom
Forward
Miami Heat
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
56 17.0 9.8 4.4 .421 .744


7. Miami Heat
Projected Record: 40-42
Current Record: 25-32 (No. 8)
The Heat are playing really good basketball right now and seem to have the right combination of youthful exuberance and veteran grit to make a nice season-ending run. Lamar Odom has been great, Dwyane Wade has been a revelation, and they've received solid performances from veterans like Brian Grant, Eddie Jones and Rafer Alston. If Stan Van Gundy can ever get Caron Butler back on track, the Heat will be dangerous. But right now, their bench is just a little too thin to make a serious run in the playoffs.

8. Cleveland Cavs
Projected Record: 39-43
Current Record: 22-34 (No. 11)
I think the Raptors or Cavs will take the last spot in the East. Having watched both teams play lately, I don't think it's a stretch to claim Cleveland is really beginning to hit its stride, while the Raptors, mostly due to injuries, are really slipping. As much as it pains me to write this, GM Jim Paxson has done a good job of assembling veteran talent to play with LeBron. Eric Williams and Jeff McInnis have really made an impact, and Carlos Boozer amazes me just about every night. If Zydrunas Ilgauskas can keep playing the way he's been playing lately (18 ppg, 12.6 rpg in his last five), I just don't see how the wounded Raptors can fight them off.

Around the League


Kobe, Shaq and Phil packing their bags? Is Kobe Bryant leaving? Is Shaquille O'Neal getting an extension? Is Phil Jackson ready to walk out? The answers continue to trickle in.
Owner Jerry Buss reiterated that he believes Kobe will be a Laker for life. Kobe's response? "Yeah, I heard that," he told the L.A. Times. "I haven't given it that much thought. I don't play for money. Never have. At the end of the season, I'll evaluate it, but I really can't give you an honest answer."

Shaquille O'Neal
Center
Los Angeles Lakers
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
39 21.3 11.0 3.1 .576 .505


O'Neal's future is murkier. Both sides say they want an extension, but Shaq said he won't take a pay cut, the way Kevin Garnett did, to get it done. "I'm always going to take care of myself and take care of my family," O'Neal told the Times. "Once that time comes, I'm going to do what I'm going to do. I'm not going to take a drastic drop [in salary] just because everybody else [or at least, Kevin Garnett] is taking a drastic drop. It don't work like that. I'm not going to take a drastic drop. [Garnett] should take a drastic drop. I don't have to. I'm proven. I'm like two plus two equals four. I'm proven. You don't need to do no research, you don't need to ask why. My game is proven. And the last four years I've got three of them thangs."

If Kobe and Shaq's futures are in question, no wonder Phil Jackson's not so sure he wants to stick around to begin the slow rebuilding process. Don't forget that both Gary Payton and Karl Malone can opt out of their deals after this season and likely will if Kobe and Jackson don't stick around.

"My deal all along with this club has been how willing are the players to work under the duration of how long I stay and coach?" Jackson said. "It's reciprocal in that direction. If these guys are willing to do the work that's necessary for me to coach, then I have no problem. If they make it difficult for me to coach, then I don't want to put up with it.

Pierce grumbling in Boston: There was a lot of rumbling in GM circles before the trade deadline on Thursday that Celtics star Paul Pierce wasn't untouchable anymore. With Danny Ainge completely overhauling the Celtics, Pierce has suffered the most, and his grumbling has gotten more vocal in the past few weeks.
Paul Pierce
Shooting Guard
Boston Celtics
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
58 23.0 6.5 5.1 .401 .839


Pierce blasted his teammates, and more subtly Ainge, after the Celtics were blown out in Portland on Saturday.

"We don't have no continuity on defense," Pierce told the Boston Globe. "Guys don't know what they're doing. We're just not playing smart. You just don't give yourself a chance. We went away from all the things we learned in training camp, regardless of the coaching change and everything. We went away from everything that we learned, every concept that we've done. We're just throwing it out the window.

"Things changed. Personnel's changed. Coaching's changed. New concepts. It's hard to do when you've got a young team, eight or nine different players, and you try to change things in midseason. It's difficult. I mean, you guys are watching the same thing I see."

Ainge claims he understands the frustration from Pierce and the fans, who have begun chanting "Fire Ainge" at the Fleet Center. "Everybody's frustrated," said Ainge. "But I think I'm in a position where the plan and vision has not been lost on me. But the short-term plan and frustration is not fun for anyone to go through. I anticipated when Jim O'Brien resigned that there was the possibility of it being a long season. I would never use the [term] lost season, because I think there are still things to do. There are things every single player can get better at."

The challenge for the Celtics is how far off the future actually is. There's a decent chance they'll lose starting center Mark Blount in free agency this summer. The Celtics won't have cap room to make a major free-agent signing. They will have their mid-level exception and, if they win the Vin Baker arbitration, they'll have the money to use it. The team also has three first-round draft picks this year, but with two of those in the late 20s, it's unlikely they'll find a player who is able to come in and contribute right away. That means the Celtics might be in the rebuilding mode for the long haul, something Pierce apparently isn't up for.


Rose almost traded: It appears that one more deal "almost" went down before Thursday's trade deadline. According to several sources the Knicks and Spurs had agreed to a Kurt Thomas-for-Malik Rose swap with the Spurs also throwing in a first-round pick. Apparently the teams got all the way to a trade call with the league before the Knicks pulled out at the last second, citing "financial concerns," according to a report in the San Antonio Express-News.

That had to be a killer for the Spurs. Not only would they have moved the unhappy Rose and the remaining five years and $33 million left on his contract. They also would have cleared enough cap room (an extra $5 million) to make a serious run at Kobe Bryant this summer, assuming Thomas opted out of his contract. As it stands now, the team will have enough to re-sign Emmanuel Ginobili and perhaps one more free agent, but they won't have the cash to max anyone out.

What were the Knicks thinking? After Isiah Thomas went out of his way to praise Thomas and talked openly about signing him to an extension, why would he be willing to take back an inferior player with a much nastier contract? It sounds like the Knicks came to their senses just in the nick of time.

Stromile Swift
Forward-Center
Memphis Grizzlies
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
50 9.6 5.2 0.5 .489 .710



West keeps his grip on Swift: We reported here last week that the major hold-up in an Erick Dampier-to-Memphis swap was the Warriors insistence that Shane Battier be included in the trade. Now comes word from several GMs that West also was unwilling to let Stromile Swift go. Several executives said they tried to pry away Swift and couldn't get West to budge.

Sonics forced to wait: By all accounts, Sonics GM Rick Sund was very active as the trade deadline approached, trying to broker a deal that would land the team a power forward. Talks with the Hawks (for Shareef Abdur-Rahim) fell apart when Atlanta decided to clear cap space instead. The Sonics also pursued Kwame Brown, Donyell Marshall, Eddy Curry and Stromile Swift, but the Wizards, Raptors, Bulls and Grizzlies weren't willing to let them go. Look for the Sonics to try something again this summer, including Jerome James (who will be in the last year of his contract), Vladimir Radmanovic and their No. 1 pick. The team knows it still needs help on the front line but only wants to make a move if it can land a promising young four or five in return.

Jackson leaving Atlanta? Stephen Jackson told the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday that he will not pick up the option on the second year of his two-year, $2.1 million deal with the Hawks. "I'm free after this year," Jackson said. "I'm totally free. I don't know if I'm going to be here next year or not. I know I'll have a job somewhere next year. No matter what, I'm going to be happy."

Peep Show

New York Knicks: Guess you can blame the latest Knick loss on Stephon Marbury's mom. "You can't shoot the ball well all the time," said Marbury in the New York Daily News. "You can't make every layup. My mother always said, 'If you win all the time, nobody ain't ever going to want to play with you.' We have to take it in stride." But you can blame Marbury's next miss on the science teacher. "I think as a whole we all are missing. It wasn't just myself," Marbury said. "I don't care if I miss 30 times in a row. I'm going to take the next shot, just like I took the first one. There's no pressure on me to score. I love scoring just as much as I love passing. Someone else has to step up. Our chemistry is off."

Houston Rockets: It's hurts so good for Yao Ming after scoring a career-high 41 points in triple overtime against the Hawks Sunday night. "I felt very tired, to the point that I felt numb," Yao said in the Houston Chronicle. "But I had to force myself to keep going. The feeling of being tired is a bad feeling, but the feeling of losing is even worse." It was the longest NBA game in almost three seasons. "I'm tired as hell," Cuttino Mobley said. "We started off kind of sour, they stayed with us. We had to pull it out, we had to find a way. Sometimes there's games like that. Sometimes you blow a team out like last week (against Washington) and sometimes you've got to fight. I'm just glad we didn't give up."

Detroit Pistons: With Rasheed Wallace in the fold, who's going to be the odd man out of the starting lineup? "I don't want to get caught up in starting lineups," head coach Larry Brown said in the Detroit News. "Memo [Okur] is going to start some and Tayshaun [Prince] is going to start some. I've never done that before. I like to keep it consistent. But for the time being, this is the way we're going to go." And Brown wasn't quite sure, either, how his team could lose to the Magic, the worst team in the NBA. "We're just kind of snake-bit," Brown said. "I have to do a better job. We have found some incredible ways to lose games this year."

Philadelphia 76ers: Allen Iverson may miss an occasional practice, but it sounds like it's going to take more than a sore shoulder to keep him out of a game. "The X-rays were negative, but he does have soreness, and range of motion is a problem for him now, but when game-time comes he usually gets out there," coach Chris Ford said in the Philadelphia Daily News. "We'll have to wait and see." Already missing from the lineup will be Derrick Coleman and Mark Jackson, who will both be out for at least two more weeks.

Seattle SuperSonics: When is a star not really a star? The Sonics want to know. "If it's a star league, and I think we all can agree on that, then why isn't our All-Star getting calls?" guard Antonio Daniels asked in the Seattle Times. "The other night, we played Allen Iverson, and he gets to the line 21 times. ... Ray gets to the line 21 times in a week. That's not right." And Ray Allen isn't going quietly, either. "It won't be anything for me to call him and voice my complaints," he said about phoning vice-president Stu Jackson. "I've done that before in Milwaukee. We've gone through similar stretches in our schedule where it seems like the refereeing was just like they had some type of hang-ups against us. Last night was ridiculous. ... And I want to tell him so."

scorched03
02-23-2004, 06:00 PM
cheers to thebac for continually making cool posts like this i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif
danke

seelenjaeger
02-23-2004, 08:08 PM
"We're just kind of snake-bit," Brown said. "I have to do a better job. We have found some incredible ways to lose games this year."


Nice one Larry.

MightyToine
02-23-2004, 09:21 PM
The challenge for the Celtics is how far off the future actually is. There's a decent chance they'll lose starting center Mark Blount in free agency this summer. The Celtics won't have cap room to make a major free-agent signing. They will have their mid-level exception and, if they win the Vin Baker arbitration, they'll have the money to use it. The team also has three first-round draft picks this year, but with two of those in the late 20s, it's unlikely they'll find a player who is able to come in and contribute right away. That means the Celtics might be in the rebuilding mode for the long haul, something Pierce apparently isn't up for.


Any way the Mavs could nab Pierce? He'd make an excellent bench player.... i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif

bernardos70
02-23-2004, 10:14 PM
I smell a Walker for Pierce trade in the works i/expressions/moon.gif

Fidel
02-23-2004, 11:08 PM
Notice how they´ve got every team of their top eight playing over .500 ball from now on. And not only slighly over .500. To me that´s a bit unrealistic, at least for the bottom four teams listed. The Cavs going 17-9? The Heat going 15-10? And the Knicks did improve their roster, but 17-8?

Also what makes them think the Pistons will only lose 6 more games from this point? The great start with Sheed? Or their recent 10 game stretch?

Jamisonite
02-24-2004, 12:20 AM
Originally posted by: thebac
Can the Pacers, Nets or Pistons win it all?


The challenge for the Celtics is how far off the future actually is. There's a decent chance they'll lose starting center Mark Blount in free agency this summer. The Celtics won't have cap room to make a major free-agent signing. They will have their mid-level exception and, if they win the Vin Baker arbitration, they'll have the money to use it. The team also has three first-round draft picks this year, but with two of those in the late 20s, it's unlikely they'll find a player who is able to come in and contribute right away. That means the Celtics might be in the rebuilding mode for the long haul, something Pierce apparently isn't up for.


I guess these guys know nothing about Josh Howard or Carlos Boozer

Plenty of guys get drafted late and become great players

captain_kingsfan
02-24-2004, 01:20 AM
I don't think the Pacers will make it to the NBA finals because Artest's injury is going to hurt them. The Pistons might have a shot at it, though.