NBA Preview

November 02, 1999|By Knight Ridder/Tribune

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics

Coach: Rick Pitino: 3rd season (145-151 in 4 NBA seasons overall, 55-77 with Celtics)

Last season: 19-31, missed playoffs

Strengths: Small forward Antoine Walker and swingman Paul Pierce are two of the best young players in league. Point guard Kenny Anderson still has talent to be one of the best in league, but isn't.

Weaknesses: Pick any position on frontcourt where Walker isn't. Centers Andrew DeClercq and Vitaly Potapenko incite little fear or respect. Combine tenacious Danny Fortson (6-7) and underachiever Tony Battie's height (6-11) and Celtics would have an All-Star power forward.

Analysis: The multimillion-dollar "Boy Genius" has yet to bring any of that Kentucky Big Blue magic to Celtics green. Ricky P's system is strictly for college; he doesn't have enough good players and the good ones he does have don't like him. Pressure mounts as Celtics again fail to make playoffs.

Miami Heat

Coach: Pat Riley: 5th season (947-404 in 17 NBA seasons, 191-105 with Heat)

Last season: 33-17, Atlantic Division co-champions, lost in first round

Strengths: Alonzo Mourning (20.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg) is the best center in the Eastern Conference and is coming off MVP-caliber season. P. J. Brown emerged as one of top power forwards in league.

Weaknesses: Backcourt, especially if aging Tim Hardaway can't regain All-Star form after injury-marred season. Voshon Lenard and ancient Dan Majerle are top two guards only because Riley still can't acquire a real one after four seasons of trying. Letting Terry Porter go to San Antonio was big-time mistake.

Analysis: Pressure is on Heat. Two straight first-round playoff exits to the New York Knicks puts now-or-never aura over the three-time defending Atlantic Division champs.

New Jersey Nets

Coach: Don Casey: 2nd season (54-102 in 3 NBA seasons, 13-17 in half-season with Nets)

Last season: 16-34, missed playoffs

Strengths: Dynamic point guard Stephon Marbury, versatile small forward Keith Van Horn and silky swingman Kerry Kittles are best under-25 nucleus around.

Weaknesses: Center Jayson Williams' broken right leg was a devastating blow last season, and no one knows for sure when he'll be 100 percent. Jim McIlvaine, Gheorghe Muresan and geriatric Michael Cage don't even make a good center by committee.

Analysis: Team has entirely too much talent not to make the playoffs. Marbury is there for entire season, and if Williams and Kittles recover fully from injuries, Nets could win 50 games.

New York Knicks

Coach: Jeff Van Gundy: 5th season (140-97 with Knicks)

Last season: 27-23, lost in NBA Finals

Strengths: Swingmen Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston and forward Marcus Camby all blossomed when Patrick Ewing went down with Achilles' injury. The Knicks actually have an offense that can run and score.

Weaknesses: Even before he got hurt, Ewing was fading. Chris Dudley isn't viable option. Power forward Larry Johnson's chronic back makes him a decade older than he is. Neither point guard Charlie Ward nor Chris Childs can play.

Analysis: It's a frightening thought when your success depends on the wildly unpredictable Sprewell. Still no matter what craziness may or may not come, the Knicks have too much talent and depth not to at least make the playoffs.

Orlando Magic

Coach: Doc Rivers: 1st season

Last season: 33-17, Atlantic Division co-champions, lost in first round

Strengths: At least NBA sixth man and most-improved player Darrell Armstrong is back. Second-year men Matt Harpring and Michael Doleac could blossom with more playing time.

Weakness: The trades of Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson, Ike Austin and Horace Grant leave the Magic with little more than building blocks. Rivers has never coached before.

Analysis: The Magic could be this year's version of the Chicago Bulls -- first to worst. Every move from the trades to coach Chuck Daly retiring was made to rebuild.

Philadelphia 76ers

Coach: Larry Brown: 3rd season (683-553 in 16 NBA seasons, 229-107 in four ABA seasons, 59-73 with Sixers)

Last season: 28-22, lost in Eastern Conference semifinals

Strengths: Electrifying guard Allen Iverson is reigning NBA scoring champion, and there's no reason to believe he won't be ready for an encore. When healthy, shot-blocker Theo Ratliff is one of the top defensive presences.

Weaknesses: Injuries to Ratliff and center Matt Geiger have devastated a frontcourt that already had offensive questions. Sixers still have no one who can consistently make a three-pointer.

Analysis: Iverson is "The Answer," but the Sixers' hopes for returning to the playoffs depend on how well second-year guard Larry Hughes has improved and whether know-their-role players such as point guard Eric Snow, forward George Lynch and forward Tyrone Hill can give even more than last year.

Washington Wizards

Coach: Gar Heard: 1st season (9-44 in 1 NBA season)

Last season: 18-32, missed playoffs

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