Eastern Conference

NBA Season Preview

October 29, 2001|By Don Markus

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Orlando Magic

Coach: Doc Rivers (84-80 in two seasons)

2000-01 season: 43-39, fourth, lost to Milwaukee in first round of playoffs

Best off-season acquisitions: Patrick Ewing, Horace Grant

Key off-season loss: John Amaechi

What has to go right: The return to health of former All-Star Grant Hill and continued rise of Tracy McGrady and Mike Miller, last year's top rookie, could put the Magic atop the division.

What can go wrong: Warhorses like Ewing and Grant run out of gas at the end of the season, and preseason injuries to Hill (sprained ankle on surgically repaired left foot) and Miller (fractured right foot) slow them too much over the long haul.

Likely scenario: As long as key players get healthy and Rivers keeps getting his team to play as hard as any in the league, the Magic make a strong run for the NBA Finals.

Philadelphia 76ers

Coach: Larry Brown (fifth season, 788-612 in 18 seasons)

2000-01 record: 56-26, first, lost to Los Angeles in NBA Finals

Best off-season acquisitions: Matt Harpring, Derrick Coleman

Key off-season losses: George Lynch, Jumaine Jones, Tyrone Hill, Robert Traylor

What has to go right: Coleman can return near the form he showed in Philly a few years ago while the team overcomes playing without injured guards Aaron McKie and Eric Snow, and possibly reigning Most Valuable Player Allen Iverson, to start the season. Harpring fits into his third team in as many years and Dikembe Mutombo proves worthy of team's $65 million investment after a strong showing against Shaquille O'Neal in Finals.

What can go wrong: Without former team president Pat Croce serving as an everyday buffer between Iverson and Brown, the once-immature point guard and the often-insecure coach start fighting again. Coleman starts eating his way right out of the rotation with a steady diet of Philly cheese-steak sandwiches.

Likely scenario: The Sixers don't get off to the same fast start as they did last year, with 13 of the first 21 games on the road and blue-collar players, such as McKie and Snow, on the sideline. Can't see this team getting by Orlando or Milwaukee in the East.

New York Knicks

Coach: Jeff Van Gundy (238-163 in six seasons)

2000-01 record: 48-34, third, lost to Toronto in first round of playoffs

Best off-season acquisitions: Howard Eisley, Shandon Anderson

Key off-season loss: Glen Rice

What has to go right: Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell continue to be one of the best 1-2 scoring combinations in the league, while Eisley gives the offensive punch that Charlie Ward and Mark Jackson lack at point guard.

What can go wrong: Things have already started going in the wrong direction, with Larry Johnson announcing his retirement. Unless Marcus Camby bulks up or Othella Harrington steps up, the Knicks still don't have anybody to counter Mutombo or Miami's Alonzo Mourning.

Likely scenario: Another first-round loss in the playoffs.

Miami Heat

Coach: Pat Riley (seventh season, 1049-466 in 19 seasons)

2000-01 record: 50-32, second, lost to Charlotte in first round of playoffs

Best off-season acquisitions: Kendall Gill, LaPhonso Ellis, Chris Gatling

Key off-season losses: Anthony Mason, Tim Hardaway, Dan Majerle and Bruce Bowen

What has to go right: Mourning returns to at least near the form that made him one of the top centers in NBA, and plays the entire season. Anthony Carter shows he can run the team full time.

What can go wrong: The recent signing of Rod Strickland proves to be the desperation move it appears to be, tearing an already fractious locker room apart. Mourning tires by midseason and Eddie Jones' shoulder problem prevents him from returning to All-Star form.

Likely scenario: Check with Mourning's doctors before predicting how things will go. Everything from playoff contender to nonparticipant possible.

Boston Celtics

Coach: Jim O'Brien (second season, 24-24 last season)

2000-01 record: 36-46, fifth, missed playoffs

Best off-season acquisitions: Draft picks Joe Johnson, Joseph Forte and Kedrick Brown

Key off-season losses: Bryant Stith, Adrian Griffin

What has to go right: O'Brien has the same kind of success he did after taking over for Rick Pitino, which means that Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker keep playing together while incorporating newcomers Brown, Forte and Johnson into the offense.

What can go wrong: The battle for minutes and shots among the team's many perimeter players brings an end to O'Brien's short reign of success, and Forte shows why he could have used another year at North Carolina.

Likely scenario: The Celtics will battle it out with Indiana, Atlanta and possibly Washington for the last playoff spot in the East.

Washington Wizards

Coach: Doug Collins (first season, 258-197 in six seasons)

2000-01 record: 19-63, seventh, missed playoffs

Best off-season acquisitions: Michael Jordan, draft pick Kwame Brown, free agent Tyronn Lue

Key off-season loss: Mitch Richmond

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