Eastern Conference

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October 29, 2002|By Milton Kent

(Teams listed in predicted order of finish)

Atlantic Division

New Jersey Nets

Coach: Byron Scott (78-86 in two seasons)

2001-02 season: 52-30, Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference champions.

Big offseason pickups: C Dikembe Mutombo, F Rodney Rogers

Key offseason losses: F Keith Van Horn, C Todd MacCulloch

In a perfect world ... : Jason Kidd continues to be the best point guard in the league, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin form the best young forward duo in the East and Mutombo is the missing presence in the middle that gets the Nets back to the Finals.

Nightmare scenario: Mutombo shows his age and slows the works, no one matches Van Horn's outside prowess and Kidd thinks about leaving as a free agent at season's end.

Likely outcome: The Nets get back to the Finals, but still can't beat the Lakers.

Orlando Magic

Coach: Doc Rivers (128-118 in three seasons, all with Orlando)

2001-02 season: 44-38, third in Atlantic, lost in first round to Charlotte.

Big offseason pickups: F Shawn Kemp, G Jacque Vaughn

Key offseason losses: F Monty Williams, G Troy Hudson.

In a perfect world ... : Grant Hill finally gives the Magic a full healthy season, Tracy McGrady passes Kobe Bryant as the best player in the league and Kemp blows up to his "Rain Man" status in Seattle.

Nightmare scenario: Hill gets hurt ... again, McGrady's back flares up again and Kemp just continues to blow up to his blimp status in Cleveland and Portland.

Likely outcome: There may be enough here to get Orlando to the conference finals.

Washington Wizards

Coach: Doug Collins (295-242 in seven seasons, 37-45 in Washington)

2001-02 season: 37-45, fifth in Atlantic, missed playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: G Jerry Stackhouse, G Larry Hughes, F Bryon Russell, F Charles Oakley, F Jared Jeffries, G Juan Dixon.

Key offseason losses: G Richard Hamilton, F Popeye Jones, G Chris Whitney.

In a perfect world ... : Stackhouse and Michael Jordan combine to pull out close games in the fourth quarter, Jordan accepts a new role off the bench and Oakley brings maturity to young front line.

Nightmare scenario: Stackhouse and Jordan fight for shots, Jordan fights with Collins over a starting slot and the forwards don't progress.

Likely outcome: A playoff spot, and then, with Jordan around, who knows?

Boston Celtics

Coach: Jim O'Brien (73-57 in two seasons)

2001-02 season: 49-33, second in Atlantic, lost to New Jersey in Eastern finals.

Big offseason pickups: F Vin Baker, G Shammond Williams

Key offseason losses: F Rodney Rogers, G Kenny Anderson

In a perfect world ... : Paul Pierce continues his ascendance, Antoine Walker plays the loyal No. 2 role and Baker shakes his Seattle funk to give Boston an inside presence.

Nightmare scenario: Tony Delk and Williams can't replace Anderson, Rogers' combination game is sorely missed and Baker is Seattle-soft again.

Likely outcome: There's enough talent to get back to the playoffs, but a first-round exit looks to be the Celtics' fate.

Philadelphia 76ers

Coach: Larry Brown (831-651 in 19 seasons; 207-171 in five years in Philadelphia)

2001-02 season: 43-39, fourth in Atlantic, lost in first round to Boston.

Big offseason pickups: F Keith Van Horn, C Todd MacCulloch, F Monty Williams, F John Salmons

Key offseason losses: C Dikembe Mutombo, G Speedy Claxton

In a perfect world ... : Brown and Allen Iverson have made nice after last season's dust-up, Van Horn becomes a reliable second offensive option and Aaron McKie and Eric Snow stay healthy.

Nightmare scenario: Iverson reverts to skipping practices or showing up late, Van Horn misses shots and gets booed mercilessly by Sixers fans and MacCulloch looks timid.

Likely outcome: With injuries and the volatility of the Iverson-Brown situation, the Sixers could be on the outside of the playoff picture.

Miami Heat

Coach: Pat Riley (1,085-512 in 20 seasons; 329-213 in seven years in Miami)

2001-02 season: 36-46, sixth in Atlantic, missed playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: F Caron Butler, G Travis Best, F Rasual Butler

Key offseason losses: C Alonzo Mourning, G Kendall Gill, C Chris Gatling

In a perfect world ... : Mourning is somehow able to return this season from complications from his kidney ailment, Caron Butler blossoms into a star and Eddie Jones picks up the scoring slack.

Nightmare scenario: Brian Grant has to log long minutes out of position at center, Jones fades into the woodwork and Miami gets little production out of the no-name backcourt.

Likely outcome: Riley's streak of non-playoff appearances extends to two.

New York Knicks

Coach: Don Chaney (285-425 in 10 seasons; 20-43 in part of one year with New York)

2001-02 season: 30-52, seventh in Atlantic, missed playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: F Antonio McDyess, F Michael Doleac

Key offseason losses: C Marcus Camby, G Mark Jackson

In a perfect world ... : Allen Houston shoots more consistently, Latrell Sprewell stays off yachts and someone emerges up front for injured McDyess.

Nightmare scenario: The season starts and the Knicks actually have to play games.

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