Team-by-team previews

October 31, 2006|By Los Angeles Times

Listed in order of predicted finish

NBA East


2005-06 record -- 64-18

Outlook -- Remember when they were 39-6 after two Finals appearances, got upset at having only four All-Stars and agreed they were worthy to be considered one of the best teams of all time? They then unraveled in the playoffs, turning on coach Flip Saunders for not being Larry Brown. Then the Pistons decided not to give Ben Wallace that maximum payday, refused even to increase their four-year, $48 million offer and let him go to Chicago. Nazr Mohammed isn't the same thing.

Bottom line -- Nevertheless, they're still solid, and it won't take greatness to win the East.


2005-06 record -- 41-41

Outlook -- If you're looking for the Heat, keep reading. If effort and defense were enough, you could pencil the Bulls in now, because no one works harder than this gung-ho young team, driven by the will and mouth of coach Scott Skiles. Ben Wallace gives them one more all-heart player in place of confused Tyson Chandler. With P.J. Brown, 37, who can still block shots, an already formidable defense gets more teeth. However, neither Wallace nor Brown helps on offense. Rookie Tyrus Thomas is spectacular but mistake-prone, so Skiles won't play him. Guard Ben Gordon, a reserve for half the season, led them at 16.9 points.

Bottom line -- They might not be ready to beat elite teams in the playoffs, but there's a long time between now and then.


2005-06 record -- 52-30

Outlook -- Here's Miami. This isn't just the NBA's defending champion but its marquee team, so if (when?) it goes down, it will be with a thud heard around the league. Pat Riley used to challenge players, as when he guaranteed the Lakers would repeat in 1988, but he had Magic Johnson then. Now Riley is reconciling himself to letting Shaquille O'Neal ease through the season. At 34, coming off a career-low 20 points a game, O'Neal lacks his old explosiveness. O'Neal and Dwyane Wade combined to play 198 minutes in the preseason. Wade, coming off his summer with the U.S. team, said he felt as if he had already played 60 games.

Bottom line -- Check back for the playoffs, but that's a long way off.


2005-06 record -- 49-33

Outlook -- Let's try it again, with a little more feeling. Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson looked explosive on paper, but the Nets were 24th in scoring. This prompted defense-oriented coach Lawrence Frank to speed things up while he still had the chance. Kidd is slowing down at 35, but Jefferson is coming on at 26. Carter is still the game's most spectacular player (check out the dunk on the DirecTV ads), if a long way from its hardest-nosed. C Nenad Krstic (14.7 ppg) is a factor on offense with a nice touch. The bench was terrible but looked better in the preseason, led by last season's lost No. 1 pick Antoine Wright (12.9 ppg).

Bottom line -- In the woeful Atlantic, they could start the season Jan. 1 and still beat out the Knicks, Celtics, 76ers and Raptors.


2005-06 record -- 50-32

Outlook -- LeBron James gave fans a bad week, dropping out of sight, then signing a three-year extension instead of four. At least their nightmare of losing him was pushed back to 2010. At 21, James finished second in the MVP voting, but he's coming off a long summer with the U.S. team. The Cavaliers sat him out of two exhibitions as fans booed. The real problem is they can't give him much more help. Their money is now tied up in Larry Hughes ($12 million a year), Zydrunas Ilgauskas ($10 million), disappointing Donyell Marshall ($6 million) and talkative Damon Jones ($4 million).

Bottom line -- They're just along for the ride as James makes a push to become the youngest MVP ever.


2005-06 record -- 41-41

Outlook -- Long-suffering Pacers officials were still regrouping from years of Ron Artest when they awakened to the bad news that they didn't dump enough players. The incident in which Stephen Jackson fired his gun into the air and police found marijuana in Jamaal Tinsley's car shook the franchise to its core, again. Worse, both players are on long-term deals, and the team is stuck with them. With Al Harrington back, they would be an elite team in the East if they had any chemistry, but they don't. Jermaine O'Neal has to show he's worth $22 million a year, or half that, or he'll be on the market, too. GM Larry Bird ended the grumbling about coach Rick Carlisle for the moment, giving him an extension.

Bottom line -- Quite a few Pacers are making their last stand.


2005-06 record -- 38-44

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