1. Cleveland Cavaliers (30-11) It is no surprise to see the Cavs with the best record in the East. We all know that LeBron James is capable of imposing his will and taking games over at the drop of a dime. Shaq's presence in the middle has given them more depth, but his energy and athleticism have tailed off dramatically this season. On some nights he actually hurts them more than helps them. Cleveland would love to stay on top in order to avoid Boston and Orlando until the Eastern Conference Finals. They might just do that despite Shaq's inconsistent effort.
2. Boston Celtics (27-11) Kevin Garnett is out again and there is good reason for the Celtics' faithful to be concerned. We saw last year that the success of the franchise hinges on the Big Ticket's presence and ability to perform. Boston has excellent players in Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo, but they will have absolutely no chance of making a deep post-season run if KG doesn't get healthy and return to form. Let's hope his injury is not more serious than we have been led to believe.
3. Orlando Magic (26-13) Orlando upgraded in the talent department last summer, but that has not led to a better winning percentage this season. One reason for this is because Vince Carter has stepped in and been the number one scoring option for the Magic. They would be better served by continually pounding the ball inside to the best big man in the game, Dwight Howard. With a big man of his nature, you always play inside-out instead of outside-in. If they are able to find the wonderful chemistry that they had last year, they stand a good chance of getting back to the finals.
4. Atlanta Hawks (25-13) The Hawks have shown that they are a team to be reckoned with this year. They are by far the fourth best team in this conference and could provide problems for Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando if they face them in the playoffs. The Hawks have entertaining players to watch and the people of Atlanta must be thrilled that they finally have a legitimate product to root for night after night. This may sound crazy, but if Atlanta stays healthy they could make some serious noise in the playoffs.
5. Miami Heat (19-18) The Heat will continue to ride Dwyane Wade and why shouldn't they? He is arguably more important to his team than any other player in the league. Miami is right where they should be in the standings. They, along with the rest of the teams in the East, will be competing to see who finishes fifth. The main story on South Beach has been and will continue to be the the impending free agency of do-it-all superstar, DWade.
6. Toronto Raptors (19-20) The only thing of concern for Toronto is what they are going to do with Chris Bosh. They may elect to ship him out before the trade deadline instead of running the risk of losing him to free agency at the end of the season. The bottom line is that they stand no chance of doing anything in the playoffs so it doesn't even matter if they make it that far. Assuming the rumors are true, they shouldn't hesitate to give Bosh to the Lakers for Andrew Bynum.
7. Charlotte Bobcats (17-19) Charlotte?? Seventh in the conference?? Man, I was way off with my prediction of twenty one total victories. Thanks to the overall weakness of the East, however, the Bobcats may just play their way into the playoffs this year. It would be nice for the people of Charlotte to see some post-season action, but in the end it won't really matter. If Michael Jordan's team is lucky enough to make it that far, they will bow out in the first round barring some catastrophic event.
8. Chicago Bulls (17-20) The biggest news from Chicago has been Vinny Del Negro's job security. On the hot seat for weeks now, Del Negro has managed to hold on to his job despite several devastating losses. Sacramento stormed back from a 35-point second half deficit last month....in Chicago....to beat the Bulls. I thought that this would be the straw that broke the camel's back, but thus far management has decided to stand by their man. The Bulls don't have enough talent to compete with the conference's best anyway, so it makes sense to hold on to Del Negro rather than pay him to walk.
9. New York Knicks (16-22) The Knicks are keeping themselves in the mix, primarily due to the outstanding play of David Lee. Mike D'Antoni has his men playing hard and that is refreshing to see. New York has an outside shot of playing their way into the playoffs, but based on all of the recent failures there are no expectations for them to do that. Don't look for the front office to make any roster changes unless they can get some salary cap relief. After all, the focus of the organization for the past year and a half has been to put themselves in the best possible position to sign high-profile free agents in the summer of 2010. They aren't going to spoil that now.
10. Milwaukee Bucks (16-21) The Bucks started strong and since have faltered. Rookie Brandon Jennings has done an excellent job of stepping in and producing, but Milwaukee lost star shooting guard Michael Redd for the second straight season to another ACL tear. Unfortunately this group has no hope of doing anything without a healthy Michael Redd. The one thing they should continue to do is give their young players a lot of playing time so they can speed up their progress and development.
11. Indiana Pacers (13-25) It is time for Larry Bird to do something with this franchise to make them competitive again. They have an incredibly talented and athletic player to build around in Danny Granger but unfortunately little else. Bird is in a difficult situation as it is hard to attract free agents to Indianapolis, but he must do something to shake things up so the basketball-loving people of Indiana have something to cheer for again.
12. Detroit Pistons (12-25) The Pistons have too much talent to have such a poor record, especially in the lackluster Eastern Conference. It is true that Richard Hamilton and Ben Gordon have missed significant time this season, but overall Detroit has been a disappointment. It seems that things have completely spiraled out of control in Motown ever since the Chauncey Billups/Allen Iverson trade was made in November of 2008.
13. Washington Wizards (12-25) The Wizards have been in the news a lot lately for all the wrong reasons. Star player Gilbert Arenas, he of the $111 million dollar contract, recently pleaded guilty to felony gun possession and his actions have brought a gray cloud over the franchise. Despite having Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Caron Butler, new coach Flip Saunders has been unable to get this group to play together with any success. With the way events have unfolded, he has to be regretting his decision to jump on board with the troubled Wizards.
14. Philadelphia 76ers (12-26) The big news in Philadelphia this season was the return of Allen Iverson. AI may be back, but the wins are not. Elton Brand has been a total bust, and the 76ers have too many guys getting paid too much money to be menial contributors. This franchise has disappointed me tremendously this year. There is no reason why they shouldn't be in the playoff hunt with the players they have on the roster.
15. New Jersey Nets (3-35) The Nets flat out stink! They fired coach Lawrence Frank and set an NBA record for futility to start a season with 18 consecutive losses. In fairness to Frank, it wasn't his fault. In fact, it doesn't even matter who coaches this squad. The NBA comes down to one thing.....talent. If you have it, you can win. If you do not have it, you cannot. The Nets have one good player in Devin Harris and that is it. The only question that remains is this: will New Jersey be able to get ten victories this year? Time will tell, but it doesn't look good.