The Conference of LeBron: Whose Got 2nd?

4 Questions About the Eastern Conference

The Eastern Conference is the Conference of LeBron. There are three teams that can compete with LeBron. The Celtics, Raptors, Pacers are on the coattails. Who is playing for second?

C.J. Hampshire: I like the Pacers in a tight race. They have the superstar in Paul George who can give you 40 on any given night. Plus if he is cold, Monta (Ellis) is waiting in the wings. The Pacers added Thaddeus Young for the inside to pair with George. Jeff Teague is going to make a huge difference on pick and roll. The kid, Myles Turner, should have a good second year.

Brendan Gillespie: Has everyone forgotten about the Raptors? They were the second best team in the east. They have a dynamite backcourt that can put up points. Yes they suck in the playoffs but during the regular season they can outscore you.

Mallory Stith-Wheat: I’ll go off the board and pick the Hawks. I think Howard is going to be a monster for them. He has a lot to prove and I think he’s one of those players who is going to improve because he is home. I like Schroder at the point. Plus they know how to move the ball.

Julian Billick: I like the Pacers too, just because in a race with equals, I’ll bet on Larry Bird. I like the team with a bonafide superstar. Plus, I like what Bird did in the offseason.

No one is on the  Knicks bandwagon?

Mallory:  I don’t think they will be a top two seed in the East. Maybe the bottom tier of the playoff group. I’m not sold on the Knicks offense. Derrick Rose has iffy knees. Brandon Jennings shoots 35%. Courtney Lee has looked half asleep in preseason. Noah is always hurt. They didn’t move the ball last year. I don’t trust their ball movement this year.

Brendan: This year is gravy for the Knicks, a way for them to establish their credibility. If Rose flops they don’t owe him any money. Carmelo will try to save them, as usual.

Julian: I don’t love them. When they play teams with pretty good defenses or front court dominance, they will struggle. All hype, like usual. They want us to believe this group of retreads are going to do something. Not buying the Jackson talent binge.

C.J. Hampshire: Really? Is that a trick question?

How will the Bulls fare with Wade and Rondo?

Julian: They were supposed to be an offensive team last year, right? But they didn’t score 100 points a game. Their offensive rating was at the bottom of the league. How are they going to play faster? Rondo will get players the ball but this team will fight to stay relevant.

Brendan: Here’s the Bulls problem and it comes down to the we can’t make threes problem. This team is going to play slow. Jimmy Butler is their best player but do they know that? Can Butler shake Wade off when he is demanding the ball. This roster is not an offensive 2016-17 roster. I don’t think they have enough on the offensive end. They don’t have a perimeter scorer, someone they can rely to space the floor in a tough defensive game. No one is double teamed so they are forced to have great ball movement.

Mallory: The Bulls are not interesting other than the fact that Rondo is going to try to keep it together. Wade will have his moments. But the team is not complete enough to matter.

C.J.: They haven’t been dominant but they have taken the pressure off Hoiberg by adding Wade and Rondo. Can  Jimmy Butler, as their best player, lead them to the playoffs. I don’t think so.

Rank the best players in order of dominance on each of the 4 contending Eastern Conference teams.

Mallory: LeBron James is first. He is not out of his prime even though age and fatiuge is starting to creep up and change his style. Paul George is the best two-way small forward (other than James) and he is only 26 years old but he still has to figure out how to get his team to the Finals. Al Horford is going to change the culture in Boston. DeMar DeRozan is an unstoppable iso player.

C.J.: Paul George did some things last year that were mind blowing. Plus he defends. LeBron James is still LeBron, just a little older. Al Horford is underrated as a big man. He can score, rebound, block shots and he’s a great teammate. I love DeMar DeRozan.

Brendan: Paul George, just because. LeBron James is who he is. I like Kyle Lowry a little bit more than DeMar DeRozan even if he’s a head case in the playoffs. Al Horford can dominate.

Julian: LeBron James, Paul George, Al Horford, DeMar DeRozan. But this is important to know: Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard are the only players to beat LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals. In other words you need size so the Celtics have a huge advantage.

photo via llananba