Heat Nation

Predicting The Eastern Conference Playoffs For 2015

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh

While the Miami Heat are no longer considered the annual favorites in the Eastern Conference now that LeBron James has taken his talents back to Cleveland, the Heat, along with several other teams from the East, look to contend for the No. 1 seed entering the postseason next year.

While the 2014 season was a boring race for the No. 1 seed, the 2015 season looks to be a different story. Last season, the Indiana Pacers and the Heat battled for the conference’s top seed all season long, with little challenge from the conference’s other teams. Next season, there are several new teams that could conceivably end up with the No. 1 seed next season due to the return of ‘The King’ and the impending acquisition of Kevin Love for the Cavaliers. Along with the Cavs, the New York Knicks also enter the new season rejuvenated with the re-signing of Carmelo Anthony, while the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks return key players that missed large portions of the 2013-14 season.

While the 2015 season promises to have more variety in terms of contenders in comparison to last season, how will the seeding in the East look when the regular season comes to a close?

Teams With First-Round Exit Written On Them

8. Toronto Raptors

While the Toronto Raptors had a surprising season that saw them not only clinch their first playoff berth in the post-Chris Bosh era, but clinch just their second division title in franchise history, it’s hard envisioning the same type of success in 2015. The Raptors do play in the weakest division in all of the NBA  — the Atlantic Division — but with the Knicks returning as a stronger team and other East teams such as the Cavaliers making the leap from Eastern Conference afterthoughts to Eastern Conference contenders, the Raptors will get knocked down the totem pole.

demar derozan of the toronto raptors

The Knicks – not the Raptors – are the frontrunners to win the Atlantic Division next season. However, Toronto returns its nucleus from its 2013-14 season, as they re-signed franchise point guard Kyle Lowry to a four-year, $48 million contract. DeMar Derozan returns fresh off of a season in which he averaged 23 points per game and turned in the first All-Star season of his five-year NBA career.

Expect the Raptors to be eliminated in the first round with ease by one of the East’s championship contenders.

7. Atlanta Hawks

Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks sneaked into the playoffs as the conference’s last seed with a 38-44 record. While the overall record was abysmal, it was impressive for a team that lost its franchise player, Al Horford, for most of the season. Even more impressive was the fact the Hawks unexpectedly pushed the No. 1 seeded Indiana Pacers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

As the Hawks enter next season, they not only look to clinch their eighth consecutive playoff berth, but also look toward advancing in the playoffs with the Paul Millsap-Horford duo that they envisioned for the 13-14 season.

Due to a right pectoral injury, the star center missed 53 regular season games and the entire postseason. If Atlanta aspires to advance past the first round for the first time in four years, the team will need the Millsap-Horford pairing to establish itself as one of the premier duos in the NBA.

Middle-Of-The-Pack Teams With No Chance Of Winning A Championship

6. Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers Starting 5

The Pacers capped off one of the best regular seasons in franchise history by clinching the East’s top seed. Things were going well for the Pacers as Indiana got the better end of the Heat in the regular season series, besting them by winning two of the three games. It looked as if the 2014 season would mark the first time the Pacers would knock off the Heat in the playoffs after two consecutive postseason exits at the hands of the Heat.

That would end up not being the case.

Despite winning Game 1 of the East Finals, the Pacers looked outmatched and were outplayed by the Heat for the third consecutive season in the playoffs. To make matters worse, the team lost Lance Stephenson through free agency to the Charlotte Hornets, and will likely lose star forward Paul George for the entire season due to a gruesome leg injury suffered during a scrimmage for the 2014 FIBA World Cup team.

The Pacers are looking at a difficult 2015 season, but strong coaching from Frank Vogel and a headstrong mentality from holdovers such as David West will result in a playoff appearance.

5. Washington Wizards

Brooklyn Nets v Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards advanced to the Eastern Semis and clinched the East’s fifth seed last season. With the exception of Trevor Ariza, the Wizards return all of last year’s starting five, which includes young guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, and veteran big men, Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario.

Entering the upcoming season, the Wizards will have the opportunity to win the Southeast Division due to the departure of LeBron James from Miami. However, as unfair as it may sound, the fate of the Wizards will be dictated more so by the Heat’s ability to adjust without LeBron, rather than the Wizards’ actual play on the court.

Expect a similar season for the team from D.C. as the team lacks a true offensive superstar. The lack of a go-to guy late in games will cost the Wizards versus the elite teams of the East.

4. Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls Starting Five

The Chicago Bulls will likely go through yet another season of Derrick Rose being hampered by injury, yet somehow manage to finish as one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. Since Rose’s MVP season in 2011, Chicago has gone through three seasons playing without their franchise player, yet, the Bulls always remain one of the toughest teams in the entire league.

However, the Bulls enter the upcoming season more well-equipped than ever to withstand the absence of the former MVP. Chicago added Pau Gasol, who established himself as one of the best big men in the NBA while winning two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. The team rid itself of Carlos Boozer, who had one of the worst seasons of his NBA career last season while averaging just 13.7 points per game.

The Tom Thibodeau-led Bulls have finished as one of the top five teams in the East during the regular season for the past four seasons. Expect that to once again be the case in 2015 as the Bulls return a stronger offensive team with the addition of Gasol in the post.

Championship Contenders

3. New York Knicks

new york knicks pregame

Some people may forget, but the Knicks were actually the No. 2 seeded team in the Eastern Conference just two seasons prior. What people don’t forget, however, is that the Knicks were an absolute disaster of a team in 2014 as they missed the playoffs with a 37-45 record.

The Knickerbockers were a slow, plodding team that couldn’t get it done on offense or defense. Offensively, New York ranked 20th in the NBA in points per game with 98.6 points per game. Defensively, the Knicks ranked 24th in terms of defensive rating. Their pace rating ranked third-to-last in the NBA.

The franchise will embark on its first full season with new head coach Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson as President. Anthony returns after signing a multi-year contract and the team added Jose Calderon to speed up the pace a little for an offensively stagnant team.

Expect the Knicks to play with a newfound confidence with Jackson and Fisher at the helm, as they win the Atlantic Division and look more like the team from 2013, rather than the team from 2014.

2. Miami Heat

Dwyane Wade vs. Brooklyn Nets

As down as people appear to be on the Heat, the fact still remains that they remain one of the most complete teams in the Eastern Conference. With the exception of the Cleveland Cavaliers and their impending acquisition of Kevin Love, the Heat are the most complete team in the conference. The Heat have two All-Stars leading the franchise in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. In case people have forgotten, Wade is a former Finals MVP while Bosh was the franchise player for the Raptors for seven seasons.

The four-time reigning Eastern Conference Champions also return most of their core rotation from last season, as Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Udonis Haslem return for the Heat. Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger were added as veteran pieces to help Miami remain the team to beat in the East.

While the Heat won’t be nearly as dynamic in the absence of No. 6, expect head coach Erik Spoelstra to implement a more team-oriented approach predicated on ball movement to create open shots, while also reducing wear-and-tear on players such as Wade and Bosh.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Kyrie-Irving-out-indefinitely.

As much as Heat Nation won’t want to admit it, the Cavaliers are the most complete team in the East, especially with the addition of Love.

The inside-outside duo featuring Love and James will be unstoppable and will lead to great regular season success for Cleveland. The fact that Kyrie Irving — who is one of the top 10 players in the NBA — will be considered the third-best player on the Cavaliers, demonstrates just how stacked Cleveland’s roster really is.

There really isn’t much else that needs to be said  — a James-Love-Irving trio will easily parallel the Heat’s ‘Big Three’ of the past four seasons. The Cavaliers will become the team to beat in not only the East, but the entire NBA, with the addition of Love.

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