Nearly four months ago Brett and I got together to preview the season based on the Charlotte Bobcats competition for a playoff spot. We broke the eastern conference into tiers and given the impressive talent on Boston, Cleveland, and Orlando we quickly anointed those three as the top dogs on this shore and assumed everyone else was playing for fourth place at best. After the first half of the season now is great time to look at and see how right and wrong we were.
Atlanta: We both saw the Hawks as a near playoff lock but perhaps we underestimated this squad a bit. Atlanta still has some growing to do but they're knocking on the door of the conference's upper crust with an impressive start fueled by a great offense and solid defense. They can look shaky plenty of night though, exhibit A being the 20 point drubbing that the Bobcats put on them in November or witness their fourth quarter collapse against Cleveland in December, but the Hawks are winning over 67 pecent of their games and can't be ignored especially considering they have the third best point differential in the east.
Washington: So Brett and I believed in this team, we believed in Flip Saunders, we believed in the Randy Foye-Mike Miller trade, we believed in Gilbert Arenas' knee. We shouldn't have believed. Arenas remains suspended and it looks like he's played his last game for Washington. However the under-reported story of this team is the fact that Caron Butler is having his worst season in years currently posting a below average PER. Washington was supposed to ride an un-guardable offense and passable defense to 50 win territory competing with Atlanta instead their defense has outranked an offense that clangs jumpers and struggles to get to the free throw line and seems destined for a win total in the 30s. Meanwhile the time-bomb is ticking on this roster with everyone expecting management to blow it up sometime between now and the trade deadline in February.
Philadelphia: Sometimes you're right and sometimes you're way wrong. This season's Sixers are very similar to last season's bunch minus an underrated point guard and all the losing. Andre Miller has been looked over as one of the best point guards in the league for too long. Miller was perfect for this team of athletes because of his ability to push the ball and the decisions he made with the ball. Charlotte has really benefited from Philly falling behind in the standings and I don't think the Sixers have enough to recover. Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense looks like a bad fit and defense has never been his strong suit so the Sixers are struggling. These guys are lottery bound.
Miami: Dwayne Wade is having a down year and the youngsters have shown flashes but still remain inconsistent, all in all Miami is right where we expected them to be in tier two likely bound to the fifth playoff spot in the east. Despite a likely trip to the postseason this will likely be a lost year in Miami with the true highlight being what will happen this summer.
Chicago: If I wrote this a month ago I would have had this team nailed with my preseason prediction of this being team turmoil, but since then Derrick Rose has healed up and is back to his high flying ways while another team has taken the turmoil title to another level (see Wizards, Washington). Del Negro survived a brutal December and while their offense still looks like a train wreck at times (Ben Gordon's shooting is missed more and more with every brick that Kirk Hinrich or John Salmons throws up) this team is finding a way to get wins. At one point I though 35 wins was all this bunch could muster but they remain a legit competitor in the race for the playoffs.
Milwaukee: Injuries did them in again. Michael Redd's career may be in jeopardy with his second ACL tear, Andrew Bogut has been great when he's played but Brandon Jennings has come back to earth after a hot start that had everyone pegging the Bucks as this season's surprise team. Scott Skiles will have his teams competing every night but I don't think the Bucks have the offensive pop without Redd to really challenge.
New York: I think these guys are a little overrated, we all know this is a lost year with the big prize or prizes possibly coming in the summer but for a while people were talking about this Knicks team sneaking into the playoffs. I don't think so. There really isn't much here and while the Nate Robinsons and Wilson Chandlers may have a break out game or two, there isn't much depth here to really scare anyone. It's a pity given the fact that David Lee is really having an All-Star caliber season.
Indiana and Detroit: I was more optimistic about these teams but the injury bug really bit each of them hard. Detroit can use that excuse a little more than Indy but key guys have been lost for extended periods with both. I lump them together because at the time of this writing their records were eerily similar and each team seems to be really flawed . Detroit doesn't have any size, the Bobcats shooting guard is just as tall as Detoit's center, and despite Big Ben's throwback year there isn't much depth behind him. Also doesn't it seem like three of the Pistons four best players are shooting guards. Similar story with Indiana where Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy are both natural small forwards spending time masquerading as power forwards for stretches. With a string of good health it's possible these guys could run off a few wins and make things interesting but I doubt it.
Toronto: I didn't know what to make of the Raptors before but if they continue to be a top five offensive team they can punch their ticket for the playoffs. Their fate will likely be that of first round fodder given their defensive struggles but any team that can shoot the way they can will always have a punchers chance in any playoff series.
New Jersey: Hah, hah.