The playoff picture in the NBA's Eastern Conference appears to be much clearer than in the NBA West. The top four teams will clearly be the Cavs, Celtics, Magic and Hawks, although the order of finish of these four teams is anybody's guess. The Heat seems to be securely ensconced in the 5th spot. Toronto and Charlotte will fight it out for the 6th and7th spots. Finally, the Bulls, Knicks and Bucks will probably fight it out for the 8th and final playoff slot.
Let's use the lens of Adjusted +/- Player ratings to further analyze these teams' strengths and weaknesses. A player's adjusted +/- rating estimates a player's ability after adjusting for the people a player played with and against. For example, a Points rating of +10 means that a player is 10 points better (all numbers are per 48 minutes) than an average NBA player. An Offense rating of +5 means that a player causes his team to score 5 more points per game than an average NBA offensive player. Finally a Defense rating of -5 means a player causes his team to give up 5 fewer points per game than an average defensive player.
Varaejo (+17 Points rating and -12 Defense rating) and James (+23 points rating and +22 Offense Rating) both rank among the league's 10 best players. If the Cavs realize that Parker plays better with Big Z than Shaq they would greatly improve. The Cavs are not that good with James and Shaq on court (3 points better than average.) With James on court without Shaq Cavs are 13 points better than average.
Ray Allen (+20 points rating and +18 Offense rating) and Rondo (+7 Points rating, -6 Defense Rating) are keeping this ship afloat. KG (-7 Points rating) is not what he used to be. If KG is not healthy there is no way Celtics make it out of the East. So far the bench has been weak especially Big Baby, Williams and Scalabrine.
Magic The Magic has the deepest roster (1-12) in the NBA. With all their good lineups they are a matchup nightmare for anybody and are my pick to win the East again. Their recent slump has been due to poor play by Carter and Lewis. Their success is keyed by Howard (+13 Point rating) and the surprising return of Jason Williams (+8 Points rating and +9 Offense rating.) The one cloud on the horizon is Rashard Lewis' poor play (-7 Points and -7 Offense Rating).
Josh Smith (+15 Points Rating), Jamaal Crawford (+12 points rating) and Mike Bibby (+8 points rating) have been great. The lineup of this trio with Horford and Joe Johnson is amazing: it plays 35 points per game better than an average lineup.
DWade has a +22 Points rating (+22 Offense Rating.) Arroyo (-5 Points Rating) and Chalmers (-8 Points Rating) have hurt the Heat with poor point guard play, so Rafer Alston should help a lot.
They are a really fun team to watch. Bargnani (+8 Points rating) has really improved and Bosh (+5 points rating) is still great. When this duo is on the court with Bellinelli, Turkoglu and Calderon, the Raptors play 34 points better than league average!
The Bobcats are a greatly improved team that should finish above .500. The underrated Gerald Wallace (+12 Points Rating) is defensive star (-12 points defensive rating). Raymond Felton (+8 points rating) is also greatly improved. Tyson Chandler (-14 points rating) has killed the Bobcats.
The underrated Luol Deng (+17 Points Rating) has keyed their limited success.
The Knicks are a greatly improved team, and I think they will steal the 8th slot from the Bulls. Jared Jeffries (+ 8 Points Rating) is a great defender (-11 Defense Rating0. Gallinari (+7 Points), Chandler (+4 Points) and Nate Robinson (+4 points) provide a nucleus that has made the Knicks an above average team since their 1-9 start. Despite his great box score stats, David Lee has a -5 Points Rating. Chris Duhon (+10 Defense Rating!) has killed the Knicks on defense.
Andrew Bogut and Ilysasova are both defensive stars (-7 Defense Rating). Rookie Brandon Jennings star has flamed out a bit but he is still an average NBA player, and this is pretty good for a rookie.
Here are some other notes about Eastern Conference Players
1. The Pistons need a backup center. Ben Wallace has a great Defense rating of -13 , but the Pistons get killed when Big Ben is off the court.
2. Brendan Haywood of the Wizards is the league's best defender (-17 Defense Rating).
3. Granger (+11 Points Rating), Luther Head (+14 Points Rating) and Mike Dunleavy (+7 Points Rating) have been great, but stat stuffer Troy Murphy (-12 Points Rating) has really hurt the Pacers.
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