It’s still easy to fall into thinking the East is least in the NBA. It’s been that way for so many seasons now it’s hard to recall anything other than regular spankings by Western conference teams and only a true contender or two in the East while the postseason in the West plays out like a WWE battle royale. But that attitude is as tired as turkey on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Finally.
Certainly the East is not lacking for championship contenders this season. The defending champion Boston Celtics, along with the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers, possess the skill and will to be the last team standing in ’09.
Each has their flaws, no doubt. The Celtics must fight complacency and develop a retooled bench. The Pistons are trying to blend A.I. into the mix from now until… The Cavs have only one intimidating presence in their starting lineup: LeBron James.
But each of those teams has the talent and experience to be a viable, serious threat come June.
Elsewhere in the conference, the Orlando Magic are sneaky good so far. They’re still lacking in the backcourt, but Dwight Howard is dominant, benefiting from the experience he gained with the Redeem team in Beijing. And 12-4 with a 6-1 road mark is no joke. The Magic are loose and unfazed, and though they lack the dossier to come out of the East, they’ll likely drag someone into a seven-gamer they didn’t see coming. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
The rest of the playoff contenders are at least respectable. The East will not have to apologize if Atlanta, Toronto, Philadelphia and Miami fill out the conference’s postseason bracket. Each of those teams possesses at least one All-Star, if not two. And they’ve all got enough postseason experience to find themselves in at least the conference semifinals.
As for the West, there are certainly more teams with decorated playoffs histories from top (Lakers) to bottom (San Antonio) of the probable playoff pool. But two things: Does anyone honestly think any team other than the Lakers will emerge from the West?
New Orleans? Possibly. But until they get to the top, they’re still climbin’ the mountain.
Utah? I’ll believe it when I see it.
Houston? Fun, but not likely.
San Antonio? Even with Manu Ginobili back, this ship has sailed. (Same for Phoenix.)
And would any of those teams be clearly favored over Detroit or Cleveland?
The most intriguing team out West is the Portland Trail Blazers. They’re young, talented, deep and seemingly wiser from the late-season collapse that cost them a playoff berth last season. They’re 11-6 and playing with confidence. Their Achilles’ heel? Greg Oden’s health.
Bottom line: The East has nothing to be ashamed of. Not any longer.
Maybe we should simply settle this by allowing the worst teams – Washington in the East and Oklahoma City out West – to duke it for the pride of their respective conferences.
The losers have to play the Knicks. And Stephon Marbury has to watch.