In looking at the two conferences, there are two drastically different dilemmas that face anyone trying to figure out which teams will finish among the top eight and thus qualify for the playoffs.
In the East, you have to find eight teams that inspire enough enthusiasm to warrant playoff consideration. While in the West, it's difficult to pare the list of contenders down to eight teams.
One thing seems fairly concrete however, it is safe to assume that whichever team survives the Western Conference playoffs will be a solid favorite to continue on and win the NBA title.
Western Conference's Great 8
Eastern Conference's Elite 8
1. Miami Heat:
It is a new season, and coach Pat Riley will swear that it is not the same old team. If Tim Hardaway (17.4 ppg , 7.3 apg) and Alonzo Mourning (20.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg) can work together, Jamal Mashburn (14.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and P.J. Brown (11.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg) should raise their impressive numbers even higher.
The Heat are deep and big, something missing in the Eastern Conference. Look for this team to break the playoff hex and end up in the NBA finals. Riley would love to get a shot at the Lakers.
|Alonzo Mourning could dominate the undersized Eastern Conference.|
Larry Bird says it is his final year as the coach - which means that it is most likely the final chance for the Indiana Pacers. Experience will only get them so far.
With the loss of Antonio Davis (9.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg) the Pacers are going to have to find some youthful legs. Rookie Jonathan Bender might be called on early to make an impact on the team - while Reggie Miller (18.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg) and Rik Smits (14.9, 5.6) will produce most of the offense.
Jalen Rose's (11.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg) production could be the difference from an early exit and a Conference Final.
Paul Silas turned this team of injured players and unwanteds into a contender that fell just short. Anthony Mason is back after missing the entire season with a torn biceps, and this powerful player will cause the other Eastern teams a lot of problems.
Eddie Jones (17 ppg, 4.2 apg) is ready to break out and Elden Campbell (15.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg) is finally looked at as a go-to guy. If Derrick Coleman (13.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg) can stay out of trouble, this team might be able to walk out of the East.
Watch out for rookie sensation Baron Davis who stood out in the preseason.
The once youthful bunch of college superstars have gained the respect of the entire NBA. Ray Allen (17.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Glenn Robinson (18.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg) should continue to dominate and with a healthy Sam Cassell (13.3ppg, 4.3 apg) at the point, the Bucks could be the surprise talk of the league.
The only problem - like so many teams - Milwaukee lacks a true center and Robert Traylor (5.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and J. R. Reid (9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) might have to work too hard to stay out of foul trouble... that their offense could be effected.
And the question must be asked, does Danny Manning 9.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg) have something left to give this exciting team?
|Can the Knicks' Patrick Ewing (right) come back in time to help his team.|
No Patrick Ewing no problem. Remember - this team went to the Finals.
Allan Houston (16.3 ppg, 2.74 apg) and Latrell Sprewell (16.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg) will have to find enough balls to play with. And if they do - Larry Johnson (12 ppg, 5.8 rpg) should get his shots. Watch out for Marcus Camby (7.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg) to show signs of greatness and when Patrick returns, watch out for the New York Knicks!
No telling what this unpredictable team will do this season. This season is a lot longer than last season.
6. Philadelphia 76ers:
The Larry Brown and Allen Iverson saga continues. And if it is a happy ending, owner Pat Croce's leg will be healthy and the Philadelphia 76ers will have themselves a Conference championship. Good Luck!
Allen Iverson (26.8 ppg, 4.6 apg) has not shown any signs that he can pass the ball. And who is he going to pass it to anyway? No one on the team is averaging over 15 points a game. But, if Matt Geiger (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Theo Ratliff (11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg) step it up a notch while staying healthy the Sixers could find themselves in a Conference Final.
And watch out for Larry Hughes (), who showed signs of greatness last season.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers:
Without Shawn Kemp - and in the Wester Conference - the Cleveland Cavaliers don't win 30 games. But they do have Shawn Kemp (20.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and they are in the Eastern Conference - so finishing at .500 is a possibility.
First-year coach Randy Wittman has his hands full. This team is not only injury prone, but it seems that a consistent "Underachiever" attitude follows the Cavs every year.
Point guard Brevin Knight (9.6 ppg, 7.7 apg) and shooting guard Wesley Person (11.2 ppg, 3.2 apg) will have to produce every game. And center Zydrunas Ilgauskas (15.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg) must stay healthy for the Cavs to go anywhere this season.
|Was last season a fluke for Toronto's Vince Carter?|
All I have to say is Vince Carter. This young superstar, who won Rookie Of The Year honors last season, stated that anything less than a playoff berth (would be first in franchise history) would be a bust for the 1999-2000 season.
Carter (18.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg) will have to prove that his rookie year wasn't a fluke. And with the help of newly acquired center Antonio Davis (9.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg), veteran Kevin Willis (12 ppg, 8.3 rpg) will get rest and will stay out of foul trouble.
Produced by Larry Roth and John Esterbrook. ©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed