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Five predictions for Eastern Conference

By TJ Souhlaris
On February 19, 2013

I've always considered myself a bold character, so I figured why not translate my audacious personality from real life into some daring (and probably incorrect) NBA predictions for my weekly Eastern Conference column? I put together five clairvoyant statements for your reading pleasure. Let's roll them out, shall we?
John Wall will make people remember why he was the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. After a First Team All-Rookie campaign in 2010-11, Wall didn't show that much improvement from his first year in the league to his second. More importantly, Wall's Wizards were just as (if not more) putrid in his sophomore season. Wall experienced a knee injury in late September 2012 that kept him out until January 2013, and with young point guards such as Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Greivis Vasquez and Jrue Holiday blossoming into great players, Wall was labeled by some as an overhyped, draft-day bust. In the 33 games before Wall's return to the lineup this season, the Wizards were 5-28 and toiling. With Wall back on the floor, however, Washington has won 10 of its 18 games. Wall still has enough speed in the open floor to impress a gazelle, and his 6'4" size is a great advantage for his position. The Wizards might not come remotely close to playoff basketball this year, but Wall is going to make the D.C. faithful break out the Wall Flexin' dance a few times before the season concludes.
Orlando trades JJ Redick, secures worst record in the NBA. The pitiful Magic would be foolish not to unload Redick, as the former Dukie in his final year of his contract. Orlando is reportedly seeking a first-round pick in exchange for the sharpshooter. If Redick ends up wearing a different team's threads (hopefully threads that aren't Mandarin and blue for the sanity of Knicks fans) by the end of the season, Orlando would primarily use Nikola Vucevic, Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo as scoring options. Those three are decent players, but not guys you want to key your offense around. Orlando is already floundering with a 15-37 record, so trading Redick would kick-start a tank race with Phoenix, Washington and Charlotte. The Magic will come out on top (or bottom, depending on your vantage point) in this race and will have the most table tennis balls popping around for them when the draft lottery arrives in May.
Boston stands pat at trade deadline, gets homecourt advantage in first round of playoffs. When Rajon Rondo went down with a season-ending knee injury, a lot of basketball writers (including yours truly) believed that the Celtics were dead in the water with no chance to do anything positive this season. I'm not sure that's changed, as the Celtics will be hard-pressed to make it out of the first round of the postseason. However, the C's have played a rejuvenated style of team basketball and haven't given up on the season quite yet. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have been rumored as hot commodities, but it doesn't appear that Danny Ainge wants to move either of his future Hall-of-Famers before the trade deadline. Truthfully, Boston is thin in the frontcourt and doesn't have a single point guard on the roster, but the team is playing with a special ferocity that simply wasn't there when Rondo was around. The Celts are only 2.5 games out of 4th in the East, so homecourt in the first round isn't that far out of reach. And let's get this straight: the Celtics aren't better without Rondo, but players are stepping up in unison in his absence.
Derrick Rose makes valiant return just in time for playoffs, makes palpable impact. This one is probably the most farfetched of my predictions mainly because it's very difficult to tell how healthy Derrick Rose is if you're not, well, Derrick Rose. Because Rose is still only 24-years-old, Chicago is going to do its best to make sure its franchise point guard doesn't rush back just because the playoffs are starting soon. Also, Rose still hasn't dunked since his injury, and recently said that he'd be completely fine with missing the entire 2012-13 campaign if his knee isn't 110 percent. However, the former MVP reportedly went 5-on-5 at practice the other day, which bodes well for Bulls fans crossing their fingers and waiting anxiously for Rose's return to the United Center. There are precisely two months until the playoffs begin, so, besides "ice cold," what would be cooler than seeing Rose return to the floor exactly one year after his career-threatening injury? The answer: Nothing. Nothing would be cooler. The Bulls have fancied fine in his absence, but it's difficult to imagine any team in the NBA not getting better when D. Rose is healthy enough to play.
Indiana represents the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. I'm aware that LeBron is having a season that's even tricky to duplicate in NBA 2K13. And I'm aware that the Heat has the best record in the Eastern Conference, which means they'll likely have homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. But is there a team better suited to knock off the Heat in the East-or even the entire league for that matter-than the Indiana Pacers? Indy is 2-0 against the Heat in 2012-13 and is still without injured starting forward Danny Granger. David West and Roy Hibbert present major size issues for the small Heat frontcourt, which is the worst in the league on the glass on a per game basis. Assuming Granger comes back healthy, the Pacers will be able to rotate him along with Paul George and Lance Stephenson to guard LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Indiana struggles scoring the ball and it remains to be seen if George will have the late-game chops to cut it in a high-pressure series, but remember last season-Indy had a 2-1 lead on Miami in the first round of the playoffs, and that's before George flourished into one of the league's best young players. Indiana is not afraid of Miami. The Pacers might not knock off the Heat, but just remember that LeBron has yet to win an NBA title in a regular, non-strike-shortened season. (What? It's true!)

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