For the first ever “Three-Point Thursdays” column, we decided to ask our panel of NBA experts three questions as they relate to the Eastern Conference.
Do you consider the Atlanta Hawks one of the top teams in the East
Vytis Lasaitis- They have most certainly played like a top team in this young season, but I don’t see them going past the second round of the playoffs at best. The team did very well to get rid of Joe Johnson’s contract, but with the looming uncertainty of Josh Smith’s commitment to the team, it is hard to predict in which direction the Hawks will be headed.
Jack Maloney- Although they’ve jumped out to a 16-9 record that has them in third place in the East right now, I don’t see them as one of the East’s top teams. They’re a nice team, but that’s it. They’re just nice, not great. I like a lot of the pieces they have; Josh Smith and Al Horford are All-Star Caliber players and I loved the signing of Lou Williams from Philadelphia. But none of those guys are superstars who can carry a team by their self. They have the same problem they’ve had the last 4-5 years. I see them finishing somewhere in the 4-6 seed range and losing in the first or second round of the playoffs.
Bobby Krivitsky- The Hawks are off to a great start and appear to have good team chemistry. Despite a 16-9 start, the team’s perimeter defense and lack of frontcourt depth prevent me from proclaiming Atlanta as one of the Easts top teams.
Adam Lowenstein- When talking about the “top teams” of an NBA conference, I typically think of the best three teams, ones that will win at least one postseason series and give a good fight in the second round. Immediately, I react to this question with a direct “no” because the Hawks of recent memory have not gone far in the playoffs. Oddly, for the third consecutive season, the Hawks have the exact same record (16-9) over their first 25 regular season games.
Who poses the biggest threat to the Miami Heat?
VL- The Heat are overwhelming favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference, but if anyone can stop them it would probably have to be the Knicks. I would also never rule out the Boston Celtics, even though they have been quite average so far. With trade rumors out there, the Celtics could upgrade the roster and if no moves are made I still think the Celtics will be an elite team with Avery Bradley in the lineup. In the West the biggest threats are the Thunder and the Lakers, who are finally starting to figure things out.
JM- If the Heat stay healthy, I honestly can’t see anyone beating them in a seven-game playoff series. LeBron is playing as well as he ever has and showed last year in Game 6 of the ECF against Boston that somehow he can take it to another level. To answer the question though, I think the only teams that have a shot at knocking them off are the Knicks or the Celtics. The Knicks have already two big wins against Miami. They have a great scorer in Carmelo, a post-threat in Tyson Chandler, and can shoot the three very well. While the Celtics have certainly struggled, I want to see them with Avery Bradley back in the lineup before I write them off completely. Even without Bradley, the Celtics battled the Heat to 7 games in the ECF and had a legitimate shot to win the series. As noted on KJG, the Celtics are a much better team with Bradley on the court.
BK- The biggest threat to the Miami Heat is the Los Angeles Lakers. If the Finals are a Heat-Thunder rematch, I expect the same result. However, a healthy Lakers team poses significant problems, especially with their size advantage. Metta World Peace has slimmed down this season, and while no one can truly contain LeBron James, LA has a player they can be comfortable guarding the reigning MVP– something that not many teams can say. It would also be extremely entertaining to see the one-on-one match ups of Kobe Bryant going to head-to-head with James and Dwayne Wade at both ends of the court.
AL- The “biggest threat” to the Miami Heat means an Eastern Conference foe that could take them down in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. Miami appears to be underachieving thus far, yet the team still has one of the best records in the league. Therefore, it is most likely that LeBron James will make his second straight NBA Finals appearance. While the Miami Heat may have an easier road to the Finals than the Western Conference representative, there are still teams that Miami has to watch out for in its own conference. The Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets are decent threats, but they are already a combined 0-3 against the Heat this season. Although the Chicago Bulls could get Derrick Rose back for a possible postseason run, I do not see them being able to actually challenge the Heat and all of its firepower. If we are considering the current rosters without any injuries, the New York Knicks have proven that they are the Heat’s biggest challenger in the Eastern Conference.
Are the New York Knicks for real? Why or why not?
VL- The oldest team in the league is definitely for real. The Knicks are overall deeper and more solid of a team, adding players like Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton in the offseason. Led by the MVP candidate that is Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks are only trailing the Heat in the Eastern Conference at the moment, and doing so without their best perimeter defender in Iman Shumpert and their $100-million power forward Amar’e Stoudemire.
JM- Are the Knicks a contender for the Eastern Conference title?
Are they a championship contender?
I think the Knicks are a very solid basketball team. Carmelo is one of the best scorers in the league, and has stepped up his play this season. Tyson Chandler has been very good as well, averaging a double-double, while shooting 70 percent from the field and anchoring the defense. Even Raymond Felton has had a bounce back year in his return to New York. The Knicks have had a great season, and should continue to do so. I think they have a shot to finish with the second seed in the Eastern Conference. With all that being said, I just can’t see the Knicks, or anyone else for that matter, beating a healthy Miami team in the playoffs.
BK- The New York Knicks are not for real! They are the oldest team in NBA history. The Knicks have gotten off to an incredible start, and it is great to see NBA basketball revitalized in New York. However, an injury would not surprise anyone. There is also the question of just how long the Knicks hot shooting can hold up over the 82-game season. Furthermore, I do not have confidence that the team’s perimeter defense can effectively contain a premier player over the course of a seven-game series. If proven wrong, I will be the first to admit it.
AL- I am not sure that the Knicks team will finish the season as the second seed in the Eastern Conference, but I still say that they are for real and can be a strong contender for 2012-13. As presently constructed, they have shown that they can succeed. Through about one-third of the season, the Knicks are the only team to beat the Heat twice. The Knicks are also on pace to become the first team in NBA history to finish with more three-pointers made than turnovers in a single season. In addition, they began November with 10 consecutive home wins and currently stand at 12-2 at Madison Square Garden. Furthermore, we cannot forget that the Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert will soon be returning to compliment Carmelo Anthony, who is playing at an All-Star level. In a weak Eastern Conference, the Knicks could find themselves favored with home court advantage in one or two of their series this upcoming postseason. You have to call that “for real.”
Have questions you want answered? Drop them in the comments section or hit us up on Twitter and maybe you’ll see them here next week.