1. Miami Heat. Despite the numerous team improvements in the East, the Heat are still the king until a team proves that they have the ability to dethrone them. With LeBron and Wade at the helm, it is simply impossible to pick against them. Another championship run appears to be in the making. Even though sports are almost impossible to predict correctly, picking the Heat to win another title is the safest bet out there right now.
2. Indiana Pacers. Despite their competitive series against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, the Pacers still seem to be underappreciated by a good portion of the NBA community. Indiana had a great offseason, signing Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland to improve its terrible bench. They still remain a defensive force, led by Roy Hibbert and Paul George. Danny Granger, the team’s former star, will also be returning. The Pacers have a serious chance to accomplish what they failed to do last year: beat the Heat and win the East.
3. Chicago Bulls. The return of Derrick Rose automatically vaults the Bulls to the top three of a highly competitive Eastern Conference. Even without him, they held their own in last year’s playoffs with hard-nosed defense and grit. D-Rose will greatly improve their offensive firepower, meaning that they will not have to rely on their defense to win games. Still, it will be tough to win more games than the powerhouse Heat or the improved Pacers.
4. New York Knicks. The Knicks might not have made enough offseason improvements to keep up with the top teams in the East. They lost a lot of the three-point shooting barrage, such as Novak, Copeland and Kidd, that defined their offense last year. Melo is a given, but the rest of the team is up in the air at this point. Their success will now hinge on whether Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace can be effective in Mike Woodson’s offense. The Knicks will also need Iman Shumpert to continue his ascent into stardom, which seems likely.
5. Brooklyn Nets. Fifth in the East is definitely not a popular ranking for this high-powered Nets team. With the additions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to complement Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson, the Nets now boast an all-star starting five. The possibilities for Jason Kidd’s group of players are limitless. However, the 2012-2013 Lakers have taught us a thing or two about getting too excited about the trendy preseason favorite. Sometimes high-caliber players do not immediately fit like puzzle pieces; it usually takes some time to adjust as a group. In a significantly improved East, there will not be much leeway to work out the kinks.