Atlantic preview: Celtics ... and those other guys
The Atlantic is one of the most bottom-heavy divisions in the league. The components are one powerhouse team, one mediocre team and three sad-sack clubs.
Strengths: Even though the Big Three are able to attack defenses in multidimensional ways, Paul Pierce remains the bedrock of their offense. Why is PP still underrated by so many NBA watchers?
Kendrick Perkins' bulk and rapid improvement as a pivotal scorer.
The energy that Glen Davis provides off the bench, plus his increasingly reliable mid-range jumper.
The long-armed defense and outside shooting that Rasheed Wallace brings, plus the possible use of his post-up prowess.
Rajon Rondo's remarkable quickness at both ends of the court.
The lights-out shooting of Eddie House.
Although he's not a classic point guard, Marquis Daniels is extremely versatile and can get into the paint with regularity.
Tom Thibodeau's spidery defensive schemes.
As ex-champs, the Celtics veterans know what to do and how to do it.
Weaknesses: The potential vulnerability of Kevin Garnett's knee over the long haul.
Not enough minutes for Perkins to continue his development.
The preponderance of finesse over power in their interior defense.
Ray Allen's ability to be consistent at age 34.
The lack of a defensive stopper off the bench.
Baskets lost because of Davis' inability to finish in heavy traffic.
Rasheed's emotional volatility and his reluctance to post up.
Prognosis: Should be able to handle Orlando should they meet in the playoffs, but Cleveland might present unsolvable problems.
New Jersey Nets
Strengths: The slashing offense and ever-improving jumpers of Devin Harris.
Courtney Lee's spot shooting, overall quickness and excellent use of weak-side screens.
An expected quantum leap in the play of Brook Lopez.
The streak shooting of Jarvis Hayes and Rafer Alston.
If he can stay healthy, the all-out hustle and in-your-face-toughness of Eduardo Najera.
Trenton Hassell's defense.
The work ethic of Lawrence Frank.
Weaknesses: The physical weakness, woeful defense and tentative offense of Yi Jianlian.
Alston's displeasure at being a backup on such a bad team.
Given that Alston and Harris might occasionally play in tandem, the fact that each needs the ball on a string to be effective.
The inadequacies of the backup centers.
Prognosis: The Nets will need career seasons from several players to avoid being the worst team in the league.
New York Knicks
Strengths: The many ways in which Al Harrington can score.
David Lee's rebounding and endless hustle.
The explosive point-making of Nate Robinson.
Fully recovered from his back injury, Danilo Gallinari will prove to be a dead-eye spot shooter who also understands open-floor offense.