NBA: Beast of the East

 The trade deadline has come and gone.  But wait, there are those mid-season free agents. You know, the guys who were part of the  whirlwind of last day deals. Mike Bibby and Troy Murphy were unceremoniously bought out (cut) by their new teams but have already landed elsewhere.  Athletic enigma Corey Brewer is the last (potentially) impact player left and is finding many potential suitors.

With 20-25 games remaining in the regular season, varying by team, FantasySP takes a look at how opening round match ups project, how roster moves may have impacted the races and what players will play a major role down the stretch.  At first glance, Charlotte may have forfeited the 8th and final spot to Indiana by shipping Gerald Wallace West to Portland. The real battles to watch are spots four through six. Why? The teams that finish fourth and fifth avoid the big three (Boston, Chicago and Miami) in the opening round.

Indiana vs Boston– Legendary Larry guides the Pacers into the East’s final slot and is rewarded with an opening round mismatch with his beloved Celtics. Indiana positioned itself for a deadline steal picking up O.J.Mayo from Memphis, only to have the deal voided due to technicality. Bird will need Mike Dunleavy to recover quickly from injury, but Brandon Rush’s return and the improving play of Josh McRoberts should be enough to hold off the Hornets. Boston’s acquisition of Jeff Green will help against the more athletic, perimeter teams, not so much against power teams like Orlando and several Western powers. Many are underestimating Nenad Kristic’s impact, the seven footer acquired with Green, will play a vital  role especially if the O’Neal’s do not return strong from injury.  Todd Murphy choosing the Celts over the Heat could have an impact on that series, should it  come down to that in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Atlanta vs Orlando– The Hawks quietly made the deal that may have the biggest impact on the post season. Combo guard Kirk Hinrich’s game provides everything that departed Mike Bibby’s game had lost. Hinrich is a great locker room guy, plays intense perimeter defense and is a very underrated three point shooter. The three guard rotation of Hinrich, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford stacks up with anyone. Hinrich also serves as a great ring leader for the ATL’s version of the big three (Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith). The Magic have been doing their re-arranging throughout the first half. Athletic guards Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson were added and both are capable of providing spark on a given night to supplement Superman. The biggest acquisition was clearly Hedo Turkoglu. Hedo has displayed some of the Magic that helped Orlando run through the post season two years ago.

New York vs Chicago– The Knicks were easily the centerpiece of the NBA transaction season. The long awaited acquisition of Carmelo Anthony mercifully came to fruition and New York finally had its superstar. While  New York got its man, depth was certainly abandoned. The Knicks will  have to get it done with a three man back court in Tony Douglas, Chauncey Billups and Landry Fields. Up front, New York can score with anyone at the forward position with Melo and Amare Stoudamire. Defending, rebounding and depth will be a huge problem.  The Bulls haven’t made many moves but appear to be stalking Corey Brewer. While Dallas leads (with the mid level exception), Chicago is hoping former Florida mate Joakim Noah can persuade Corey to the Windy City. MVP Derek Rose doesn’t need much help, look for him to carry the Bulls a long way.

Philadelphia vs Miami– The Sixers continue to build through the draft, and are starting to show signs with a very solid young group. Philly has tremendous but inexperience in the back court with Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and their unquestioned leader in Andre Iguodola. Thadeus Young needs to step it up in post season, but has tremendous athleticism.  Up front, Elton Brand will never be the stud he once was the center Spencer Hawes has disappointed.  Anything short of a strong showing in the NBA finals will be a huge disappointment for all things Miami.  The Heat have dominated the lesser teams and this should continue easing them into  the Eastern  Conference finals. Perimeter shooting continues to plague Miami as Mike Miller has failed to spread the floor for the slashers. Picking up Mike Bibby may help if he magically finds his lost perimeter game.

Author: Tom Blaz

Tom is our featured columnist on FantasySP with more than 25 years of media experience in Radio and TV. You may know his work as a beat reporter for the Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland. He also reported LIVE from the Summer Olympics in Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta. He is an avid Auburn fan, and writes for The Recruiting Eagle, a website focusing on Auburn athletics.

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