Orlando plays in the easiest division in the league, the Southeast, and that nearly guarantees them a top seed, but they’re worth it. They ranked sixth in defensive efficiency last season and the Magic frontline, led by all-star center Dwight Howard and sharpshooting forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, is one of the best in the league. Unfortunately the Magic backcourt is well, no Magic; Jameer Nelson and Keith Bogans are an average duo. Their Orlando bench—a key since reserves play nearly a third of minutes—is dangerously thin.
The Cavaliers are essentially forward LeBron James and a supporting cast, but with a talent as unique and dominant as the King, you don’t need a lot else to be a winner. The Cavs are a good defensive team, ranking 11th in the league in defensive efficiency, but on offense they are only as good as No. 23.
In many ways the story of James in Cleveland parallels that of Jordan in Chicago in the ’80s, except no one thought Jordan would leave the Bulls before a title celebration. No one in a Cleveland uniform resembles Jordan’s championship cohorts like Scottie Pippen or Dennis Rodman, but the Cavs are deep enough and just talented enough to make the playoffs then force seven games against the King on their opponent.
The bottom of the bracket could be interesting, too. Although they put up a good fight against the Celtics in the playoffs, Atlanta only won 37 games last season. The Washington Wizards are already facing injury troubles. This may open the door for lottery denizens like the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers or the Charlotte Bobcats to move into the postseason mix. All four teams are moving in the right direction though none belong in the championship discussion yet.
The New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets and Milwaukee Bucks bring up the rear. The New York area teams will be better than last season, but that isn’t saying much. Under new coach Scott Skiles, the Bucks will probably play defense, but then again almost everyone does in this conference.
Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root.