NBA East preview: Heat tough to beat

Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James take a breather on the bench during an exhibition game...

Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James take a breather on the bench during an exhibition game earlier this month. (Getty Images)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:02 PM ET

1. Miami Heat (46-20 in 2011-2012)

Key adds: Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis

Key departures: Ronny Turiaf

Skinny: While everyone else in the NBA seems to have added to its roster with gusto, the defending champs seem content to tweak. The additions of Allen and Lewis should help at the three-point window but the focus will remain on the big three. LeBron James took a huge jump last season in all facets of his game. Dwyane Wade was typically efficient and Chris Bosh contributed with his nice mix of scoring and rebounding. The thing is the Heat are no longer the only team that can boast a big three. They have a big three and then some in L.A. with the arrival of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. OKC can’t be overlooked either. In short, repeating, which is never easy, got a whole lot harder ... Bosh moving to centre should make him even more effective.

Burning question: Do the Heat have what it takes to push themselves for another title?

2. Indiana Pacers (42-24)

Key adds: Gerald Green, Ian Mahinmi, D.J. Augustin, Miles Plumlee

Key departures: Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones

Skinny: The Pacers have been on a steady climb for a few years now and actually had a lead over the Heat in last year’s playoffs before LeBron and company put the hammer down. Only loss of any real significance is Collison and with Augustin coming over from Charlotte and George Hill in the fold, that shouldn’t be a big deal. Both Paul George and Roy Hibbert are only going to get better and with the veteran savvy of a David West and a Danny Granger to bring them along, not to mention the calm guiding hand of head coach Frank Vogel, this upward trend for the Pacers should continue.

Burning question: With no big upgrades to the roster, did the Pacers do enough to keep pace with the Brooklyns and Philadelphias of the conference?

3. Brooklyn Nets (22-44)

Key Adds: Joe Johnson, Reggie Evans, C.J. Watson, Andray Blatche, Josh Childress

Key Departures: Gerald Green, Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson

Skinny: A new, vibrant arena, a new identity and a slew of new talent has the folks in Brooklyn giddy with anticipation about its new basketball team. No, they didn’t get Dwight Howard as they had hoped, but they did manage to pry Johnson away from Atlanta for almost half the old Nets roster. And if settling for a six-time all-star is the worst thing that happens for the Nets, they should be in for a pretty decent season. Returning standouts Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace are nothing to sneeze at either. If there is a concern with the Nets it is their depth, of which there is little. Can this team stay relatively healthy and at least avoid any long-term injuries to its starters?

Burning question: Will their be a dropoff of production from centre Brook Lopez who returning from injury?

4. Boston Celtics (39-27)

Key Adds: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo

Key Departures: Ray Allen, Sasha Pavlovic, Greg Stiemsma

Skinny: The Celtics had some big roster alterations in the off-season but none bigger than the departure of Ray Allen. Allen, who left more money on the table to join the Miami Heat, was a cornerstone of the Celtics championship team a few years ago. But his defensive deficiencies combined with Avery Bradley’s defensive talents means the loss isn’t as big as it seems. The addition of Jason Terry gives the Celts a very capable outside shooter to replace Allen. Better still for the Celts they get forward Jeff Green who missed almost all of last season and Chris Wilcox, who missed a chunk, is back and healthy. While this once was the Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen team, it’s now Rajon Rondo’s team.

Burning question: Will age catch up to the likes of Garnett, Pierce and Terry — or do they all have one more in them?

5. Philadelphia 76ers (35-31)

Key Adds: Andrew Bynum, Jason Richardson,

Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Kwame Brown

Key departures: Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Jodie Meeks

Skinny: Bynum addition is a potentially huge one — but when will he get on the court? He still hasn’t even started running yet ... Losing Williams and potentially replacing him with Young is not a winning proposition ... Loss of Iguodala who is one of the better lock-down defenders at the wing position is going to hurt as well ... The Sixers have gone all in with Bynum, to borrow a poker expression. Either he finds a way to stay healthy and stay on the court, or the Sixers are going to be right back in the lottery ... Point guard Jrue Holiday should get better with another year under his belt.

Burning question: Is Bynum capable of carrying an entire franchise on his broad shoulders?

6. Chicago Bulls (50-16)

Key Adds: Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Marquis Teague

Key departures: Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, C.J. Watson, John Lucas III

Skinny: The Bulls chances of being a realistic threat in the East all rest on the recuperative powers of point guard Derrick Rose who tore his ACL in the first round of the playoffs last year and is hoping to return to the court at some point this season ... Hinrich, a former Bull, should hold the spot warm until Rose (or if) Rose can get back ... The Bulls had one of the better supporting casts in the league last year but all are gone with the exception of Taj Gibson. Newcomers Robinson, Belinelli, and Teague will have to bring back some of that Bench Mob mentality ... Head coach Tom Thibodeau’s coaching talents will be leaned on heavily this season ... The man expected to carry the offence in Rose’s absence is Luol Deng.

Burning question: Will Rose be the player he was when he does return?

7. Atlanta Hawks (40-26)

Key Adds: Devin Harris, Lou Williams, Anthony Morrow, Kyle Korver, DeShawn Stevenson

Key Departures: Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Kirk Hinrich, Willie Green

Skinny: Took a step back last season failing to advance past the first round and responded by bringing in Danny Ferry as the new GM. Ferry didn’t waste any time overhauling the roster significantly ... Biggest move was sending out Johnson but he got back some useful players as well as a first-rounder in 2013 ... Another huge addition would be a full year from centre Al Horford who missed most of last year with a torn pectoral muscle ... Williams is an intriguing pickup as he was one of the better players coming off the bench last year in Philly and may get the chance to start in Atlanta ... Head coach Larry Drew needs to get this team off to a good start or he could lose his job.

Burning question: Who takes over Joe Johnson’s role on this team?

8. New York Knicks (36-30)

Key adds: Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas

Key Departures: Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields, Toney Douglas, Jared Jeffries

Skinny: So Jeremy Lin, despite one of the greatest two weeks by an individual in perhaps NBA history, was in over his head in New York, or so we are led to believe. What a load of hooey ... Still believe this team has some pieces which don’t fit, mainly Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Melo needs the ball in his hands as much as possible which leaves Stoudemire on the outside looking in ... Felton thrived in New York his first time around but in Kidd and Pablo Prigioni, the Knicks have two guards on the downsides of their careers ... Iman Shumpert was very impressive as a rookie and should only get better ... Tyson Chandler remains one of the best team leaders in the game.

Burning question: How is it possible to get Anthony and Stoudemire contributing concurrently at a high level?

9. Toronto Raptors (23-43)

Key Adds: Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Dominic McGuire, John Lucas III, Landry Fields, Terrence Ross

Key Departures: Jerryd Bayless, James Johnson,

Skinny: Lowry brings a tenacity and toughness the Raptors have been lacking for a very long time ... Valanciunas, even in the pre-season, is already proving himself a very quick study and a guy who is going to help this team right away ... A big year for DeMar DeRozan who will likely head into this off-season a restricted free agent and will have to set his own price tag with his play this season ... If Andrea Bargnani, now a full-time power forward, can stay healthy, it will be interesting to see what kind of scoring numbers he can put up ... Team made huge defensive strides a year ago under Dwane Casey and must retain that progress as it tries to improve offensively.

Burning question: If the Raprs don’t make the playoffs, does Bryan Colangelo’s team option get picked up?

10. Milwaukee Bucks (31-35)

Key Adds: Samuel Dalembert, Joel Przybilla, John Henson,

Key Departures: Carlos Delfino, Jon Brockman, Kwame Brown, Shaun Livingston

Skinny: The Bucks’ big changes came at the trade deadline with the addition of Monta Ellis and the departures of Steven Jackson and Andrew Bogut. It’s up to head coach Scott Skiles to find the most effective way to employ speedy guards Ellis and Brandon Jennings ... Bogut was the face of the franchise so the organization went out and found some size on the free -agent market in Dalembert and Przybilla ... Forward Ersan Ilyasova of Turkey had a lot of suitors this past off-season including the Raptors but chose to remain in Milwaukee. His three-point excellence is going to be a major factor in whether this team is able to fight for a playoff spot.

Burning question: How long does Skiles last with a team that doesn’t appear to play to his strengths?

11. Cleveland Cavaliers (21-45)

Key Adds: C.J Miles, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller

Key Departures: Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker

Skinny: Without question one of the NBA teams on the rise — but how high can they go? ... Kyrie Irving was everything the organization could hope for and more as the first-overall pick in 2011 won rookie-of-the-year honours, softening the sting at least a little when former franchise player LeBron James won his first title in another uniform ... Brampton’s own Tristan Thompson averaged 8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in his rookie season and shows plenty of room for growth ... Keeping Anderson Varejao healthy would go a long way towards the Cavs getting back in the playoffs and out of the draft lottery ... Dion Waiters pick seems to be boom or bust with very little middle ground. The Syracuse product is scary talented but remains a bit of an enigma.

The Burning Question: How long will it take for all this youth to put it all together?

12. Detroit Pistons (25-41)

Key Adds: Andre Drummond, Corey Maggette, Kim English

Key Departures: Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace

Skinny: There is a stockpile of good young players in Detroit, but all that youth has yet to gel ... The Pistons may have got a steal in UConn’s Andre Drummond. The athletic big man showed flashes in the pre-season that he would pay off for the Pistons, but there remains questions about how devoted to the game Drummond really is ... Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey give head coach Lawrence Frank a nice backcourt capable of beating a team in any number of ways ... Greg Monroe, the Georgetown standout, is coming off a very solid sophomore season when he came within a few rebounds of averaging a double-double ... Tayshaun Prince, entering his 11th season in Detroit, is the grey beard still capable of filling the basket on any given night.

Burning Question: How many years before all this young talent is capable of making a playoff push?

13. Washington Wizards (20-46)

Key Adds: Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, Martell Webster

Key Departures: Andray Blatche, Rashard Lewis

Skinny: Like the Bulls, the Wizards season is going to revolve around the question of when does John Wall return. As it stands now, Wall will miss at least a month of the season with a stress injury to his knee cap. It’s one of those injuries that is almost impossible to put a return date on. The sooner he returns and gets to work on his shot, the better this franchise will be ... But Wall’s injury isn’t the only concern. Nene Hilario, acquired from Denver at the trade deadline, is dealing with some plantar fasciitis problems and could miss the start of the year as well ... Brad Beal, the No. 3 pick in the draft out of Florida, should help this team, but like most rookies he appears he will need some time to learn the league.

Burning question: With so many key injuries does head coach Randy Wittman last the season?

14. Orlando Magic (37-29)

Key adds: Arron Afflalo, Moe Harkless, Al Harrington, Josh McRoberts, Andrew Nicholson

Key departures: Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson, Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon,

Skinny: Oh, how the once mighty have fallen. It’s a complete overhaul in Orlando with a new GM, new head coach and a whole new roster ... With Howard in Laker-land, the Magic are in a full-fledged rebuild and will be hard-pressed to stay out of the basement in the conference ... Only returnees of note from a year ago are Jameer Nelson, J.J. Reddick and Hedo Turkoglu ... From a Canadian standpoint, Nicholson should be very interesting to watch. The Mississauga native might even get a decent allotment of minutes with the roster as uncertain as it appears.

Burning question: Will anyone go to that new arena to see this star-starved team?

15. Charlotte Bobcats (7-59)

Key Adds: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon, Brendan Haywood

Key Departures: D.J. Augustin, Corey Maggette, Eduardo Najera

Skinny: Just seven wins a year ago and they still didn’t get the No. 1 pick as the ping pong balls just didn’t fall for the Bobcats. So Charlotte loses out on Anthony Davis but comes away with his harder-working teammate Kidd-Gilchrist. It’s not a terrible consolation by any means but it’s still second best ... Sessions and Gordon should help bring Kemba Walker along nicely but this franchise remains much closer to the lottery than it does to a playoff berth ... New head coach Mike Dunlap will have his patience tested with all this youth and in all likelihood will be adding another big college name to the roster next June.

Burning question: Can Michael Jordan remain this patient?


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