The Gazette's NBA season preview: East
The Miami Heat are heads and shoulders above the rest of the Atlantic division. The key to the Heat's playoff success, however, hinges on a healthy Alonzo Mourning if they are to turn the tide against the Chicago dynasty. For some unexplainable reason, the Knicks' think that paying big bucks for aging athletes is the key to winning a championship and have left veteran Patrick Ewing with a good but frail lineup. The Washington Wizards are hoping a new arena and name will turn this franchise around. Chris Webber and Juwan Howard form one of the best one-two punches in the game which should help grab one of the last playoff positions. The New Jersey Nets will live or die on the play of rookie Keith Van Horn and second-year shooting guard Kerry Kittles, who will look to coach John Calipari to guide them in the right direction. The nose-diving Orlando Magic and Anfernee Hardaway will need career years from all Magic players for this team to make the playoffs. In Philadelphia, if last season's rookie-of-the-year Allan Iverson learns to distribute the ball effectively to keep prolific scorers like Jim Jackson and Jerry Stackhouse happy, the 76ers may suprise. The Boston brass hope coach Rick Pitino can help restore the storied tradition of Celtic pride with a bench of young, unproven players.
Virtually the same as last season, the Chicago Bulls will be the favourites to win it all for a third consecutive season. Their weakness may fall in the Bulls' inability to replace Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen if they should be lost to injury. Other than the Bulls, no team has a better mix of offence and defence than the Atlanta Hawks. Steve Smith and Christian Laettner will spearhead the Hawks offensive attack. The Charlotte Hornets' nest should be buzzing this season after improving the team's lineup by adding David Wesley and Bobby Phills to an already stocked bench. After months of trade rumours, Glenn Robinson stayed in Milwaukee and Vin Baker packed his bags. With the addition of Terellel Brandon and Ervin Johnson, the Bucks now have a more balanced roster than before and should squeeze in for a second-consecutive playoff appearance. This may be the year that Detroit Piston Grant Hill takes his first MVP award considering he doesn't have much of a supporting cast to depend on. With the addition of Chris Mullin to Indiana's roster, the Pacers have two strong three-point threats but still nobody inside. Damon Stoudamire leads a solid Toronto Raptors nucleus of veterans and youth, which was bolstered by the additions of high school phenomenon Tracy McGrady and John Wallace. The Cleveland Cavaliers added Shawn Kemp, but in the process left too many holes at virtually every position to plug.