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SPORTS EXTRA / NBA 2000-01 PREVIEW | EASTERN CONFERENCE
PREVIEW

Contenders Nowhere to Be Found

October 30, 2000|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Remember the last two seasons when everyone made fun of the Eastern Conference?

Well, it's worse now.

Last season's champions, the Indiana Pacers, are rebuilding, having lost or sent away last season's coach, Larry Bird, center Rik Smits, all-star power forward Dale Davis and point guard Mark Jackson.

This season's favorite, the Miami Heat, had its dreams pricked in preseason when it learned Alonzo Mourning would sit out the season to treat a kidney illness.

The New York Knicks, always contenders in their own mind, went completely out of their gourds and traded Patrick Ewing, an aging 7-footer, for Glen Rice, who's only 6-8 and has a little mileage, himself.

Who does that leave?

Philadelphia 76er Coach Larry Brown and his star, Allen Iverson, have been eyeing each other like opponents in a wrestling steel cage match, but might defer their struggle if they realize how easily they could win the East.

Put it this way, if Matt Geiger, a reserve who spent last season in Brown's doghouse, can wake up one day, count the 7-footers in his conference and announce his all-star candidacy, why wouldn't Brown and Iverson figure it out?

The East in predicted order of finish:

1. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

* Record: 49-33, fifth in Eastern Conference.

* Offense: 94.7 points a game (23rd in NBA).

* Defense: 93.4 (7th).

* New: None with No. 1 pick Speedy Claxton sidelined for the season because of a knee injury.

* Gone: We'll see.

* Outlook: It didn't look like much of an off-season, not after they brought in no one and Brown spent the summer ripping on Iverson, who, in turn, tried to alienate everyone he might have missed with an incendiary rap record. Aside from that, however, they're OK. Iverson is an incredible gamer. Brown, an incredible coach, has surrounded him with tough competitors such as Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, George Lynch and Theo Ratliff. They could use a better second option than Toni Kukoc but they have size and they defend.

* Bottom line: Of course, if they blow up, none of their virtues will mean anything, and Brown and/or Iverson will be gone.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

PROJECTED STARTERS

G: Eric Snow

G: Allen Iverson

F: Tony Kukoc

F: Tyrone Hill

C: Theo Ratiff

2. ORLANDO MAGIC

* Record: 41-41, ninth.

* Offense: 100.0 (7th).

* Defense: 99.3 (16th).

* New: Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, Andrew DeClercq, Don Reid, Troy Hudson, Dee Brown, No. 1 pick Mike Miller.

* Gone: Corey Maggette, Chucky Atkins, Ben Wallace.

* Outlook: How's this for rebuilding? You dump four starters, almost make the playoffs, your rookie coach is coach of the year, your general manager is executive of the year and you sign Grant Hill. Unfortunately for the Magic, Tim Duncan, who seemed to be leaning the Magic's way, turned around at the last moment but then McGrady was signed. Now Orlando may be the most athletic team in the East--or anywhere. It was already deep and Miller, their rookie, was impressive in exhibitions. The Magic isn't big but this being the East, it doesn't have to be.

* Bottom line: Hill is struggling, with the pins from last spring's surgery still in his ankle. If he makes it back, the Magic will do fine.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

PROJECTED STARTERS

G: Darrell Armstrong

G: Tracy McGrady

F: Grant Hill

F: Bo Outlaw

C: John Amaechi

3. TORONTO RAPTORS

* Record: 45-37, sixth.

* Offense: 97.1, (17th).

* Defense: 97.3, (13th).

* New: Coach Lenny Wilkens, Mark Jackson, Corliss Williamson, No. 1 pick Morris Peterson.

* Gone: Coach Butch Carter, Tracy McGrady, Doug Christie.

* Outlook: As Branch Rickey said, sometimes you add by subtraction and the Raptors hit it big, subtracting wacky Butch Carter, who could have had the guys with the butterfly nets chasing him during the playoff loss to the New York Knicks, when he blew up a Marcus Camby remark into a threatened lawsuit and a major distraction. Wilkens, 63, is the anti-Butch. He's so calm, people in Atlanta suspected he retired years ago and forgot to tell anyone. But he can organize a defense. In Toronto, any organization will be a welcome change. The Raptors are big and physical with Antonio Davis, Charles Oakley and Williamson up front. Oh yes, they have Vince Carter too, and he's got something to prove.

* Bottom line: Carter is still getting better and so are the Raptors.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

PROJECTED STARTERS

G: Mark Johnson

G: Vince Carter

F: Corliss Williamson

F: Charles Oakley

C: Antonio Davis

4. MILWAUKEE BUCKS

* Record: 42-40, eighth.

* Offense: 101.2 (4th).

* Defense: 101.2 (24th).

* New: Lindsey Hunter, Jason Caffey, Mark Pope, No. 1 pick Joel Pryzbilla.

* Gone: Danny Manning, Robert Traylor, J.R. Reid.

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