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Heat the team to beat in NBA's Eastern Conference

Ben Bolch, The Times' NBA columnist, predicts where the teams in the NBA's Eastern Conference will finish during the 2013-14 season.

October 28, 2013|By Ben Bolch

PLAYOFF-BOUND

1. Miami

2012-13 finish: 66-16.

Coming: Michael Beasley, Greg Oden.

Going: Mike Miller, Juwan Howard.

The Heat propped up its three-peat hopes with two balky knees and a whiff of controversy. Oden has already encountered knee swelling in his bid to play for the first time since 2009, enshrouding his return in further doubt.

2. Indiana

2012-13 finish: 49-32.

Coming: Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson, Solomon Hill.

Going: Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, D.J. Augustin.

An offense that seemed stuck in molasses suddenly might be on the verge of warp speed with the return of former All-Star Danny Granger and an infusion of talent for the bench. Scola will annoy opponents with his floppy hair and his shooting (career field-goal percentage: .504), Watson is an upgrade at backup point guard and Copeland will stretch defenses with his three-point shooting.

3. Chicago

2012-13 finish: 45-37.

Coming: Mike Dunleavy Jr., Tony Snell.

Going: Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Richard Hamilton.

Bulls fans haven't been this excited about a comeback since Michael Jordan's business manager sent out a two-word fax: "I'm back." Derrick Rose looks plenty capable of carrying the hopes of a city on his surgically repaired knee, if several vintage preseason performances are any indication.

4. Brooklyn

2012-13 finish: 49-33.

Coming: Coach Jason Kidd, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko, Mason Plumlee, Shaun Livingston, Alan Anderson.

Going: Coach P.J. Carlesimo, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, C.J. Watson.

How many yachts can owner Mikhail Prokhorov water-ski behind? Not nearly as many now that his team will pay a record $183 million in payroll and luxury taxes, a sum that would make even fictional tycoon Gordon Gekko queasy. But if greed is good, as Gekko's catchphrase goes, then this team should be terrific if rookie coach Kidd can handle a roster of contemporaries.

5. New York

2012-13 finish: 54-28.

Coming: Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih, Tim Hardaway Jr.

Going: Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, Chris Copeland, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson.

Tabloid headline writers may have emerged the biggest winners of the summer when World Peace, a native of Queens, decided to come home. Early efforts have included "PEACE ACCORD" and "WaRRin' Peace Brother." Concerns about Amare Stoudemire's knee and Carmelo Anthony's contract status could be seasonlong downers, though.

6. Cleveland

2012-13 finish: 24-58.

Coming: Coach Mike Brown, Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev.

Going: Coach Byron Scott, Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston, Daniel Gibson, Omri Casspi.

Reunited and it feels so … good? Brown and Bynum are together again, two years after the 7-footer enjoyed his most productive NBA season while playing for Brown with the Lakers. If Bynum actually plays after sitting out all of last season and Anderson Varejao can avoid another freak injury, then the Cavaliers will be this season's biggest breakthrough.

7. Atlanta

2012-13 finish: 44-38.

Coming: Coach Mike Budenholzer, Paul Millsap, Elton Brand, DeMarre Carroll, Gustavo Ayon, Dennis Schroder, Jared Cunningham, Pero Antic.

Going: Coach Larry Drew, Josh Smith, Devin Harris, Ivan Johnson, Zaza Pachulia, DeShawn Stevenson.

The Hawks are like a terminal inside Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; everyone is either coming or going. One season after the team welcomed nine new players, it will have at least seven new faces for its opener. Smith's departure ushers in the Millsap era.

8. Detroit

2012-13 finish: 29-53.

Coming: Coach Maurice Cheeks, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Luigi Datome.

Going: Coach Lawrence Frank, Brandon Knight, Jose Calderon, Jason Maxiell, Slava Kravtsov, Khris Middleton, Kim English.

The Pistons could make the playoffs for the first time since 2009 if Smith flashes his all-around brilliance and youngsters Jennings, Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond mature. The savvy Billups will give Cheeks the equivalent of a player-coach who can be a taskmaster if needed.

EARLY OFF-SEASON

9. Washington

2012-13 finish: 29-53.

Coming: Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall, Malcolm Lee, Otto Porter, Eric Maynor, Al Harrington, Glen Rice Jr.

Going: Emeka Okafor, A.J. Price, Cartier Martin.

Owner Ted Leonsis said he expects the Wizards to contend for the playoffs, which would be an epic achievement for a team that has gone 72-158 (.313) since he took charge in the summer of 2010. Trading for Gortat will help. But John Wall and Nene must remain healthy for a full season and Bradley Beal must generate some payoff from all that promise.

10. Toronto

2012-13 finish: 34-48.

Coming: Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin, Steve Novak, Austin Daye, Dwight Buycks.

Going: Andrea Bargnani, Linas Kleiza, Alan Anderson, John Lucas, Mickael Pietrus.

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