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The NBA Beasts of the East

   by Al McMordie - 02/12/2012

The Beasts of the NBA East used to be in Boston, with the Celtics winning the title in 2008 and getting to Game 7 of the Finals in 2010. But the Green is old and the torch has clearly been passed to the young and hungry Heat and Bulls.

Should we put Orlando in there? The Magic is 13th in the NBA in rebounds, just 22nd in points scored (92.6 ppg) and has plenty of depth and talent with 6-11, 26-year old Dwight Howard (20 ppg, 15 rpg), 32-year old 6-10 Hedo Turkoglu (12 ppg), 23-year old 6-10 Ryan Anderson (16 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and J.J. Redick (11 ppg) and Jason Richardson (10.0 apg) in backcourt. Guard Jameer Nelson (concussion) missed five straight games but came back last week against the Clippers and played well, with 15 points, 12 assists.

Still, there’s something missing with this group. Orlando had a miserable four-game losing streak, losing by 26 at New Orleans, 21 at home to Indiana and by 5 at Philly; but turned it around with a 3 game win streak over the Wizards, Cavs and at Pacers (85-81). They lost last week at home to the Clippers in OT, 107-102, then stumbled again in a tough home loss to the banged up Hawks, 89-87 in overtime.

What is it about close games that Orlando can’t handle? Turkoglu committed two turnovers in overtime. Jason Richardson missed a potential game-tying free throw with 11.6 seconds left in the extra period. And, after that, Richardson and Jameer Nelson missed 3-pointers that would have put the Magic ahead. Even short-handed Atlanta still creates matchup problems for Orlando. The Magic is 2-8 ATS in their last 10 home games, the under is 35-17-1 in their last 53 home games, and 42-21-1 under the total overall.

Chicago is the team to beat, starting 14-5 on the road, 9-1 at home. Yes, that’s almost twice as many road games and they are tops in the East! The Bulls are No. 9 in the NBA in points scored but still play choking defense, No. 2 in rebounds and No. 3 in points allowed. That’s going to be tough to beat in the Spring.

Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are a handful up front, while Luol Deng, Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton (when healthy) provide plenty of offensive punch and mismatches. A key will be the turf toe that Rose is battling, getting him healthy for the postseason should be a priority. By the way the Bulls are 43-21 ATS in their last 64 games playing on one day’s rest and 40-19 under the total with a day of rest.

While Chicago is outscoring teams by 10 points per game, Miami is at 7.5 pg. What’s interesting about the Heat is that the last few years they have focused on being a great defensive team, but this season they are running more, second in the NBA in points scored but 16th in points allowed. You don’t often find teams that make it to the NBA Finals shifting strategy the next season, but Miami is.

Despite the extra offense they are in the middle of the pack in rebounding, still not a big team in the low post with Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh. The under is 16-6 in their last 22 against a team with a winning record. They have had one showdown with Chicago and won, 97-93 at home as Bosh scored 24 points and added 12 rebounds. The Bulls played without forward Luol Deng and guard C.J. Watson, both sidelined with wrist injuries.

What stood out in the contest was the defense, with the rebounds even and the Bulls shooting 43%, Miami just 41%. That’s what you’ll expect to see the rest of the season (including playoffs) when they meet. Miami got 40 free throw attempts, as well, something you won’t see when they meet in Chicago.

And what about Philadelphia? Should they be in the Beast of the East mix? Well, the 76ers are outscoring opponents by +9 per game, a little better than Miami. The defense is No. 2 in the NBA allowing 86.8 points led by a big frontcourt of 7-1 Spencer Hawes (age 23) and 6-9 Elton Brand (age 32).

But how good are they really? Philadelphia seems to beat up the bad teams and can struggle against good ones. In a 5-game stretch the last two weeks against good teams, the 76ers went 2-3, losing to the Heat by 20, and to the Spurs and Clippers – all three at home. The 76ers are 38-18 ATS in their last 56 games against a team with a losing record and the under is 21-7 in their last 28 versus the Eastern Conference. And Philly has played twice as many home games as Miami and Chicago. The road to the Eastern Conference Finals still goes through Chicago and Miami until further notice. Good luck, as always....Al McMordie

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