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Chad Ford Says....


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1. Indiana Pacers

Projected Record: 56-26

Current Record: 41-15 (No. 1)

The Pacers didn't make the changes that teams like the Pistons or Knicks did, but the team has matured under the tutelage of new head coach Rick Carlisle. The Pacers sport the best big man in the East in Jermaine O'Neal, and they also have the league's top on-the-ball defender in Ron Artest. His loss for the rest of the season, however, should be a significant blow to Indiana. How will the Pacers reincorporate him into the flow come playoff time? As good as Al Harrington is, he isn't Artest. A so-so bench and a marginal backcourt also could pose problems in the playoffs. Jamaal Tinsley is better this year, but is he good enough to lead Indiana to a championship? Carlisle has found a way to make the Pacers into an athletic, cohesive unit, and that counts for a lot in the postseason. Their huge lead in the standings should make them locks for the No. 1 seed in the East. But come playoff time, watch out for the Pistons.


2. Detroit Pistons

Projected Record: 52-30

Current Record: 34-24 (No. 2)

With the addition of Rasheed Wallace, the Pistons have the balance they need to compete with anyone in the league. 'Sheed will always be a question mark because of his inexcusable mental lapses when his team needs him the most. But if he's focused (and he seems to be right now), he's one of the most dangerous players in the league and gives Detroit something no team in the East has had in years -- a starting front line as big or bigger than anything you'll find in the West.


3. New Jersey Nets

Projected Record: 50-32

Current Record:34-20 (No. 3)

The Nets, who we all but wrote off a month ago, are rolling under new head coach Lawrence Frank. The team has won 13 straight and is playing with inspiration for the first time all season. The Nets, too, have a player in Kenyon Martin who is turning into a dominant force in the paint (18.7 ppg, 10 rpg in February). And Richard Jefferson's play in February has been even better. His 19.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.7 apg on 55 percent shooting has given the team a huge boost. Kidd, who just didn't play like himself early in the season, is still struggling with his shot (he is shooting just 36 percent from the field in February) but his assist numbers are finally back up in double digits. Does New Jersey have the depth or the front line to go all the way? There are serious questions about their long-term viability, but right now they're the hottest team in the league.


4. New Orleans Hornets

Projected Record: 46-36

Current Record: 30-25 (No. 4)

Once again, injuries have plagued the Hornets all season. They are getting great play from Baron Davis and Jamaal Magloire. And, with the return of Jamal Mashburn, the Hornets finally should be in a position to make a surge. They have great balance between their frontcourt and backcourt, but there always seems to be something missing. This year, a lack of cohesive defensive effort likely will trip them up before they get too far into the playoffs.


5. Milwaukee Bucks

Projected Record: 44-38

Current Record: 29-26 (No. 5)

The surprise team of the year just got stronger with the addition of Keith Van Horn. Now the Bucks can be as lethal offensively as they are defensively. No one's sure what the playoff viability of this team is, though. Van Horn will give them another 20-point-a-night scoring threat, which will take some of the load of Michael Redd. But will the lack of any real inside scoring threat combined with shaky point-guard play kill them come playoff time?


6. New York Knicks

Projected Record: 43-39

Current Record: 26-31 (No. 6)

The Knicks have done more to improve themselves this season than any team in the league. With new additions Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway, Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed on board, the team is more athletic and can now run teams off the floor. Allan Houston's back is still an issue, but we still expect the Knicks to finish strong (17-8?) and give a team like the Nets a run for their money in the playoffs. But we still have to ask the question, Isiah: Do you really believe this team is a Finals contender? While it's easy to like all the moves the Knicks have made, they continue to paint themselves into a corner long-term. If Kurt Thomas gets re-upped this summer, who are they going to trade if they find out this doesn't work?


7. Miami Heat

Projected Record: 40-42

Current Record: 25-32 (No. 8)

The Heat are playing really good basketball right now and seem to have the right combination of youthful exuberance and veteran grit to make a nice season-ending run. Lamar Odom has been great, Dwyane Wade has been a revelation, and they've received solid performances from veterans like Brian Grant, Eddie Jones and Rafer Alston. If Stan Van Gundy can ever get Caron Butler back on track, the Heat will be dangerous. But right now, their bench is just a little too thin to make a serious run in the playoffs.


8. Cleveland Cavs

Projected Record: 39-43

Current Record: 22-34 (No. 11)

I think the Raptors or Cavs will take the last spot in the East. Having watched both teams play lately, I don't think it's a stretch to claim Cleveland is really beginning to hit its stride, while the Raptors, mostly due to injuries, are really slipping. As much as it pains me to write this, GM Jim Paxson has done a good job of assembling veteran talent to play with LeBron. Eric Williams and Jeff McInnis have really made an impact, and Carlos Boozer amazes me just about every night. If Zydrunas Ilgauskas can keep playing the way he's been playing lately (18 ppg, 12.6 rpg in his last five), I just don't see how the wounded Raptors can fight them off.


who's the man?


this guy!

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