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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Punchy Battle Ahead for East's Beasts

Second of two articles

NEW YORK -- The Eastern Conference can be held responsible for the scorched-earth style of play that has emerged in basketball today. First it was the bad boys of Detroit's championship teams of 1989 and 1990; now it's the Knicks. Shaquille O'Neal is a great player, but he's far from pretty. Will there ever be another Dr. J? Another Bird? Another Air? Probably not, but there is hope in this conference.

Indiana plays wide open ball, the talented Nets want to run this year, and the Celtics have serious scoring punch. Unfortunately, punch is the operative word: The Knicks don't mind throwing them from time to time, if only to slow the game down. They, too, will have to concentrate more on offense if they want to go back to the finals.

Central Division

Indiana Pacers. After being relegated to the Clippers, point man Mark Jackson is glad to be back with a contender. The Pacers are a rounded, deep team; their success at the end of last year -- taking the Knicks seven games in the conference finals -- was no fluke. They will win the division, and go far again.

Charlotte Hornets. Big men Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning were injured for much of last season. If they're healthy, the Hornets will be strong -- there are plenty of weapons, such as miniature Mugsy Bogues and sniping sixth man Dell Curry. A slow start will mean coach Allan Bristow's neck.

Cleveland Cavaliers. Gerald Wilkins (14.3 ppg) is out for the season with an injured Achilles tendon, but things could be worse for the Cavs. Mark Price is a delight at the point, Brad Daugherty is one of the league's best centers. Tyrone Hill and Chris Mills will have to mix it up down low, though, for the Cavs to contend seriously.

Chicago Bulls. Without you-know-who, they will have to rely on Toni Kukoc (10.9 ppg) to come through in the clutch. Clearly Scottie Pippen (22.0 ppg, one of the league's best all-around players) can't be relied on to do anything but mope and moan. It is surprising he's still in Chicago after he benched himself in the closing seconds of a pivotal playoff game against the Knicks last year. A long season awaits Bulls fans.

Atlanta Hawks. Mookie Blaylock and Stacey Augmon anchor a powerful backcourt, but beyond that, the Hawks are treading water. Overall the frontcourt is weak aside from Kevin Willis at power forward. The good news is they have Lenny Wilkens as coach, but still, they should come down to earth after last year's 57 wins.

Detroit Pistons. Their selection of Duke's Grant Hill in the draft was a great move, but they still lack any semblance of a frontcourt. Mediocrity in Motown.

Milwaukee Bucks. Glenn Robinson, the No. 1 pick in the draft, still is looking for his $100 million multi-year contract. The Bucks refuse to pony up, but without him, they're looking at another losing year.

Atlantic Division

New York Knicks. Patrick Ewing has looked brilliant in the preseason, John Starks (19.0 ppg) is dying to atone for his 2-for-18 outing in game seven at Houston, and the frontcourt is as solid as ever. The Knicks had a good draft, picking up Charlie Ward of Florida State -- yes, the Heisman Trophy winner -- and smooth-shooting Monty Williams of Notre Dame. Expect to see them back in the finals, or close.

Orlando Magic. With Shaquille O'Neal, Horace Grant and Anfernee Hardaway, these folks have a superb core of players, and guard Nick Anderson is underrated. And say what you will about Shaq, his numbers stand up. In a game last year against the Nets, he had an unbelievable triple-double: 24 points, 28 rebounds and 15 blocks. Watch out, New York.

New Jersey Nets. They posed serious problems for the Knicks last year, and may again. New coach Butch Beard promises an exciting, fast-paced attack, with point man Kenny Anderson and forward Derrick Coleman leading the way. The Nets took a chance by picking raw center Yinka Dare in the draft. If it works out, watch out.

Boston Celtics. The Celtics will be better than most people think. If "Out of Service" Pervis Ellison stays healthy and Dominique Wilkins can put up some big numbers, the Celts will be fine. Their backcourt is fine, and Dino Radja can play in the NBA.

Miami Heat. Lots of perimeter shooting, with Steve Smith, Harold Miner and Brian Shaw; the problem is, rookie Khalid Reeves, a pure shooter, is going to have to step in and play point. A talented team, but it needs more beef.

Philadelphia 76ers. New coach John Lucas will need more than fire in the belly to get these guys into the playoffs. Clarence Weatherspoon (18.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg) is a forward of the Barkley school, but other than that, the Sixers are meek. Picking 7-6 Shawn Bradley in the draft last year was a big mistake.

Washington Bullets. Still rebuilding, but they do have great young talent: Don MacLean (18.2 ppg), Tom Gugliotta (17.1 ppg) and Calbert Cheaney (12.0 ppg). Plus, they selected top-notch forward Juwan Howard in the draft; now they just need to get him signed. New coach Jim Lynam should have them contending -- for respectability, anyway.