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Posted at 12:49 PM ET, 12/26/2011

NBA preview: Playoff predictions

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Listed in predicted order of finish


Can LeBron James and the Heat live up to expectations this season? (Mike Stone - REUTERS)

1. Heat

Coach: Erik Spoelstra

Prediction: 51-15

Miami added Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem is healthy and Chris Bosh got bigger — but the team will win a title only when LeBron James can play at a two-time MVP level when it counts.

2. Bulls

Coach: Tom Thibodeau

Prediction: 49-17

Derrick Rose won MVP, making Tom Thibodeau’s job easier in his first year as a head coach, but the Bulls will need more from a healthy Carlos Boozer and the newly signed Richard Hamilton to build upon that success.

3. Celtics

Coach: Doc Rivers

Prediction: 43-23

Rajon Rondo will have more pressure on him to keep the Celtics relevant, with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Jermaine O’Neal getting older, and an unfortunate heart ailment befalling Jeff Green.

4. Knicks

Coach: Mike D’Antoni

Prediction: 41-25

The Knicks should be better with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire together for a full season and Tyson Chandler as a defensive presence; back-court depth remains a concern.

5. Pacers

Coach: Frank Vogul

Prediction: 40-26

The Pacers put a first-round scare in Chicago last season and addressed their biggest need in the offseason by adding underrated all-star forward David West to one of the youngest and most athletic NBA teams.

6. Magic

Coach: Stan Van Gundy

Prediction: 38-28

Dwight Howard trade speculation will cloud the Magic all season, but he remains the league’s best center and makes any team a contender simply by stepping on the court.

7. 76ers

Coach: Doug Collins

Prediction: 36-30

The 76ers mattered again after Doug Collins established a culture based upon sharing the ball and defensive tenacity. Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner will need to improve since team made no significant roster moves.

8. Hawks

Coach: Larry Drew

Prediction: 35-31

The Hawks let Jamal Crawford leave in free agency and Kirk Hinrich starts the season on the shelf, so they will need third-year guard Jeff Teague to become a star to avoid a precipitous drop.

By  |  12:49 PM ET, 12/26/2011

 
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