The Atlantic Division features two good teams (Miami and New York), two fair and interesting teams (Philadelphia and New Jersey) and three teams that could lose 50 games each (Boston, Orlando and Washington).
The Heat should win 50-plus games, but its lack of athletic ability and offense could prove costly against teams such as the Knicks, Spurs and Lakers. Alonzo Mourning should be an MVP candidate, but most of players on the Heat's roster are older than 30, which could make this year a must-win season for Coach Pat Riley.
The Knicks could make their second straight NBA Finals appearance, but the focus may begin to move from C Patrick Ewing to Gs Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston. New York was a much better team in last year's finals against San Antonio when the Knicks pushed the ball up the floor and took away the Spurs' size advantage. The Knicks are unsure of the timetable for Ewing's return from an Achilles' tendon injury and in his place will use Andrew Lang, Chris Dudley, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby.
G Allen Iverson leads the 76ers, who will not sneak up on teams as they did last year, when they shocked the Magic in the first round of the playoffs. The 76ers have a plethora of injuries and will open the regular season without C Matt Geiger (knee surgery) and F Theo Ratliff (stress fracture in left knee).
New Jersey, afflicted with injuries last season, should improve on last year's 16-34 mark. The Nets should have a strong starting five of Stephon Marbury, Keith Van Horn, Kerry Kittles, Jayson Williams and Kendall Gill if everyone remains healthy. The Nets are probably without Williams, who is recovering from a broken leg, until January. Rookie Evan Eschmeyer is out until at least February with a torn pectoral muscle.
Orlando has undergone a major reorganization in the offseason, leaving the Magic with just two players (Matt Harpring, Bo Outlaw) who started at least 22 games for it last year. The Magic will look to build for the future around F Harpring (8.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last year in his rookie season) and top draft pick Corey Maggette.
Boston features two all-star players (G Kenny Anderson and F Antoine Walker) who have been challenged by Coach Rick Pitino to improve their training habits. F Danny Fortson will miss the first two months of the season with a stress fracture in his foot.
Last season: 19-31 (5th)
Did not make playoffs.
Added: F Eric Williams, F Danny Fortson and G Eric Washington (trade with Nuggets), G Calbert Cheaney (free agent, Wizards), G Wayne Turner (Kentucky).
Lost: G Ron Mercer, F Popeye Jones and C Dwayne Schintzius (traded to Nuggets), G Bruce Bowen (free agent, 76ers).
Coach: Rick Pitino, third season, 55-77.
Keys to success: Intimidation. Fortson and Vitaly Potapenko provide strength, size and 18.2 rebounds per game between them. Antoine Walker is the team's main offensive weapon and needs to return to his previous form after a subpar '99 season.
Last season: 33-17 (1st)
Lost to Knicks in first round.
Added: F Otis Thorpe (free agent, Wizards), F Tim James (Miami), G Anthony Carter (Hawaii), G Rodney Buford (Creighton).
Lost: G Terry Porter (free agent, Spurs), C Terry Mills (free agent, Pistons), G Blue Edwards (free agent), F Mark Davis (free agent, Warriors).
Coach: Pat Riley, fifth season, 191-105.
Keys to success: Alonzo Mourning (11 rebounds per game) needs help from a team that ranked 22nd in rebounding a year ago. The lack of rebounding hurt the team: Miami had the sixth-best field goal percentage in the league, but ranked only 23rd in average points per game last season.
New Jersey Nets
Last season: 16-34 (7th)
Did not make playoffs.
Added: F Johnny Newman (trade with Clippers), C Evan Eschmeyer (Northwestern), C Michael Cage (free agent).
Lost: G Eric Murdock (traded to Clippers), C Rony Seikaly (waived), G Doug Overton (free agent, 76ers).
Coach: Don Casey, second season, 13-17.
Keys to success: Whether Stephon Marbury (acquired at the trading deadline last season) can play the way he did down the stretch last year for an entire 82-game season. If so, he could carry the Nets the way Iverson carried the 76ers.
New York Knicks
Last season: 27-23 (4th)
Lost to Spurs in NBA Finals.
Added: F John Wallace (free agent, Raptors), C Andrew Lang (free agent, Bulls), F DeMarco Johnson (UNC Charlotte).
Lost: C Herb Williams (waived).
Coach: Jeff Van Gundy, fifth season, 130-96.
Keys to success: Not many teams can play different styles as well as the Knicks. They can play a fast-break game with Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby or half court with Larry Johnson and Patrick Ewing. Wallace and Allan Houston can play either well.
Last season: 33-17 (2nd)
Lost to 76ers in first round.
Added: G Tariq Abdul-Wahad (trade with Kings), G Pat Garrity (trade with Suns), F Ben Wallace (trade with Wizards), F Chris Gatling and F Armen Gilliam (trade with Bucks), G Lee Mayberry (trade with Grizzlies), F Harvey Grant and G Anthony Parker (trade with 76ers), G Corey Maggette (Duke).
Lost: G Penny Hardaway (traded to Suns), G Nick Anderson (traded to Kings), C Ike Austin (traded to Wizards), F Horace Grant (traded to SuperSonics), G B.J. Armstrong (free agent, Bulls).
Coach: Doc Rivers, first season.
Keys to success: Cohesiveness. The team's overhaul included the hiring of Rivers. They have stockpiled nine first-round picks in the next five years.
Last season: 28-22 (3rd)
Lost to Pacers in second round.
Added: F Billy Owens (free agent, SuperSonics), F Bruce Bowen (free agent, Celtics), F Jumaine Jones (Georgia), C Todd MacCullough (Washington), F Korleone Young (free agent, Pistons).
Lost: C Rick Mahorn (free agent), F Harvey Grant and G Anthony Parker (traded to Magic).
Coach: Larry Brown, third season, 59-73.
Keys to success: G Allen Iverson should be one of the players who will benefit from the NBA's curbing of physical play. Depth in front court is among best in conference.