NBA Predictions: How Will Eastern Conference Playoffs Shape Up?

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How Will The East Shape Up In The 2013-14 Season?

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

This is a great time of the year. The time when the NFL and NBA overlap -- my two favorite sports -- where I have all the football I can handle over the weekends, and plenty of basketball to watch during the week. Truly, this is the best time of the year.

With the NBA season nearly upon us (five days away, to be exact), naturally, it's time to look six months ahead at the probable results of the regular season. Naturally.

Regardless of the fact that it's way too premature, making predictions are fun. Yes, all I have to go off of when deciding exactly how I believe the East will play out in the 2013-14 season is how teams have looked in the preseason, how their rosters look on paper and, of course, last season's results, but to be completely honest, I actually think these will be extremely accurate (at least with the top-five spots) when I look back on them as the season ends late in April.

So, in advance, I apologize to any Boston Celtics fans who think their team will surprise anyone. I'd also like to express my condolences to the perennial bottom-four-seed Atlanta Hawks, as they are not featured in this slideshow. But I don't want to give away too much in this first slide. For all you know, the Charlotte Bobcats could be on one of the following slides... Or not. But you don't know that... Except that I just told you. Semantics.

Nevertheless, I need to stop rambling. Want to know who'll make the playoffs and how they'll be seeded? Click through to find out.

Brian Neal is an NFL and NBA contributor at RantSports.com and senior at Lewis University. Follow him on Twitter @brianneal23, "Like" him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google+.

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8. Cleveland Cavaliers

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David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Picking the final seed of the East was actually a pretty daunting task. In fact, the final three were all pretty tough. The Cavs will make the playoffs this year, though, as Kyrie Irving is just too good to not finally bring his team there. If guys like Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack stay healthy, I think they'll have enough firepower in a very weak East -- at least after the top-five teams -- with or without Andrew Bynum. Granted, without Bynum, I don't think they'll hit .500 for the season record-wise (which will still be enough to make the playoffs). If he does come back at some point and actually stays on the floor, then look for Cleveland to potentially grab the sixth seed, but I'm not holding my breath here.

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7. Toronto Raptors

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John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

This may come as a surprise to some, but the Raptors have made some solid moves over the past year or so. Trading for Rudy Gay gives them another wing player who is great at scoring inside, and is a defensive stud. Pairing him with Demar Derozan is great, as they have two extremely athletic wings. However, a lot of their success this season depends on the health of two players: Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas. If those two can stay on there floor, the Raptors will have a full starting lineup that can be dynamic.

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6. Detroit Pistons

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Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

That's right, four teams from the Central Division will make the playoffs (if you were wondering, Indiana and Chicago are further down this list: shocker). All those moves the Pistons made during the offseason will pay off with a return to the playoffs this year. Bringing in Josh Smith was a move that gave them one of the most formidable starting front courts in the league, as he joins forces with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. They also traded for Brandon Jennings, who hopefully will improve his shot selection now that he has some other players who are good scorers in Monroe and Smith. This team should end the year a couple games over .500, but I don't expect them to make much noise in the playoffs as several of their best players are all relatively inexperienced.

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5. New York Knicks

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Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks are good team, but not a great team. In my mind, the four teams ahead of them on this list are the only teams in the East who can compete for a title this year. Sure, the Knicks still have Carmelo Anthony. They've also got J.R. Smith (who is expected to suit up tomorrow night for the first time), Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler, but who else? Is Pablo Prigioni or Raymond Felton "good" point guards? Is Amare Stoudemire actually going to be healthy? Is Andrea Bargnani magically going to learn not only how to stay uninjured, but also play defense? The answer to all of those questions is no. Therefore, the Knicks will be no higher than the fifth seed in 2013-14, and will not be title contenders once again.

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4. Indiana Pacers

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Some may be surprised to see the Pacers as the fourth seed after nearly taking out the Miami Heat last year in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, the next three teams are legitimately better overall. Does that mean the Pacers won't bring it their all and make a run in the postseason? Absolutely not. Once they get to the playoffs, I think they're good enough to take on any team with Paul George (who is nearing true superstardom), Roy Hibbert and David West, as well as some very good role players. However, I just don't see them being consistent enough yet to win enough games during the regular season to finish higher than fourth.

Also, you may notice that Danny Granger is not mentioned here. That's because I think he'll be traded before mid-season, and hopefully for a good, young guard.

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3. Brooklyn Nets

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Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets truly have set themselves up for a championship run this year. Granted, it's really only for one year as they traded for the elderly Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. Not to knock any of those three guys with that phrasing, as they're all very capable still, but how many more years do they plan to play? Or maybe the questions is how long will their bodies allow them to keep playing at a high level? Nevertheless, I expect them to be strong this year, especially when brought together with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. However, a lack of depth will keep them from taking one of the top-two seeds. If anyone goes down, I don't see them being able to really replace their production, as the team really only goes about seven deep.

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2. Miami Heat

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Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

This may also come as a surprise to many, but I really don't see the Heat coming away with the top spot in the East this season. This isn't because I don't think they're supremely talented, nor is it because I don't acknowledge LeBron James as the clear best player in the NBA. Rather, it comes down to their strategy and outlook on the regular season. Finishing the regular season with the most wins possible isn't their ultimate goal. And with the worn down legs of Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade, I don't see them starting all their best players in every game this year. Their goal will be to make the playoffs as one of the top seeds, which they'll do even while resting some of their guys, and then turn on the jets to another title defense. However, I think their road there will be extremely tough this time around.

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1. Chicago Bulls

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Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

And here we are; the No. 1 spot goes to the Bulls. Now, anybody who knows anything about me knows that I am a Chicago fan. I'd like to ensure you all, though, that if I thought this team would finish second or third or fourth in the East, I'd have put them there. However, my professional opinion is that they'll reassert themselves as the top seeds in the conference now that Derrick Rose is back.

I don't know if any of you have caught any glimpses of the former MVP, but he looks as dominant as ever. Soon, there won't be any doubt that he is still the second-best player in the conference, and a top-five player in the entire league. He's on a team that plays better defense than anyone else, thanks in large part to head coach Tom Thibodeau, and a team that is very deep once again. They've got five legitimate starters, and solid backups at every position. Because of those reasons, I see the Bulls winning 60-plus games like they did in 2010-11 and 2011-12, and nabbing home court throughout the playoffs.

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