Boston Celtics: Complete Eastern Conference Preview

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Mar 28, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) dunks a basket against Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli (31) in the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks finished just ahead of the Celtics last season with a surprising 41-41 under first-year head coach Jason Kidd. They should improve on that mark this season with the return of Jabari Parker, the 2nd pick in the 2014 draft, who was averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds before missing the last 56 games of his rookie campaign with a torn ACL. Milwaukee also signed center Greg Monroe, whose career average of 10.6 boards a game will no doubt help a team that finished 24th in the league in rebounding last year.

Third-year forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is still only 20, but the 6’11” native of Athens, appropriately dubbed ‘The Greek Freak,’ is poised to continue building towards what many think will eventually be NBA superstardom. He nearly doubled his scoring average to 12.7 points last season and is athletic to the point of it being almost ridiculous. With the Bucks and Celtics finishing so close last season, it’s worth noting Milwaukee took Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick in the 2013 Draft, two spots after the Celtics selected Kelly Olynyk, a fine player, but one whose ceiling is many stories below Antetokounmpo’s. The Bucks also have veterans Jerryd Bayless and O.J. Mayo in the mix, along with former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and John Henson, two players with a lot of potential in their own right.

Kidd did some pretty amazing work guiding Milwaukee from 15 wins the year before he arrived to the playoffs, but this team is just getting started. They could find themselves with a pair of All-Stars a couple years down the line in Parker and Antetokounmpo. Monroe is right on the cusp already. This trio has a strong supporting cast in place as well and could end up surprising people even more than they did a season ago.

Miami Heat

You just can’t keep a Pat Riley down. Miami’s Team President has added to his ring collection since joining the organization in 1995 and while this offseason wasn’t quite as big a coup as bringing LeBron James and Chris Bosh‘s talents to South Beach in 2010, Riley did manage to reposition the Heat to compete once again for a spot in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

Sometimes you have to get a little lucky. Miami did when Duke’s Justise Winslow fell to them with the 10th pick in this year’s draft. Some predictions had him going as high as 4th, and the Heat may have found their next great player in their first trip to the lottery since 2008. Riley and company also got point guard Goran Dragic to agree to stick around, re-signing the 2014 All-NBA Third Teamer to a five-year contract.

Heat relic Dwyane Wade opted out of his contract this offseason, terrifying the Miami faithful in the process, but he’ll be back on a one-year, $20 million deal. Bosh is healthy as well, after being sidelined last February with a blood clot in his lung. He’ll be joined in the frontcourt by Hassan Whiteside, who came out of nowhere to average a double-double for the Heat last season in just 23.8 minutes per game. Whiteside had previously played just 19 NBA games, all with the Sacramento Kings, dating back to the 2011-12 season. Since then he spent time in the D-League, China, and Lebanon, before signing with Miami in November of last year.

Whiteside exploded in the second half of the season, putting up huge rebounding numbers. He set a franchise record for blocked shots in a game in January, notching 12, along with 14 points and 13 rebounds in just 25 minutes of play. His workload should increase dramatically this season as he moves into his role as Miami’s full-time center. How exactly did the Heat find this guy after years out of the league? Who knows. Again, sometimes it takes a little luck.

Veteran Luol Deng completes the starting five for the Heat, and it could be a formidable one if all these talented pieces find a way to compliment each other. Wade hasn’t played 70 games in a season since 2010-11, but he did have periods of resurgence last season and finished with an impressive 24.3 points per game average in 62 appearances. The Heat will no doubt be back in the playoffs. How far they go depends on the team developing chemistry in what is really their first year playing together. Whiteside must prove he’s not a half season wonder and Dragic needs to take some of the scoring and ballhandling burden off of Wade. This team certainly wasn’t down for long, and with Riley still making the move upstairs, they’re headed in the right direction once again.

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