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Preseason rankings: Eastern Conference

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The Cavaliers were able to get through the Eastern Conference last season by really only playing one legitimate playoff series – the East finals against Detroit. That will not happen again this season. In fact, there will be a new conference champion.

Here's how I see the East as teams begin their preseason schedules.

1. Boston Celtics – With three unselfish stars in Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett, the learning curve is shorter than most. They will dominate a conference with only three contenders (the others being Detroit and Miami).

2. Detroit Pistons – They are one of the few teams that can only beat themselves. That's why they always believe it's a fluke when they lose. Experience wins, and Detroit's veterans can still get the job done.

3. Miami HeatShaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade tasted the sweet smell of success two years ago and have the tools to get back to the NBA finals. With Alonzo Mourning leaving after this season, an aging Shaq gets one last real chance at another title before he's done.

4. Cleveland CavaliersLeBron James and the young Cavs shocked the world last season, but the surprise factor is over. They will have a big task learning to live up to expectations.

5. Chicago Bulls – The young and gifted Bulls are in trouble. When Garnett came to the East and didn't land in Chicago, it slowed their progress.

6. Toronto Raptors – They're a nice team, and that very well might be their problem in getting over the top. The Raptors might need someone to get a little nasty or trade for a pit bull.

7. New Jersey Nets – They didn't get better, but there's too much talent on the roster not to make the playoffs.

8. Washington Wizards – With Agent Zero (aka Gilbert Arenas), the Wizards are a playoff team, but with no consistent inside scoring, the Wizards will struggle this season.

9. Orlando Magic – Just not enough firepower. The Magic have a lot of very good players, but none is a 20-point man on a good team. (Sorry, Rashard Lewis.)

10. New York Knicks – Scandals, poor chemistry and a bunch of round pegs trying to fit in square holes. This once storied franchise is in disarray.

11. Indiana Pacers – Who's on this team again?

12. Milwaukee Bucks – Without sounding redundant, there's just not enough talent. The Bucks are potential driven which leads to losses in the NBA.

13. Philadelphia 76ers – They'll be searching for an answer all year! OK, OK, that was a cheap shot, but it will take a lot of practice, practice, practice! (I crack myself up.)

14. Charlotte Bobcats – The Bobcats are much too inexperienced at all positions, including coach, to make noise this season. That said, they still are my sleeper East team.

15. Atlanta Hawks – Dominique Wilkins, Doc Rivers and Spud Webb are rolling over in their basketball graves right now. The Hawks have become the 2008 Clippers.