If the previous lockout-shortened season in 1999 taught us anything, it's that older teams will struggle to keep up with fresher-legged foes, and points will be at a premium. With an absurdly compact schedule, the motto of this season won't be "may the best team win," but "may the most fortunate team survive."
With the Knicks adding defensive dynamo Tyson Chandler, they may have enough defense to complement a talented group of scorers. Can they reintroduce the ball-movement that disappeared after the Carmelo Anthony trade? If so, the Knicks are the favorites to win the division; the Conference Finals are a possibility. With Jeff Green out for the season with a heart condition, Boston will be fielding an old team with a short bench: the kind of roster that should be torn asunder by the brutal schedule. The Celtics' window of opportunity may have been closed by LeBron James last season. Led by young talents such as Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia is a young team that can score in transition. The 76ers likely will resist lockout attrition better than others and should make the playoffs. Toronto and the Nets each need another impact scorer and more defenders to contend.
Adding Richard Hamilton gives Chicago an off-ball scorer that won't be the defensive liability Kyle Korver was. Plus, even if the Bulls can't create an effective offense, Chicago has an ace scorer in Derrick Rose to create tough points. The Bulls should be in the same league with Miami: way atop the Eastern Conference. Indiana added a reliable power forward in David West, plus point guard George Hill. If Hill is as good as advertised, the Pacers will be a playoff team. Coach Scott Skiles' pedal-to-the-metal approach should burn Milwaukee out. Detroit doesn't have enough offensive firepower to contend, while the Cleveland will spend the season developing rookie Kyrie Irving.
Without much of a training camp to install new plays and develop cohesion, most teams will be forced to rely on an inordinate amount of one-on-one scoring to create points. Advantage Miami, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh? The addition of Shane Battier should make the Heat's superb defense even better. Orlando is operating with severe Dwight Howard distractions. Also, criticized as they were, the departures of Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter leave the Magic light on perimeter-shooters who can score off the dribble. The Magic may struggle to get out of the first round again. Atlanta hasn't taken the leap many thought they would after challenging Boston in 2008. If Joe Johnson slips, the Hawks will likely be a first-round team only. Charlotte will field one of the worst offensive rosters in the league, leaving them impotent. Washington is still waiting on Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, and Nick Young to mature into consistent performers who can complement John Wall.