Updated: Feb. 23, 2007, 4:14 PM ET

Who's the beast of the East?

Looking at Sunday's ABC doubleheader featuring the Bulls-Pistons (ABC, 12:30 p.m. ET) and Cavs-Heat (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) we asked our experts to pick their favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.


Jim O'Brien, ESPN.com: The Pistons should represent the East in the Finals. They appear to be the strongest team right now by a considerable margin.

Earlier this week, I would have predicted it would have been a close call between them and the Miami Heat, but now with Wade's injury it will be a big enough challenge for the Heat to make the playoffs.

The Pistons have great experience as a playoff team and as a past championship team. They have solid depth and should have home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Unlike the Bulls and Cavs, the Pistons have a number of proven clutch performers. Also, their disappointment in last year's playoffs should help motivate them and get them over any bumps that stand between them and the NBA Finals.


Tim Legler, ESPN.com: The Eastern Conference will ultimately be decided by the Miami Heat's health. If the playoffs get under way and the Heat have a healthy Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal, they are still the favorite, in my book.

The Pistons are the best team on paper, but Wade is the greatest finisher in the game. There is no team in the East that the Heat will fear, regardless of their seed.


Jeff Weltman, Scouts Inc.: In the East, this truly is the year of "whoever gets hot at the right time," which makes this a tough call in February.

Before Dwyane Wade's injury, I felt that Miami packed the biggest potential playoff wallop; but even with a healthy Wade, Detroit was -- and still is -- the most likely to realize its potential.

Detroit is the only playoff-tested team without any significant hurdles to overcome (injuries, chemistry, roster issues, etc.). Another freebie midseason All-Star acquisition doesn't hurt, either.

I'm not ready to cross off Chicago, Washington or Cleveland, but in a tightly bunched race I'll take the team with the fewest obstacles in its path. Detroit.


Allan Houston, ESPN.com: The Detroit Pistons are having a defensive resurgence. They are playing more the style that fits the way they played when they won their most recent championship.

Their tough defense leads to a lot of easy baskets the other way. On offense, they pass the ball very well and are all unselfish as they look for the open teammate.

Along with the great teamwork, they have more depth than most teams in the East and are playing at a higher level than in the past.

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The Daddy Needs To Take Control
Shaquille O'Neal
Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images
Shaq is going to need to be a force to keep the Heat in contention.


Wade's Pain Is East's Gain

As things stand today, the Heat are 26-27 and in possession of the eighth seed in the East, but without Wade it's hard to imagine that situation remaining the same for long. The Heat are 1-6 when Wade hasn't played this season, with all six losses in double figures.

And in the other 46 games, it's only been the brilliance of the league's top-rated player that has kept the team's head above water. As I've been pointing out since the third week of the season, Wade's supporting cast has been horrid.

Yes, Shaquille O'Neal is back, but this isn't the Shaq of old. Minus their lone superstar (sorry, Shaq), it's tough to imagine the Heat winning more than a third of their games -- and that may be generous, considering they were barely over .500 even when Wade played.

Read John Hollinger's full blog



Missing The Point

Just four seasons ago, the Cavs lost 65 games and just hoped they could win the lottery.

Now that they are a team expected to win 50-plus games (again) and compete for the Eastern Conference title, some turmoil has set in. There are rumors that second-year coach Mike Brown is in jeopardy and reports that LeBron James and Larry Hughes are unhappy with Brown's offense.

And just this week, John Hollinger proclaimed James the second most disappointing player in the league this year.

So which is it? Are the Cavs a good young team on the rise ... or is the sky falling?

As usual, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

The Cavs might have put themselves into this awkward position simply by getting too good too soon.

• Read the rest of Weltman's column




Big Ben's Return


Welcome Back Wallace
Ben Wallace
Victor Baldizon/Getty Images
Ben Wallace returns to the Palace for the first time since signing with the Bulls.



Difference Makers

Jeff, (Chicago): Ben Gordon purest shooter? Rarely hits the rim even. Always balanced, even off the dribble.

David Thorpe: He's in the running.

Rich (OC, CA): What do you think of the young guys on the Pistons like Delfino and Maxiell? Can they be starter-caliber players in the future?

David Thorpe: Not sure about Delfino -- seems a little lazy. But I love Maxiell.

Justin (Miami): Hypothetical: assuming Oden lives up to all the hype, which would you pick #1 if they were both coming out at the same age: Oden or ... LeBron?

David Thorpe: Bron.

Read David Thorpe's full chat Insider



Daily Dish: Chad Ford with Marc Stein

Daily Dish: Stein breaks down the trade deadline with Chad Ford, featuring deals the Cavs and Bulls should have made.

Daily Dish: Ford with Stein



Hollinger Power Rankings

ESPN.com's Hollinger Power Rankings feature all four teams in the top 10. See where they check in.

Here are some of the comments that you have submitted about how these teams are ranked:

Steve (Chicago): No point in throwing away a solid young squad over Pau Gasol. These Baby Bulls can run. Big Ben will continue to mesh and the Bulls will be poised for an Eastern Conference run.

Marc (Bentonville): There is a pattern of teams in sports who follow a dominant disappointing season with a not so dominant championship season. The Pistons are following that pattern to a tee. Keep playing boys!!

Greg (Akron): LeBron has got his swagger back. I'm telling you this right now, I give you two weeks before the Cavs climb into your top five. Be prepared to be a witness!!!

Jarrod (Miami): I'm not sure what the big deal is, it's not like Wade injured his free-throw shooting arm. They should keep running him out there.

• Click here to submit your team comment on the new Hollinger Power Rankings



Ben Who?

Big Ben Wallace returns to Detroit for the first time since signing with the Chicago Bulls.

The loss of Wallace was supposed to hurt the defense but it doesn't show thus far.

Detroit Pistons Defense Comparison
2005-06 2006-07
PPG Allowed 90.2 92.5
NBA Rank 3 3
FG Pct. Allowed 45.2 44.1
NBA Rank 13 4

-- ESPN Research





 

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