That's right. Fourth. Behind Miami, Indianapolis and New Jersey, in that order. How does a team go from being two-time conference champs to fourth without losing a single key player? Is it the loss of Larry Brown? Hardly. Even Chauncey admits as much:
"We're going to miss Larry Brown, but so many times it was just about Larry," says Billups of the 65-year-old coach, who at first appeared on his way to the Cavaliers but wound up with the Knicks. "It was always, 'Larry did this, Larry did that,' with the result that I don't think the players got enough credit."
If anything, the bench will be deeper. Darko Milicic is finally playing some real minutes in the preseason, and so far the results have been great --- dude's leading the league right now with 3.5 blocks a game. Mark my words, this is the year he goes from novelty pick to legit bench depth.
To give SI some slack, I'm sure the reason they put Detroit fourth was because they followed the league rules for seeding playoff spots -- since they put the Pistons second in the division, the best we could be is fourth behind the other two division champs. But while a lot of people are high on the Pacers this year, I'm not convinced there's enough talent on that roster to beat out Detroit -- even with Artest's return.
NBA Preview: Scouting Reports [Sports Illustrated]