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The Denver Stiffs EASTERN CONFERENCE Preview...

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Over the next two weeks, NBA fans are going to be inundated with season previews from magazines, newspapers, TV pundits and bloggers. So I'll try to keep my conference previews brief and relate it to the Nuggets. Here it goes...

1. BOSTON CELTICS
Outlook: Even though several Eastern Conference teams improved themselves significantly in the offseason, Boston remains the cream of the crop and should - barring injury - be able to recover from losing James Posey and return to the Finals.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 1-1. The Celtics hammered the Nuggets 119-93 in Boston, and in the Nuggets most exciting home victory of the season, the Nuggets exacted revenge with a 124-118 victory right after the All-Star break.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: For the second year in a row, the Nuggets play at Boston early (11/14) in the season and on the second of a road back-to-back. I'd bet the farm on Boston to cover the spread in that game. They meet again in Denver on 11/23.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: Leon Powe - a breakout bench player for the Celtics last season and into the Finals - was originally drafted by the Nuggets in the second round and immediately traded to Boston for a future second round pick. Kroenke Cronie Mark Warkentien will tell you that this was necessary to acquire J.R. Smith, but that's nonsense. The Nuggets could have just just used another future second rounder and kept Powe.

2. DETROIT PISTONS
Outlook: Knowing his Pistons have turned into the Atlanta Braves of the NBA, team president Joe Dumars tried to swing a Chauncey Billups-and-Tayshaun Price-for-Carmelo Anthony trade in the offseason. But after the Nuggets turned him down, Dumars decided to stand pat, despite vowing not to do so this summer.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 2-0. Included a 136 point outburst at Detroit (the Pistons averaged 97.5 ppg last season).
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: The Pistons come to Pepsi Center on 1/9 and the Nuggets play at Detroit on 3/3.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: Both Billups and Antonio McDyess played for the Nuggets previously. They've both maintained such a high level of performance that many Nuggets fans have wondered if we'd be better off with them back in Denver.

3. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Outlook: The addition of the back-stabbing Elton Brand automatically vaults the 76ers into the top four in the East.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 1-1. Embarrassed the Nuggets during Allen Iverson's return to Philadelphia for the first time by putting up over 70 points...by halftime!
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: They face off at Pepsi Center the day after Christmas and again in Philadelphia during an - eek - eight game road trip.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: Since the Iverson trade two seasons ago, no two teams have been more connected. Former Nuggets Andre Miller and Reggie Evans were critical to the 76ers success last season.

4. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Outlook: The Cavaliers' depth remains painfully thin and they're still overly reliant on LeBron James. Bringing in Mo Williams should help give the Cavs that "second option", but we thought that about Larry Hughes, too.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 0-2. For whatever reason, the Nuggets have played very well against Cleveland during the LeBron era.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: Both matchups are on national TV. At Cleveland on 11/13 (TNT) and at Denver on 12/19 (on ESPN).
Six Degrees of Nuggets: 35 year old point guard Eric Snow (who will make $6.7 million this season!) is the only active player left from George Karl's 1995-96 Western Conference champion Seattle Supersonics.

5. ORLANDO MAGIC
Outlook: The Magic did nothing to improve themselves in the offseason and will be rewarded for that by losing in the first round of the playoffs.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 1-1. Rumor had it that the Nuggets lost in Orlando so badly because they were out partying in Miami late the night before.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: The Magic come to Denver for the last game of a seven game home stand (1/17) and they meet again in Orlando on 1/11...again, the night after being in Miami. Ugh.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: Tony "El Busto" Battie and his $5.2 million (!) salary is still on the books, but I don't know if he's playing this year. The other Nuggets connection would be starting point guard Jameer Nelson, whom the Nuggets drafted in 2004 and subsequently traded to Orlando for a future first round pick (that became Julius Hodge). Most educated Nuggets fans were thrilled with the Nelson pick and have since been pissed off that the Nuggets didn't keep him. How would Nelson and Powe look on the Nuggets roster today?

6. TORONTO RAPTORS
Outlook: I might be the only one, but I liked the T.J. Ford-for-Jermaine O'Neal trade that the Raptors made this summer. Not only will O'Neal be looking to rehab his career, but this moves Jose Calderon to the starting point guard spot, a big upgrade over Ford.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 0-2. After losing at Utah and San Antonio, the Nuggets had a field day when the Raptors came to Denver and beat them 137-105 and then took care of them in Toronto nine days later.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: Carmelo Anthony goes head-to-head with fellow Olympian Chris Bosh in Denver on 2/2 and at Toronto 1/31. With New Years Eve being spent in Toronto or, probably, New York, I'm sure the Nuggets will be hyper focused that night.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: The Raptors are tied with the Rockets for the most former Nuggets as Assistant Coaches with two - Alex English and Nuggets Interim Head Coach Hall of Famer Mike Evans.

7. ATLANTA HAWKS
Outlook: Al Horford is only going to get better and with a full season of Mike Bibby running the point (and the Wizards imploding due to injuries), the Hawks should move up one spot in the playoff pecking order.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 1-1. Sans Anthony, the Nuggets lost at Atlanta but bested the Hawks in Denver a week later.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: The two teams meet in Atlanta on 12/29 and again in Denver on 2/25.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: After helping to build a team that consistently made the playoffs but never did anything else, Pete Babcock left the Nuggets in 1990 to build the Hawks into a team that consistently made the playoffs but never did anything else. He's since been fired by the Hawks and the Raptors, and is currently out of the NBA.

8. MIAMI HEAT
Outlook: Tell me if you've seen this movie before. Pat Riley "resigns" as head coach, thus handing over the reins to a rookie head coach and a roster featuring a talented, multi-faceted small forward, an aging but tough center, a terrific shooting guard and one of the most promising rookies in the NBA. The rookie coach admirably guides the team to a playoff berth, only to be supplanted by Riley. Is this 2003 again? This time, instead of Stan Van Gundy inheriting Lamar Odom, Alonzo Mourning, Caron Butler and a rookie named Dwyane Wade, new coach Erik Spoelstra inherits Shawn Marion, Mourning, Wade and a rookie named Michael Beasley.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 0-2. The Heat were the worst team in the NBA in 2007-08 and yet the Nuggets could only muster a 114-113 victory in Miami...in overtime. Memo to Nuggets management: this is what happens when your team arrives the night before a game in Miami.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: This season, the Nuggets will have two full nights in Miami before playing the Heat on 2/10. They also meet in Denver on 1/7.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: Yakhouba Diawara has been in Heat camp and got a roaring ovation when he played in their exhibition game recently in Paris (Diawara is French). It remains to be seen if he'll be missing ALL of his three-pointer attempts in a Miami uniform this season.


9. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
Outlook: I can't lobby hard for Larry Brown to replace George Karl and then pick the Bobcats to sink into oblivion in the Eastern Conference. Brown is taking over a talented yet often injured team, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Bobcats sneak into the playoffs in Brown's first season.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 1-1. On the Nuggets embarrassing loss list of 2007-08 you can put the at Charlotte game that the Nuggets gave away (even though they had two days rest).
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: They meet in Charlotte on 11/11, so we'll hear ad naseum about Brown, Karl and Doug Moe's "Carolina Ties." The next matchup is 1/30 in Denver.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: The obvious one is Brown, one of only two coaches in Nuggets history to take the team to a Western Conference Finals. I think its safe to say that Karl won't be the third.

10. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Outlook: GM Ernie Grunfeld pulled a Kiki Vandeweghe by bidding against himself and subsequently re-signed a re-injured Gilbert Arenas to a $117 million offseason contract. Yikes. Throw in injuries to Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood and things are looking bad for the Bullets...err...Wizards.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 0-2. After being humiliated in New York and Boston, the Nuggets took out their frustration on the Wiz with a 118-92 drubbing at Washington.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: At Washington on 2/6 and in Denver on 3/20.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: Wizards All-Star guard/forward Caron Butler should forever remind Nuggets fans of the 2002 NBA Draft when Vandeweghe passed on him twice in favor of Skita and Nene. Hindsight is always 20/20, but the next time the Nuggets have an opportunity to draft one sure thing and one prospect rather than two prospects, let's hope they make a better decision.

11. CHICAGO BULLS
Outlook: John Paxson's refusal to part with Luo Deng in order to get Kevin Garnett last summer should have haunted this franchise for years to come, except the NBA rigged the draft for the Bulls to receive yet another first overall pick in a ten year span.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 1-1. With the Nuggets teetering on the edge of missing the playoffs, they squandered J.R. Smith's sensational, career-high 43 points at Chicago in a 135-121 loss to the Bulls. It was the most the Bulls had scored in 16 years.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: In Denver 11/23 and at Chicago (2/20) in game seven of the eight road swing in February.
Six Degrees of Andrew: Cherry Creek grad Michael Ruffin is back on the Bulls training camp roster for another go-around with the team...and he was my work partner in accounting class in high school.

12. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Outlook: With Scott Skiles taking over, I'm tempted to pick the Bucks as a playoff dark horse for the second season in a row (that worked out really well last year). But they jettisoned Mo Williams and have no bench, so I don't like their chances.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 1-1. After being torched in Chicago, the Nuggets blew a 14 point halftime lead and lost at Milwaukee the very next night. And I launched www.firegeorgekarl.com the next morning.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: The Nuggets complete their eight game road trip at Milwaukee on 2/22 and the Bucks come to Denver on 11/18.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: Skiles holds the all-time record for assists in one game with 30...against the Nuggets on December 30th, 1990.

13. NEW YORK KNICKS
Outlook: You can give a pig to Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni, but its still a pig. With no roster changes other than adding the overrated and now overpaid Chris Duhon over the summer, I'm shocked that I've picked the Knicks to finish this high. But the Nets and Pacers are going to be really, really bad.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 1-1. When the Nuggets lost at New York one year after Knicks coach (and all-time worst person) Isiah Thomas sent his players head hunting for J.R. Smith, that should have been the sign to us fans that the 2007-08 Nuggets had no heart and never would.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: The Nuggets return to New York on 12/28, but its just not the same with Isiah gone. The Knicks come to Denver on 3/31.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: Numerous. Walsh was Brown's assistant coach in Denver and then the Nuggets head coach before Doug Moe took over in 1981. D'Antoni was the Nuggets head coach during the lockout shortened 1998-99 campaign and then Dan Issel fired him. And the newest Nugget, Renaldo Balkman, had the displeasure of being a Knick the last few years.


14. NEW JERSEY NETS
Outlook: By trading Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee, the Nets moved into a full rebuilding phase in advance of their relocation to Brooklyn. If he wasn't so untradeable, Vince Carter would have been moved by now, too.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 0-2. The Nets were one of the few bad teams the Nuggets twice beat handily.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: At New Jersey on 2/7 and in Denver on 3/16.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: Like Butler on Washington, Carter should have been a Nugget, but we've beaten that complaint to death. Former Nugget Eduardo Najera will be a Net this season and another former Nugget, Julius Hodge, is just hoping to make the team. Hodge didn't help his chances by shooting 0-6 in the Nets last preseason game.

15. INDIANA PACERS
Outlook: The Pacers are going to be downright awful this season, next season and probably the season after that.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2007-08: 1-1. The Nuggets had two inexcusable home losses last season, against the Pacers in November and against the Kings in April with a playoff spot on the line.
Vs. the Nuggets in 2008-09: In Denver on 1/5 and at Indiana on 3/1.
Six Degrees of Nuggets: Four ABA teams have survived to become NBA teams - the Pacers, Spurs, Nets and Nuggets. Three of the four have appeared in at least one NBA Finals since their inclusion over 30 years ago. Can you name them?

COMING SOON: The Denver Stiffs Western Conference Preview, Playoff Preview and Awards Preview...and Nuggets Preview!