Feb 18, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal (3) dribbles the ball as Toronto Raptors point guard Greivis Vasquez (21) defends in the second quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN Forecast Projects Washington Wizards To Finish Fourth In Eastern Conference

We’re two months away from the NBA preseason and projections for this upcoming 2014-2015 NBA season have already begun to take place.

As part of their annual Summer Forecast, ESPN surveyed a panel of “experts”, and ultimately came up with projections for the Eastern Conference Standings. View the full standings and more tidbits here, via ESPN.

Here are the projections in picture form.

I was somewhat surprised that they had the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first seed over the Chicago Bulls, but I guess the addition of LeBron James and inevitably Kevin Love have given them a major boost in the standings. In my opinion, I believe that the Bulls are a lot more balanced than the Cavaliers, especially now that they’ve added more offense this off-season.

Chicago has always been stellar defensively under head coach Tom Thibodeau, but as we saw in their first round series loss against the Washington Wizards, their offense struggles without Derrick Rose leading the team. Now that they’ve got Rose back in what appears to be in full strength, along with the additions of Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott, they look much better than they did last year on paper.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, still have some holes that they’d probably like to fill before the start of the regular season. Cleveland has struggled defensively for quite some time, and although James and Love will certainly propel them as one of the best teams in the league, they still have a few major concerns, particularly on the defensive side of the floor. Kyrie Irving isn’t known for his perimeter defense and Kevin Love isn’t the rim protector they need. Although they’re going to be very good, I wouldn’t put them over the Chicago Bulls just yet.

As for the Washington Wizards; I think they could finish third in the Eastern Conference, but it’s not surprising that the Toronto Raptors were placed above them. After retaining Kyle Lowry and adding Louis Williams along with James Johnson, the Raptors have also improved this off-season and will continue to be one of the more underrated teams in the league. The Atlantic Division is also much weaker than the Southeast Division, so the Raptors could have the edge over the Washington Wizards.

I also believe that the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat are being overlooked. I still think that the Washington Wizards will finish with about 47 or 48 wins, which is also what the ESPN Forecast projected, but the Hornets and Heat could give them trouble. Charlotte added Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams, while the Heat will probably get a rejuvenated Dwyane Wade, along with a couple of solid role players in Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. The Hornets, especially, could give the Washington Wizards a lot of trouble since they addressed all of their major needs this off-season. Adding another ball handler and creator was something they needed to do this summer, and they arguably got the best one available by signing Stephenson.

The Atlanta Hawks are another team that I think is being overlooked. The Hawks managed to make the playoffs, albeit in a weak conference, despite losing Al Horford along with some of their other rotation players. Horford has been one of the best big men in the NBA for quite some time so his return will obviously help, but I also think that their 7-game series against the Indiana Pacers this past season will mean a lot for their growth.

The Eastern Conference is going to be a lot tougher than it was last season, but if John Wall and Bradley Beal continue to grow, the Washington Wizards should be able to get home court advantage heading in the playoffs this upcoming season.

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