August 10, 2012; El Segundo, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard was introduced to the media after he was aquired in a four-team trade from the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

How the Dwight Howard trade changes the NBA playoff picture

With Dwight Howard in Orlando, the Magic were a top three team in the Eastern Conference (except last year with the all the drama and injuries and shortened seasons and whatnot). Without him, they might finish with a worse record than the Charlotte Bobcats (OK, maybe not that bad, but not much better, either).

But what will the rest of the Eastern Conference look like?

Andrew Bynum did find his way to Philadelphia in the deal and his presence alone should propel the Sixers out of the eighth spot and into the top four, right?

I don’t know. They’re definitely a playoff team, and they’re definitely better than an eight seed, but Miami and Chicago are still one and two. Boston didn’t get any worse this season, so they get my nod for third on that list. Then there is Indiana. And Brooklyn. And New York. All three of those teams could feasibly finish fourth.

Philly can too, I’m just not sure I’m ready to hand them a spot in the top half of the Eastern conference just yet.

Right now, my Eastern Conference playoff projection looks like this: 1. Miami 2. Chicago 3. Boston 4. Indiana 5. Brooklyn 6. New York 7. Philly 8. Milwaukee (this an extreme overreaction to the Howard deal and the list will change as the time for true predictions draws near).

In the Western Conference, LA has to be the favorites to win the league. Oklahoma City is still amazingly good, but the Lakers legitimately have a big four. They could have four starters on the All Star team. For real.

After that, it’s hard to overlook San Antonio, even as they grow older, and older, and older, and older, and older, and older, and older (saw a stat somewhere that they actually have one of the youngest average ages of any team in the league. Don’t care enough to look it up, though. They’re still old).

But, the Denver Nuggets definitely improved. They added a lock down defender who just so happens to be an Olympian. He’s not a great shooter, but Denver has other players to fill that need. Plus, they’re a pretty young that’s gotten better the past few years. I’d have to put Denver as the fourth best team in the west right now after the deal.

The Clippers certainly might have something to say about that. As will the Grizzlies.

The seventh and eighth spots could go to some playoff newcomers like Golden State and Minnesota IF things go very well for those teams.

In fact, I’ll pick Minnesota as my final Western Conference playoff team for now and give Dallas the 7th spot just based on principle.

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