NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.
We’ll move to the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division (sans the C’s) with the sixth of a seven-part series (Don’t forget to check out Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4  and Part 5 ) …
ON THE NETS: I think the Nets are going to surprise some people this year and be a lot better than last year.
Not Oklahoma City Thunder  good, but maybe eighth seed in the East good, which could still be below .500.
I think Brook Lopez  is going to go a long way in establishing himself as an All-Star, and while I’m advocating being patient with Derrick Favors , I see him being used to lure a superstar over to New Jersey this season (Carmelo Anthony?).
ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics are clearly the class of the Atlantic Division this season, and they’re once again one of the favorites to be representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals .
With their age, I can see them hitting some ruts during the regular season, and of course all of their core guys have to be healthy for the playoff run, but the Celtics are one of the few teams out there that I think are capable of defensively shutting down Superfriends in Miami.
With that in mind, I’ll be rooting for them if/when their paths cross.
ON THE KNICKS: The Knicks will be improved, assuming Amar’e Stoudemire stays healthy.
They need the trio of Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chander and Anthony Randolph to make strides on both sides of the ball to get the most out of Mike D’Antoni‘s transition offense quarterbacked by Raymond Felton .
Of course, the Carmelo Anthony situation will continue to loom, and this is a pressure-packed season for the coach, seeing that his system has taken a tremendous hit with fans over the last two years.
They still have roster flexibility, and I expect them to land Anthony, but in the meantime they have to consistently win free-throw attempt battles and out-rebound their opponents. Those are two constants for playoff teams.
If they do that — and knock down their open jumpers — they’ll be a playoff team. If they don’t, it could be another lost season in the Big Apple.
ON THE CELTICS: I actually love what the Celtics did this offseason. To this day, I think they beat the Lakers if Kendrick Perkins  doesn’t get hurt.
But they’ve loaded up the front line with size, and age, with both Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal , which is key because of the status of Perkins’ health — and it makes them deeper up front against the likes of Miami and Orlando.
The Celts owned the Magic last postseason because they chose to guard Dwight Howard  1-on-1 in the post, and it proved effective as he couldn’t kick out to open shooters. Perhaps more importantly, with the Big 3 in Miami, I believe the Heat are vulnerable up front. That’s the way to attack them.
If Rajon Rondo  continues off his impressive playoff performance and the Celtics maintain health, then they should be right there in the end once again.
Off the floor, I love the addition of Lawrence Frank , one of the most prepared minds in the game today.
ON THE 76ERS: The Sixers had an up-and-down summer. New general manager Rod Thorn and head coach Doug Collins  are both clear upgrades.
Sending Willie Green and Jason Smith  out of town was a case of addition by subtraction.
Evan Turner  is taking his lumps right now, but while he may not be scoring as much as we’d hoped, he’s producing in other areas and contributing while figuring out the difference between the Big Ten  and the NBA.
I’d be feeling much better about the Sixers’ prospects if it wasn’t for the Samuel Dalembert trade. Ed Stefanski pulled the trigger on a deal that basically gutted the Sixers interior defense and defensive rebounding without a thought to who would fill that void.
To make matters worse, he took back the second year on Andres Nocioni‘s contract in the deal, which submarined the Sixers’ cap space for next summer. It was a horrible trade from every angle.
If the Dalembert trade hadn’t been made, I’d feel pretty confident in predicting a 10-15 game turnaround for this team and probably a trip to the playoffs in Colllins’ first season at the helm.
As things stand, however, the Sixers’ talented perimeter players won’t be able to cover for their feeble stable of bigs, and it’s a stretch to think they’ll win 35 games. If I had to make a prediction today, I’d say 30-52.
ON THE CELTICS: From the outside, looking in, the Celtics don’t look as strong as they did last season.
Their core is a year older, and the addition of Shaq is going to open some major holes in their defense.
That being said, they have a cakewalk through the Atlantic, and they’ll probably finish somewhere between the No. 2 and 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, depending on health.
If Kendrick Perkins comes back healthy in time for the playoffs, they could make a return trip to the Finals, but I think that’s a bit of a long shot.
ON THE RAPTORS: 26 wins.
The Raptors aren’t as bad as ESPN is making them out to be. They could be on par or better than teams like Philadelphia, Indiana, New Jersey, Detroit, Washington and New York, so there will be wins to be had.
The defensive effort has been solid in training camp, and if the Raptors can get consistent offensive production out of Andrea Bargnani and the Italian improves his defensive awareness, they have enough players who can play and carry the load.
Jarrett Jack , Linas Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa  can complement the youth of DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, but the question will be whether the Raptors can rely on their defense to keep them in games when their star-starved offense goes into a funk.
Last year, they were dead last in defensive rating. If they can become a middle-of-the-pack team, it could be a decent rebuilding year, but I don’t see the playoffs on the horizon.
ON THE CELTICS: The health of the two O’Neals and Kevin Garnett  will dictate how the Celtics will fare.
The Raptors saw first-hand how volatile things can be with Jermaine O’Neal if he’s injured, and if you have to rely on Shaq giving you cover at center, then the Celtics could be in trouble in the postseason, much like they were when Perkins went down in the Finals.
From what I’ve seen of Rajon Rondo, he looks to have improved his outside game to the point where he can make a sagging defense pay.
Barring injury, I’d pick the Celtics to win 57 games but lose to the Bulls in the postseason (yes, I think the Bulls will be good) as Tom Thibodeau  comes back to haunt you.
If injuries hit early, there will be a firesale.
Stay tuned for the final portion of this seven-part series: the Boston Celtics .