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Fast Break: Deer in the Celtics headlights 03.22.12 at 10:22 pm ET
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Based on ESPN.com writer/mathematician John Hollinger’s latest NBA playoff odds, the Celtics (25-21) are the odd team out in the Eastern Conference playoff race — behind the Knicks (23-24) and Bucks (21-25), winners of five and six straight, respectively. Of course, that projection jibes with the most recent Irish Coffee breakdown.

Regardless, Thursday night’s matchup between the seventh-seeded Celtics and ninth-place Bucks was the biggest thing to hit Milwaukee since the filming of “Bridesmaids.” But only the Celtics showed up, cruising 100-91.

Paul Pierce (25 points, 9 rebounds) led the charge. Rajon Rondo (10 points, 14 assists) Kevin Garnett (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (12 points, 10 rebounds) all recorded double-doubles. And Greg Stiemsma (6 points, 5 blocks, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists) filled up the stat sheet during his first NBA game in his home state.

The Celtics travel to Philadelphia on Friday night, trailing the 76ers by just 0.5 games for the Atlantic Division lead (and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference). But first, let’s get to the Fast Break.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Pushing for the cushion: The Celtics shot 58 percent from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range, in the first quarter, taking an early 35-29 lead. Pierce scored 11 points in the frame, and Rondo added six. Whenever those two get involved early, good things happen for the C’s. At least for the first 12 minutes, they showed they could match Milwaukee’s newfound fast-paced offensive style of play. Obviously, it helps when the opposing team doesn’t play defense.

Oui, Oui, Oui: It’s no revelation at this point, but Mickael Pietrus‘ ability to make 3-pointers coming cold off the bench is remarkable. He knocked down a trio of triples in the first half, walking the walk after talking the talk. On top of his long-range shooting, a couple tough Pietrus (13 points) takes to the hoop in the fourth quarter helped the Celtics stretch their lead to double digits.

The Bucks stop here: On a nightly basis during this road trip, it seems Doc Rivers has said something to the tune of, “We’ve got to grind out games.” It didn’t appear Thursday night’s game would play out that way, as the two teams combined for 114 first-half points, but Stiemsma and Avery Bradley led an inspired defensive effort in the second half that turned the style-of-play tide in the Celtics favor.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Turkish terror: For the second straight meeting, Bucks 6-foot-10 power forward Ersan Ilyasova burned the Celtics, totaling 12 points and eight rebounds by halftime (he had 25 and 10 against the Celtics last month). Ilysasova (12 points, 14 rebounds) entered the game averaging 12.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in 27.0 minutes a night. For the record, he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season (cc: Danny Ainge).

Oh, shoot: It wasn’t Ray Allen‘s night. He finished just 1-of-8 from the field, including 1-of-5 from 3-point range. And it’s not like he wasn’t getting good looks. Even wide open attempts weren’t falling for Allen. Luckily, the C’s held Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings (12-of-32 combined field goals) relatively in check.

Paint by numbers: Despite matching the Bucks on the glass for much of the night, Milwaukee owned a decided advantage in points in the paint (50-36). And that was on a night that Drew Gooden played awful basketball. The Celtics can get themselves in trouble when they settle for jumpers while the other team gets to the bucket, but even that didn’t seem to matter in Beertown.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Ersan Ilyasova, Greg Stiemsma, Milwaukee Bucks
Rajon Rondo: ‘I’m at my best when I’m in transition’ 03.01.12 at 1:36 am ET
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For whatever reason, 26-year-old Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo and the aging Big Three haven’t been on the same page all season. Hence the team’s 17-17 record. Whether that’s the result of the All-Star point guard’s stubbornness or the unwillingness of three Hall of Famers to follow a younger, better leader or any number of other reasons is free to debate.

But one thing is certain: When Rondo plays the way he did in a 102-96 win over the Bucks Wednesday, recording his third double-double of the season while orchestrating the offense to near perfection, these Celtics might actually have a chance to salvage this season.

“We did a better job executing offensively tonight,” said Rondo (15 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), as usual simplifying the game to its most basic elements. “We got into our sets, and we executed — and we scored.”

Paul Pierce knows it. Kevin Garnett knows it. And Doc Rivers knows it. When Rondo runs the floor and sets the table early, he puts everyone in a better position to win ballgames.

“He got us organized earlier,” said Rivers. “The second half, he called 12 different sets, and we got to the first option, second option, and it just looked organized and good. And that’s who we were, and that’s who we have to be. And I thought it was Rondo’s doing.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, brandon jennings, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett
Fast Break: Celtics Buck trend, win two straight 02.29.12 at 9:58 pm ET
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In the lockout-shorteneded season, the NBA has seen nine triple-doubles, and Rajon Rondo now has three of them.

It had been 22 days since the Celtics last won two straight games and the same time span since they won a game by double digits. At least Rondo’s 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists helped erase one of those streaks and bring the Celtics back to .500 at 17-17. The C’s let a 17-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle to two in the final 20 seconds, but four Kevin Garnett free throws sealed the deal, 102-96.

Garnett (25 points, 10 rebounds), Chris Wilcox (7 points, 13 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (16 points, 7 rebounds) combined for 48 points and 30 rebounds to lead a rare inspired effort on the glass in the victory.

Drew Gooden (23 points, 8 rebounds) and Ersan Ilyasova (25 points, 10 rebounds) carried the Bucks (14-21).

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Good Rondo: With 13 points, six assists and five turnovers midway through the third quarter, the triple-double watch binoculars for Rondo got dusted off early. The point guard seemed capable of working his way into the lane at will, and generally that produces good things for the Celtics. He finished with 15, 11 and 10, but made it look easy in the flow of the offense.

Quarter barreling: Over a six-minute period in the third quarter, the Celtics turned a 60-55 deficit into a 77-64 lead (that’s a 22-4 run for those counting at home). While Pierce struggled for much of that stretch, everyone else picked up the slack, led by nine third-quarter points from Brandon Bass.

Board to death: Despite giving up 11 offensive rebounds, the Celtics managed to grab 12 of their own on their way to a 52-49 rebounding advantage. Wilcox led the way with 13 off the bench, while Rondo, Garnett, Bass and Pierce all chipped in at least six.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Sad Truth:In the first four minutes of the third quarter, Pierce started 0-for-6 and committed two turnovers. He’s had his share of sloppy play this year, but that may have been his worst stretch of this roller coaster season. He finished the game with 10 points (5-12 FG), six rebounds, five rebounds and four turnovers.

Turkish terror: Ilyasova entered the game averaging 14.2 points and 11.0 rebounds, and he closed out February in style, totaling 10 points in the first quarter alone to keep the Bucks in the game early. His 15 second-half points helped the Bucks get back into the game late, as the C’s let a 17-point lead dwindle to two in the final 20 seconds.

Glass backwards: Same old story. While Garnett was busy jawing at various Bucks, Gooden and the Larry Sanders show combined for seven first-half offensive rebounds, totaling 22 points and 10 boards between them by halftime. Milwaukee’s 13 offensive boards marked the 10th straight game the C’s have given up double-digit o-rebounds.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Drew Gooden, Kevin Garnett, Milwaukee Bucks
NBA Offseason Review: Central Division 12.23.11 at 10:00 am ET
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Given the drama (and comedy) that was the NBA lockout, the ensuing free agency frenzy and the vetoed trade by a commissioner of a group of owners who was acting as the general manager of an individual team that is owned by that same group of owners, it’s easy to get confused about who landed where. This is the fifth of six daily division-by-division reviews leading up to opening day.

NBA Offseason Review: Pacific Division
NBA Offseason Review: Northwest Division
NBA Offseason Review: Southwest Division
NBA Offseason Review: Southeast Division

INDIANA PACERS

2010-11 record: 37-45
2010-11 standing: 2nd in Central Division
NBA draft picks: None
Key additions: David West (free agent); Louis Amundson (trade); George Hill (trade)
Key substractions: Josh McRoberts (free agent); Brandon Rush (trade); Mike Dunleavy (FA); T.J. Ford (FA)
2011-12 starters: PG Darren Collison; SG Paul George; SF Danny Granger; PG David West; C Roy Hibbert
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 31.5
2011-12 prediction: 36-30

CHICAGO BULLS

2010-11 record: 62-20
2010-11 standing: Won Central Division
NBA draft picks: 23. Nikola Mirotic; 30. Jimmy Butler
Key additions: Richard Hamilton (buyout)
Key substractions: Keith Bogans (waived); Kurt Thomas (free agent)
2011-12 starters: PG Derrick Rose; SG Hamilton; SF Luol Deng; PF Carlos Boozer; C Joakim Noah
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 46.5
2011-12 prediction: 49-17

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Read More: Central Division, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons
Celtics don’t see a big point to setting a new team record 03.14.11 at 7:41 am ET
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When Keyon Dooling missed a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left, the Celtics had themselves a brand new franchise record for fewest points allowed in a game.

No team in the shot clock era had ever scored a few as the 56 points the Bucks managed Sunday night in an 87-56 Celtics’ win.

But the Celtics weren’t exactly popping champagne corks afterward.

Asked if he were aware of the new record his team just set, Paul Pierce quipped, ‘€œNo, I didn’€™t have my NBA record book on the bench with me tonight so I didn’€™t realize.’€

To Pierce and the rest of the Celtics, Sunday night was more about getting back to 48 minutes of quality defensive basketball and not suffering breakdowns and let downs in communication following losses to the Clippers and Sixers.

‘€œIt was definitely encouraging just to put together a four-quarter game of defense,” Pierce said. “I definitely thought we did that tonight. Especially when we are integrating a lot of new players, coming back home after coming off of two losses, it was just to get back comfortable in our building and play the type of defense that we like to play.’€

Doc Rivers looked at it a different way. He saw the schedule and took into consideration the hour lost due to daylight savings time and the travel the Bucks went through to get to Boston to play a 6 p.m. game less than 24 hours after beating the Sixers at home.

‘€œNo, honestly, did we set a record? I didn’€™t know that,” Rivers said. “I really thought this was one of those schedule losses for Milwaukee. I just thought this was very similar to the game we had against Phoenix where you play a game and you lose an hour going backwards and then they lost another hour with the time change, and then we started the game at 6:00.

“So, I just thought ‘€“ you looked at the schedule ‘€“ I was concerned early in the game because we were up 10 and we were blowing layups; we were missing a lot of shots. You could see they were tired. So, we took advantage of that and that was great, but a lot of it had to do with their schedule.’€

So, to be honest about it, Rivers said it’s great to win a game by 31 but he’s not about to draw any long-range conclusions about the quality of his team or how well his team got the message of toughening up in the fourth quarter.

‘€œOur defense was good, but we don’€™t know how good our defense was tonight, even though ‘€“ I would say our effort was phenomenal. And that’€™s all we talked about, we’€™re trying to sustain effort loner defensively and get back to doing that. Now that we’€™re starting to get ‘€“ we have one body back. Hopefully Delonte (West) is back, not tomorrow but the game after that. So you know, it’€™s what we need to do.’€

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA
Fast Break: Celtics sear the deer in OT 11.03.10 at 11:21 pm ET
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The Celtics got another MVP-like performance out of Rajon Rondo, and it was just enough to edge the Milwaukee Bucks (1-4) in overtime, 105-102, at the TD Garden Wednesday night. Rondo finished with 17 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds to help the C’s improve to 4-1.

Paul Pierce led all scorers with 28 points — the final six at the free throw line in the last 13 seconds — to eclipse 20,000 career points and, fittingly, put the game away. The milestone carried undeniable significance for the 13-year Celtics veteran.

“You don’t see it too often where a player accomplishes that type of feat with one team,” an emotional Pierce said after the game. “It means a lot to me. I’m not even going to downplay it. … Five years ago, I wouldn’t have even dreamed that I would have scored 20,000 points in a Celtics uniform. The team was going in a direction, I was a disgruntled player at the time. To still be here talking about this feat, it’s an incredible moment for me.”

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

THEY FOUND THEIR FIFTH GEAR: After an Ersan Ilyasova 3-pointer put the Bucks up 80-74 with 3:29 to play, the Garden got awfully quiet. The Celtics’ closing five — Rondo, Ray Allen, Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis — changed that, quickly.

Over the next 2:09, the C’s outscored Milwaukee, 16-4, taking a six-point lead with a minute to play and igniting the hometown crowd. In that two-minute span, Garnett and Bucks big Andrew Bogut picked up double technicals after the former dunked on the latter, leading to a shoving match.

Rather than disrupt the C’s momentum, especially in the wake of the day’s KG-Charlie Villanueva Twitter fiasco, the incident seemed to ignite their fire further. Led by another sparkplug (who else but Rondo?), the Celtics literally ran all over the Bucks to pour fast break layup after layup into the net.

The Celtics showed a gear that other teams — even the Bucks, a 2009-10 playoff team — just can’t match. And it came on the second night of a back-to-back, in the fourth quarter. Sure, it took overtime for the C’s to Sear the Dear, but Wednesday night was going Milwaukee’s way until that two-minute stretch.

ALLEN’S GOT HIS GROOVE BACK: The memory of Allen shooting just 3-of-14 in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals was burnt into the minds of many Celtics fans throughout the offseason. Critics claimed the veteran may have been entering the so-called twilight of his career.

But a shooter like Allen never loses his stroke, even at age 35, especially when it’s as sweet as Ray’s. Twice already this season — Wednesday night against the Bucks (23 points on 9-of-20 shooting) and opening night against the Heat (20 points on 7-of-13 shooting) — he has demonstrated that he can still fill it up against the league’s best.

DEFENDING THE POINT GUARD: We know what Rondo is capable of offensively, but the Celtics point guard is already making a run at a second straight All-Defensive First Team selection. He held Brandon Jennings — a legit Rookie of the Year candidate last season — to just 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Rondo also kept Jennings from finding open teammates, limiting him to four assists in 34 minutes.

Wednesday night’s performance came on the heels of Rondo’s defense against Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey, who was limited to 6-of-15 shooting and three assists Tuesday night.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

WHERE’S THE BENCH? The Celtics were essentially playing with a six-man roster for the majority of the game against the Bucks, as Glen Davis (14 points, 4 rebounds) provided the team’s only real contribution from the pine.

Meanwhile, Nate Robinson, Von Wafer and Semih Erden only played 10 minutes between them. The Small 3 combined for a whopping two points, six rebounds and one assist. When Rivers played a lineup of Erden, Davis, Daniels, Wafer and Robinson, they managed to make a 25-16 lead at the end of the first quarter turn into a 32-31 lead midway through the second quarter.

DEFENDING THE CENTER: Entering Wednesday night’s game against the Bucks, Celtics centers had to defend the following guys:  Joel Anthony (Heat), Ryan Hollins (Cavaliers), Timofey Mozgov (Knicks) and an 87-year-old Ben Wallace (Pistons) — not exactly the Bill Russells of this era.

Bogut was the C’s first true test at the 5 spot. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft and an All-NBA Third Team selection last season, Bogut ate up the Celtics duo of Jermaine O’Neal and Erden to the tune of 21 points and 13 rebounds.

Bogut probably isn’t having his way like that against Shaquille O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins, and the reason for that is toughness — plain and simple.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD: There are three statistics Doc Rivers is going to point to over and over again throughout this season: turnovers, rebounds and veteran minutes. The first two will likely determine when the Celtics end up in the loss column. And the third could signal how often they end up there.

The Bucks led the turnover (11-16) and held the rebounding advantage for much of the night, until the Celtics edged them out, 43-42, in the overtime period.

Meanwhile, Allen, Pierce and Garnett combined for 120 minutes. That’s a direct result of the bench’s lack of production. If the C’s need those kind of minutes — especially in the second of back-to-back games — to pull out wins against good teams, that spells trouble in the form of fatigue down the road.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, Paul Pierce
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (4 of 7) 10.26.10 at 11:04 am ET
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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 and the Atlantic Division with the fourth of a seven-part  series (Check out the Western Conference in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) …


CHICAGO BULLS
by Doug Thonus, Chicago Bulls Confidential

ON THE BULLS: The Chicago Bulls are a team with a lot of strengths, but the early injury to Carlos Boozer has hurt their odds of building up continuity this season.

Much like the Celtics, they carry considerable injury risk going forward. Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Boozer, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer all have injury risk on top of that of a normal player, while Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans are also struggling with various minor injuries in preseason.

A healthy Bulls team would have a puncher’s chance at any team in the East if they jelled well and played to their full potential. But a Bulls team that can’t get on the floor together to build continuity is closer to Atlanta and Milwaukee than to Boston, Orlando or Miami.

The big question mark will be how much of an upgrade Tom Thibodeau is from Vinny Del Negro. The Bulls’ schemes have given fans a reason to be hopeful, and if Thibodeau can get more out of the talent than Del Negro the roster might have more upside than a cursory glance would indicate.

Given the injuries and unknowns, a realistic upside for the Bulls is an Eastern Conference Finals loss to Miami, while a realistic downside is a first-round exit to one of the Big 3.

I’d place the Bulls fourth in the conference with my expectations set at a second-round exit at the hands of Miami, Boston or Orlando after a hard-fought, first-round victory against Atlanta or Milwaukee.

ON THE CELTICS: The Boston Celtics strike me as a team that should play well this season and have another excellent postseason.

There is some legitimate fear that the wheels could fall off the bus at any given point, given that the vast majority of key players are at the age where injuries increase and performance can rapidly spiral downward.

However, the team is excellently coached and has tremendous depth, continuity and experience. Their upside, if all goes well, is NBA Champion. They were a Kendrick Perkins ACL away from likely winning the chip last season, and they’re the one team that has a shot to give Miami fits in the Eastern Conference.

Their downside is as a fifth seed that gets bounced early in the playoffs if they struggle to integrate new personalities, can’t find solid rotations once Perkins is back or struggle with age and injuries.

I’d place the Celtics third in the East in the regular season, but I think they’ll top Orlando in the second round. I’d place my expectations at an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat in a tough series.


CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
by Andrew Schnitkey, Waiting for Next Year

ON THE CAVALIERS: The Cavaliers are indeed going through a transition phase, but transition may be the name of the game for this team.

Under new head coach Byron Scott, the team wants to get out and run in transition and use a new motion offense to try to implement a team-oriented approach. This is obviously a shock to the system after years of watching LeBron James dominate the ball himself and stand around dribbling.

The Cavaliers have looked good so far in the preseason, relying on the new youth movement with guys like J.J. Hickson, Daniel Gibson and Ramon Sessions showing a lot of improvement.

The team has heard all offseason how they are nothing now that LeBron is gone, but most of these players know nothing but winning. There is still a winning mentality on this team, and they are already playing with a chip on their shoulders as they look to prove doubters wrong.

This is a team that will be better conditioned than most teams and will not be outworked by many teams.

Having said that, there are still some major issues. A lack of true center will be a major problem for this team, as will be the potential defensive setback the team faces from losing a lockdown wing defender like LeBron.

Above all else, though, there’s no true go-to guy here. That will cost this team many games in the fourth quarter’s waning minutes.

This will be a gritty team that will play hard and make things tough, but ultimately there’s no replacing a LeBron James in one season. I predict a record of 31-51.

ON THE CELTICS: Well, obviously, I saw firsthand what Shaquille O’Neal brought to the Cavaliers last season. It wasn’t pretty, and he often complicated things as the team struggled to adapt to his presence.

In fact, the Cavaliers actually seemed to play better without Shaq when Anderson Varejao could slide to the 5 and Hickson could play the 4. So, I’m not optimistic about what Shaq has left to offer the Celtics this season.

Having said that, I still expect the Celtics to be one of the top three contenders in the East this season. The Big 3 plus Rondo is an effective core, and adding Delonte West should prove to be a nice boost to the team’s depth.

Much like last season, I expect to see the Celtics more or less coast through much of the regular season and then really turn it on in the postseason.

The Eastern Conference is stronger, but I don’t see anyone in the Atlantic threatening the C’s alpha-dog status there. I project a record of 52-30 and another division title. And I expect the Celtics to be the Heat’s toughest out in the playoffs.


DETROIT PISTONS
by Brian Packey, Detroit Bad Boys

ON THE PISTONS: After a year full of sprained ankles and utter disappointment, the Pistons have a clean slate heading into the new season.

While there isn’t a completely clean bill of health after the Jonas Jerebko injury, the Pistons are much healthier and claim to be very determined to prove their doubters wrong in 2010-11.

Unfortunately, while less injuries and DETermination should lead to more wins, it won’t be enough to put the Pistons back into the playoffs. Record: 36-46.

ON THE CELTICS: With everyone talking about the Heat this year, it might be easy to forget about the Celtics again (similar to how the Magic stole their spotlight last year with their 2009 Finals run).

But, similar to how they surprised teams in the 2010 playoffs, the Celtics are as for real as they were in 2008. The additions of both O’Neals should boost their defensive presence inside and even open things up a little on the offensive side for their own Big 3.

If they can stay relatively healthy, I’d say they’re a lock for 55 wins this season. 


INDIANA PACERS
by Jared Wade, Eight Points, Nine Seconds

ON THE PACERS: To most NBA onlookers, it will not be a remarkably different season in Indiana than the past few. But for Pacers fans, there will be at least one key difference: Hope.

With the acquisition of Darren Collison, the continued — and perhaps vast — improvement of Roy Hibbert and the expected rock-solid production of Danny Granger, the team should for the first time in a half-decade have a true foundation.

This foundation is not earth-shattering. No one will be calling them The Big 3. But it is an actual nucleus, and a lot of people smarter than me think that Paul George, the team’s first-round pick No. 10 overall), should already be included in talks of a more promising future.

Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts, to a lesser degree, are expected to show some people that they can be valuable rotation players in this league as well.

On top of all that, the team has a bevy of expiring contracts to use as trade assets if they so desire. Some $30 million will be coming off the books next summer, and since so many GMs/owners will likely be looking to clean their salary caps up before the looming CBA negotiations/probable lockout, Larry Bird should have plenty of opportunities to get some quality players back for any of Mike Dunleavy ($10.5 million), T.J. Ford ($8.5 million) or Jeff Foster ($6.7 million).

I expect the front office to flip about half of its expiring contracts (they also have the Jamaal Tinsley buyout, worth around $5.5 million, “expiring” come June) for some mid-tier players they want (think the Kevin Martin deal last year). Then they’ll let the rest expire. Come summer, that will let them fill some more holes through free agency.

No, they won’t be getting an Amar’e Stoudemire, a Chris Bosh or a Carmelo Anthony — but they’ll have a direction by the time this season ends. That will feel like something new to fans.

And if they can somehow play well enough to score a seventh or eighth seed and get into the playoffs this year, well, Pacers fans can truly consider this the beginning of a new era for a franchise that needs nothing more desperately than to begin a new era.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics should make the Eastern Conference Finals in their sleep. Until we see just how good the Heat are, it’s tough to call anything more than that.

And if Miami is as dominant as I think they’ll be, the Celtics might just be too old, but if Eric Spoelstra‘s boys don’t jell completely, there’s no reason that Boston can’t win the whole thing.

The depth on this roster is somewhat absurd. Obviously, a lot of people aren’t expecting much out of the law firm of O’Neal & O’Neal, but they’re two big bodies that will make a difference and take a ton of defensive pressure off of Kevin Garnett and Perkins.

You certainly don’t want to rely on Jermaine O’Neal to score in the post at this point, but he still alters shots, swats weak attempts and takes charges at a high level.

The Delonte West acquisition was huge. Even with Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, the team lacked some ballhandling ability outside of Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce last year. He gives them a guy off the bench who can go off for 20, just be a spot-up shooter or even initiate the offense. Plus he guards people.

Nate has his strengths (namely energy and hustle), but he can’t do all that. That will make this team more dynamic — presuming, ya know, he keeps his head on straight.

With Ray Allen, Paul and KG all one year older, the bench is going to be key. They need consistency out of the reserves, and if Doc Rivers can figure out how to keep all these bodies happy — something I’m sure he will, like he did last year by keeping Nate ready to go even while glued to the bench — there’s no reason, other than a possibly unstoppable Heat juggernaut, that they can’t bring home Banner 18.


MILWAUKEE BUCKS
by Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball

ON THE BUCKS: Milwaukee — with its eager, younger players and overlooked veteran additions — likely has its sights set on the Celtics.

The two teams had a few memorable moments last year and could have had something special in the playoffs had things worked out on the last day of the season.

Milwaukee stocked up themselves this offseason, signing Drew Gooden just after adding Corey Maggette for Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell.

Milwaukee focused on keep their core players from last season while looking to address their main weaknesses this offseason, namely free-throw shooting and power forward size and depth.

The Bucks seemed to have succeeded on both accounts and will very likely be in the hunt for the Central Divison crown. If they capture it, they still may have a hard time surpassing the Celtics’ win total.

A top-four finish doesn’t seem out of the question for the Bucks, and at the very least a playoff spot seems certain.

ON THE CELTICS: Last year, the Celtics seemed prime to fade into the sunset of NBA teams who once were contenders. This year, they seem to have reloaded and added considerable depth to counter their considerable age.

Everyone is talking about the O’Neal’s, Shaquille and Jermaine, but let us not forget that the Celtics quietly, and wisely, picking up Delonte West this offseason.

After trotting out Nate Robinson, Eddie House and at times even Tony Allen as a backup point guard last season, the Celtics definitely needed to address their backup point guard position this past summer. West’s steady hand (I can’t believe I just wrote that and meant it) could be very useful when Rondo is out of the game.

The added bulk up front helps, too, especially if the new technical rules lead to numbers quickly adding up for KG and Perkins. The Celtics have added new blood and appear to be in as good a shape as any of the teams in the East that don’t play in Miami.

Another division title and top-four seed likely awaits the Celtics at year’s end.

Stay tuned for Part 5 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.

Read More: blogs, Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers
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