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Irish Coffee: Rondo Hall of Fame-bound? 10.27.10 at 10:54 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

In the first NBA game since 1969 to feature 13 former All-Stars, it was the most recent player to join that list whose star shone brightest.

In his fourth year in the league, Rajon Rondo emerged as an Eastern Conference All-Star, so what’s in store for the Celtics point guard’s fifth season — and beyond?

“He’s got a good chance of being a Hall of Fame-type player,” Jermaine O’Neal said after last night’s 88-80 opening-night victory against the Miami Heat.

High praise? Sure. But Jermaine isn’t the only O’Neal heaping praise upon Rondo after playing just one regular-season game alongside him.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Shaq said of playing with Rondo, who finished with 17 assists last night. “He’s the perfect point guard. He knows where all his guys are. He led us out there, and he didn’t let us panic on the floor. Great player.”

Since entering the league, Rondo’s point, assist and steal averages have risen each season, culminating in last year’s 13.7 points, 9.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game. His rebounding numbers had also risen each season until a slight dip in 2009-10 put him at 4.4 per.

Is it ridiculous to assume Rondo could average 15 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and two-and-a-half steals per contest in 2010-11?

Those statistical averages would compare favorably with the fifth-season numbers of the four most recent point guard greats (all either HOFers or HOF locks) — Steve Nash (15.6 points, 7.3 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals), Jason Kidd (11.6, 9.0, 4.8, 2.4), Gary Payton (20.6, 7.1, 3.4, 2.5) and John Stockton (17.1, 13.6, 3.0, 3.2).

And Shaq agrees, especially after Rondo found him with a couple floating assists around the rim last night. “The last six or seven years I really haven’t had a point guard like that,” said Shaq, “but I’m just getting back to what I’m used to. I’m by the basket, and when he comes by the basket I just gotta be ready.”

If you’ll recall,  just two years ago, Shaq played one-and-a-half seasons with Nash himself.

Obviously, the most  glaring weakness in Rondo’s game is his shooting. Defenders point to the .500 field goal percentage in each of his last two seasons, but it’s his 3-point (24.4 percent in his career) and free throw shooting (63.0) that need improvement.

During the preseason, Rondo demonstrated a new-found knack to knock down the mid-range jumper, but he didn’t have that touch in the opener, finishing 2-of-9 from the field last night.

Nobody’s asking Rondo to have Nash’s 3-point (40.0 percent in his 5th season) and free-throw shooting (89.5 percent in Year 5) ability, but how about Payton’s (30.2 3-point FG and 71.6 FT in Y5)?

Kidd also started his career as a sub-.300 3-point and sub-.700 free-throw shooter. Since then, he made himself into a .425 3-point and .808 free-throw shooter last year in Dallas. All I’m saying is, there’s hope.

And if indeed Rondo emerges as a Hall of Fame-type player as J.O. alluded, that would mean the C’s current starting five would feature a full lineup of HOFers.

Not bad for a guy that joked in the video accompanying this blog that he might not still be in the NBA in 2012.

Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo shoots during the second half of Boston's 88-80 win over the Miami Heat in an NBA basketball game in Boston on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010.

Rajon Rondo helped Shaquille O'Neal get off on the right foot in his Celtics debut. (AP)

SHAQ’S CELTICS DEBUT

The Celtics got exactly what they hope for out of Shaq last night: nine points, seven rebounds and a block in 18 minutes. So, how did The Big Shamrock feel about his first night as a Celtic?

“I just wanted to come out and just play,” said Shaq. “I had a couple early-game jitters. I missed a couple chippies, but Rondo … gave it back to me. We’re all gonna get better, and I’m gonna get better. It’s gonna be a great year.”

Shaq talked to the media for about five minutes after the game. Here are a few highlights:

  • On the opening-night hype: “We just wanted to come out and win our first game, and that’s what we did. We let y’all worry about all the hoopla and all that. We knew that we wanted to come play a solid game, and we knew if we did what we wanted to do then we could get a win. This game is over. We’ve got a game tomorrow, and we just want to be 2-0.”
  • On Ray Allen’s clutch 3-point shot in the final minute: “Ray is one of the greatest players ever to play the game — a great shooter. Doc (Rivers) drew up a play. It’s a play we practice all the time. We had many options, and that was one of our options. Ray Allen just did what he does — shoot the ball and make it.”
  • On Paul Pierce: “He’s a great player. I don’t think you guys give him enough media attention that all the other guys get, but he’s up there with the other two players over there (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade). He’s a great player, a great scorer, and his name should be mentioned more.”
  • On the Boston crowd: “Excellent. Electrifying. Magnetic. … It was great. It’s a great town. People here are anxious to get No. 18. It’s going to be like that all year, and we want to remain a dominant team at home.”
  • On starting 2-for-2 from the free-throw line: “I was leading the league? A thousand percent? That record got messed up pretty quick.”

REACTION FROM MIAMI

The fallout from the Miami media appears unanimous: Last night’s loss was the exception, not the rule. In fact, the Heat hype consensus is that they’re still the team to beat …

Greg Cote, Miami Herald columnist:

The gleaming Maserati, so gorgeous in the showroom, so perfect to look at, hit the road for the first time Tuesday night, and the engine hiccupped a little, and the brakes squealed some.

The ride is going to be fine. Needs some tinkering and tuning, that’s all.

If anything, Miami’s 88-80 loss to the Boston Celtics verified the Heat’s awesome potential more than cast the least bit of doubt on it.

See, the Heat is good enough to come this close being that bad.

Israel Gutierrez, Miami Herald columnist:

It’s reasonable to call this the most difficult regular-season test the Heat will experience all season.

And, yet, with less than a minute left, after playing as miserable a duration of basketball as this team might ever play all season, the Heat trailed by just three points and oh-so-close to ripping out the hearts of Celtics fans on opening night.

With all that in mind, it might be time to translate Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez‘s quote from several weeks ago into the language of basketball: There’s nothing wrong with going 81-1.

Dave Hyde, Florida Sun Sentinel columnist:

In their first quarter together, the Heat’s Dream Team scored fewer points (nine) than in any Heat quarter last year. Where have you gone, Quentin Richardson?

That’s why the Heat’s loss to Boston 88-80 actually was worse news for the rest of the NBA. Go ahead and laugh a little more at that one, if you want.

But let me go further: This game was the very worst news the rest of the league could have received. There’s really no other way to assemble what happened in this Heat opener in another context.

Similarly, after the game, LeBron James tweeted, “Rome wasn’t built in a day! Work in progress. On to the next one.” The funny thing is — as Rondo points out in the video accompanying this blog — this Celtics team literally built itself in Rome, during a trip to Italy during the 2007 preseason.

No, one game won’t mean much in the standings come April, but last night’s game was about more than just the one day. It was about preparation, unity, familiarity — Ubuntu.

After all, “The Decision” happened more than four months ago. What have the Heat been doing since July? Perhaps spending one too many days checking out the talents on South Beach.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, NBA, Rajon Rondo
Fast Break: Celtics cool Heat hype 10.26.10 at 10:21 pm ET
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The Celtics held the Heat to nine first-quarter points, and Ray Allen nailed a clutch 3-point shot to snap a late 10-0 Miami run and push the Celtics’ lead back to six in the final minute. Allen’s shot from the corner ended any Heat visions of a comeback from a 19-point deficit, and allowed Boston to claim an 88-80 opening-night win.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

1. Rondo to Shaq: Just four minutes into Tuesday night’s game, Rajon Rondo drove, drew three defenders and lobbed the ball to Shaquille O’Neal, who threw it down with ease. It was more than just two points.

Obviously, Shaq takes up a ton of space around the basket, which means Rondo has a larger area to which he can toss the ball without fearing interference. That’s could translate into a heckuva lot more assists for Rondo and a heckuva lot of easy buckets for Shaq this season.

In almost 12 first-half minutes, the Big Shamrock finished with six points but would have had 10 if not for a pair of missed bunnies.

The Rondo-to-Shaq combo also exposed the Heat’s biggest weaknesses: the point guard and center spots. The two Celtics simply owned Heat starters Carlos Arroyo and Joel Anthony. Many critics had serious concerns about “The Others” in Miami, and, for now, those apprehensions appear legit.

2. Interior Defense: The Celtics held the Heat to 12 first-half points in the paint on just 6-of-16 shooting. What’s more, the C’s grabbed 21 first-half defensive rebounds, allowing only two second-chance points en route to a 45-30 lead at the half.

The Celtics’ Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett held the Heat’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to just 7-of-27 shooting in the first half.

Shaq and Rondo’s dominance of Arroyo and Anthony extended beyond the offensive end. Not worried about their defensive assignments (Arroyo/Anthony combined for two first-half shots), the Celtics duo could sag off and help out on Miami’s trio of stars.

3. Ray Allen: With all the talk about how Garnett looks as healthy as he’s been since arriving in Boston and how Pierce showed up in terrific shape, it was easy to forget to mention Allen.

Maybe it’s because Allen always looks as though he’s in top shape, but the C’s shooting guard looked like he was in midseason form on Tuesday, scoring 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting (including 5-of-8 from downtown). His final 3-pointer of the night came with 50 seconds remaining. It snapped a 10-point Heat run that had cut the lead to 83-80 in the waning minutes.

Allen also did a nice job keeping up with Wade on the defensive end, limiting the Heat guard to 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

1. Apparently, Standing in the Way of LeBron James: Twice — once in each half — Pierce appeared to draw a charge on LeBron, who was barreling down the lane, shoulder lowered, towards the basket. And twice referees called Pierce for the blocking foul.

On the second foul, Pierce came down hard on his lower back. He limped to the sideline as the Celtics called timeout, and then went to the locker room clutching his side behind trainer Ed Lacerte.

A report came down that Pierce was out of the game with back spasms — return unknown. But he did return, finishing the night with 19 points.

Celtics head coach Doc Rivers was none too happy with both blocking calls and let the refs know his frustration.

2. Lacking a Killers’ Mentality: The Celtics led, 63-50, with two minutes remaining in the third quarter. The C’s had their chances to end the game then and there, but instead saw their lead dwindle as they settled for jump shots. Meanwhile, the Heat closed the quarter on a 7-0 run (thanks to four points from LeBron), cutting the gap to a manageable 63-57 deficit heading into the fourth quarter.

Likewise, in the fourth quarter, the Celtics held an 83-70 advantage with four minutes remaining. A few ill-advised shots taken too early in the shot clock led to a 10-point Heat run over the next three minutes that would’ve been 13 if not for a missed wide-open 3-pointer by LeBron.

3. Perimeter Defense: While the Celtics’ inability to get out on the wings defensively didn’t hurt them in the first half, the Heat got plenty of wide-open looks. Eddie House and James Jones missed a string of 3-point attempts in the first quarter. But Celtics fans likely understood that House wasn’t going to keep missing those.

In the second half, House and Jones — along with LeBron — finished 5-of-11 from beyond the arc.

Read More: Boston Celtics, LeBron James, Miami Heat, NBA
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (7 of 7) at 2:28 pm 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 finish the seven-part series with five forecasts from some of the best Boston Celtics bloggers around (Don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6) …

Boston Celtics
BOSTON CELTICS
by Jeff Clark, Celtics Blog

Boston Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal smiles as he jokes with teammate Kevin Garnett, right, while sitting on the bench against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Manchester, N.H. , Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010.

Would a healthy Kevin Garnett (right) and Shaquille O'Neal be enough to push the C's to the title? (AP)

ON THE CELTICS: When you are six minutes away from an NBA championship, what do you do to make up those six minutes in the next year?

You try to get a little bit better. The Celtics are hoping that their gains are greater than their losses.

Is Kevin Garnett‘s improved health enough to make up for the creeping age of this roster? Are Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal enough to make up for the loss of Kendrick Perkins for half a season (at best)? Is Delonte West enough of an offensive upgrade to make up for the loss of the surprisingly steady defense of Tony Allen?

If the Celtics can stay a little bit healthier, maybe they can win a few more games to give them more home games in the playoffs. Maybe, just maybe, that will be the little edge they need to make up those six minutes and raise another banner.

 Boston Celtics
BOSTON CELTICS
by John Karalis, Red’s Army

Boston Celtics center Glen Davis smiles as he cools off under a fan while iciing down his knees after their practice at NBA basketball training camp at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. , Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010.

Glen Davis leads what many consider to be the best bench in the NBA. (AP)

ON THE CELTICS: With all the talk of what other teams have done this offseason, few people have paid a lot of attention to the fact that the Celtics — a team that was within four minutes of a title — addressed their two most pressing needs: Size and depth.

Now, the Boston Celtics boast what is probably the deepest team in the NBA.

Fast forward to the playoffs – since it would take the most catastrophic of events for this team to miss the playoffs – and the C’s will start their usual rotation of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, KG and Perk.

That means you have Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal, Glen Davis, Delonte West, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels coming off the bench.

A team of those six guys would challenge for the last playoff spot in the East … and they’re backing up a starting five that, as Doc Rivers loves to say, still hasn’t lost a playoff series.

The Celtics’ team chemistry has been remarkable. So, questions as to whether these guys can coexist are already answered.

They matched up well against most Eastern teams already, so the added size will only give the C’s more guys to throw at Dwight Howard.

The added depth will be able to keep up with Chicago or Atlanta. And the combined size and depth are the perfect counter to a heavily front-loaded Heat team.

Ultimately, this Celtics team has too much for the rest of the league. Even if a couple of guys get banged up, they have the depth to overcome it and properly rest guys for the playoffs.

Miami will be really good. The Celtics — with their experience, depth and size — will be just a little better, and they’ll get that 18th banner this year.

Boston Celtics
BOSTON CELTICS

by Jay King, Celtics Town

Boston Celtics guard Delonte West runs sprints after their practice at NBA basketball training camp at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. , Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010.

The addition of Delonte West only bolsters an already deep Celtics team. (AP)

ON THE CELTICS: Before the preseason started, I predicted that the Celtics were destined to lose to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were tough enough by themselves. Once Pat Riley paired them together and sprinkled a little Chris Bosh on top, they became the team to beat — regardless of who won the Eastern Conference last season.

Then the preseason happened, I got to see the Celtics play in real life rather than on paper, and I’m no longer convinced they’ll fall to the Heat (Yes, I realize it was just the preseason; bear with me).

I expected many of the older Celtics to digress this season. Instead, almost every Celtic looks better than last year.

Pierce entered camp in great shape; Garnett’s healthy; Delonte was a perfect fit; Marquis added confidence and perhaps an outside shot; Nate looks more comfortable after a full training camp; Davis has matured and potentially taken a leap; Rondo remained Rondo, only one year older and more experienced; Shaq has meshed far better than he ever did in Cleveland (I even saw him hedge a pick-and-roll last game); and Jermaine O’Neal’s addicted to the injured list.

Okay, maybe J.O.’s preseason didn’t work out perfectly, but every other player — stunningly — looks to be improved from last season.

A lot of teams claim to be motivated by tough losses, but the Celtics took that motivation to a next level. They used the devastation from the Game That Must Not Be Named and channeled it into returning in great shape, with only one purpose — winning an NBA title.

One through 12, the Celtics are the NBA’s most talented team. If healthy, they’ll win the East and then take down the Lakers in the NBA Finals. If healthy.

Boston Celtics
BOSTON CELTICS
by Brandon Paul, Gino’s Jungle

Von Wafer's battle for the 15th spot says a lot about the C's depth.

ON THE CELTICS: When asked by WEEI for a brief preview of the Boston Celtics 2010-11 season, the first thing I had to do was run to my desk and grab that fashionable pair of green goggles I’ve worn throughout my time as a Celtics fan.

Now that I took care of that, here’s what I think will go down this year for the hometown boys in green:

The Celtics are back and better than ever this season. After watching six preseason games, the amount of depth on this team cannot be compared to that of any other team in recent memory.

Von Wafer, a guy who had a solid tenure in Houston, was being talked about as a guy that could be cut from this team. That right there says something.

Of course, the team is going to undergo injuries and other hiccups throughout the course of the regular season that may draw some criticism, but if this Celtics team remains healthy come playoff time nobody (not even the Miami Heat) can match their depth and playoff experience.

For that reason, I’m predicting a solid regular season record of 52-30, a healthy team going into the playoffs and … wait for it … wait for it … Banner 18.

Boston Celtics
BOSTON CELTICS
by Brian Robb, Celtics Hub

Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, center, talks with teammates Paul Pierce, right, and Ray Allen during their practice at the team's training camp at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. , Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010.

One advantage the Celtics' Big 3 has over the Miami Heat's triumvirate: Continuity. (AP)

ON THE CELTICS: Continuity. I’m a big believer in it as far as the NBA goes.

You take a look at the teams that have made the NBA Finals in the last 20 years, and the vast majority have been seasoned squads — units that have played together for years; players who know each other inside and out — their strengths and flaws, where they will be on the floor, where they like to catch the ball and everything in between.

You can’t buy that kind of knowledge in free agency, and it’s the biggest edge the Celtics’ core will have over their competition next year — one that will ultimately lead them to the NBA Finals.

The Miami Heat obviously have more talent, and they will get their championship(s) down the road, but next year will be a learning experience once the playoffs roll around. And they’ll fall short against the Celtics.

An improved offense, more depth and a deep sense of urgency will be enough to get Boston back to the promised land — where they will earn redemption against the Lakers after coming up empty last year.

Thanks to all who participated in this year’s NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast.

Read More: blogs, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (6 of 7) at 1:14 pm 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’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) …

New Jersey Nets
NEW JERSEY NETS
by Mark Ginocchio, Nets Are Scorching

New Jersey Nets' Brook Lopez (11) posts up as New York Knicks' Ronny Turiaf defends during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, in New York.

The Nets might have an All-Star on their hands with Brook Lopez. (AP)

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.

New York Knicks
NEW YORK KNICKS
by Tommy Dee, The Knicks Blog

New York Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire speaks with the media during the Knicks' Media Day at their training facility Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, in New York.

The addition of Amar'e Stoudemire has Knicks fans thinking playoffs. (AP)

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.

Philadelphia 76ers
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
by Brian Ward, Depressed Fan

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins, right, seated next to Sixers President and General Manager Ed Stefanski,  makes remarks during a news conference in Philadelphia, Monday, May 24, 2010. Collins is back as an NBA coach after seven seasons as an analyst with TNT. Collins is excited to take over the 76ers, the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1973 draft.

It might be asking to much for Doug Collins to lead the Sixers to the playoffs in his first season. (AP)

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.

Toronto Raptors
TORONTO RAPTORS
by Zarar Siddiqi, Raptors Republic

Toronto Raptors' Andrea Bargnani, of Italy, speaks to reporters after the team's basketball training camp finished for the day at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday Oct. 2, 2010.

Andrea Bargnani is hoping the Raptors aren't as some media outlets are predicting. (AP)

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.

With Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all good mid-range shooters and passers, it will make the Celtics hard to stop, and we know the defense will be there.

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.

Read More: blogs, Celtics, NBA, New Jersey Nets
Video proof Kendrick Perkins is back – at least in practice at 12:38 pm ET
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WALTHAM — You have to crawl before you walk and walk before you run.

In the NBA, you have to stand on a court before you can really begin think about getting back into a game following reconstructive knee surgery.

But as one can see from this video – filmed Monday at Celtics practice – Kendrick Perkins certainly looks the part as he appears to be in the best shape of his career, a clear sign he has done significant rehab work already following June’s rebuild of his right knee after it buckled and collapsed in Game 6 of the NBA finals, along with the Celtics’ hopes of banner No. 18.

Now, looking the part of a svelte, lean and mean big man, Perkins has hit the court and has started shooting short jumpers and free throws.

The big man is expected to be out until at least January following the repair of the ACL in his right knee.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kendrick Perkins, Los Angles Lakers, NBA
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (5 of 7) at 12:13 pm 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’s Southeast Division with the fifth of a seven-part  series (Don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4) …

Atlanta Hawks
ATLANTA HAWKS
by Jason Walker, Peachtree Hoops

Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew is interviewed during the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, in Atlanta.

Can Larry Drew get more out of this Hawks team than Mike Woodson did last year? (AP)

ON THE HAWKS: The Hawks spent the summer, once again, reinvesting in the status quo (see Johnson, Joe), which has seen them improve on their record every season since their 13-win nadir in 2004-05.

The major changes were on the bench, where the team replaced Mike Woodson with longtime assistant Larry Drew. Gone are the constant switching defensively and the heavy reliance on iso-sets offensively in favor of a motion offense and playing it straight defensively.

Such change should result in a rise in turnovers, a stat that has always kept the Hawks’ offensive efficiency near the top of the NBA but also kept their best defenders, Josh Smith and Al Horford, in better positions to help the team defensively.

The Hawks were also very fortunate last year in terms of injuries, so their lack of depth didn’t harm them in terms of their regular-season record.

Between the adjustment to new schemes and a likely injury or two to the main core, the Hawks should see the end of their annual increase in win total, but the continued improvement in their younger players (Smith, Horford, Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague) should help balance that somewhat, giving them another 50-win season, fourth in the conference — and getting bounced again in the second round of the playoffs.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics have a good thing going … and going … and going with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, led by one of the most exciting players in basketball in Rajon Rondo.

The true test of whether your franchise is a contender is when the regular season predictions don’t mean jack squat, and the C’s have been in that neighborhood ever since acquiring KG and Ray. It’s a great place to be, and this season is no different.

With a plethora of big men (Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Glen Davis) to supplement the core roster in case of any injury up front due to age (and there is considerable age there), Boston should be able to capture home-court again, which makes them a very tough out come postseason time, as they proved so well last season.

I believe they’re a lock for the Eastern Conference Finals.

Charlotte Bobcats
CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
by David Arnott, Rufus on Fire

Charlotte Bobcats players, from right, Stephen Jackson, D.J. Augustin, and Gerald Wallace, share a laugh as they pose for photos during media day for the NBA basketball team in Charlotte, N.C. , Monday, Sept. 27, 2010.

Gerald Wallace (left) and Stephen Jackson (right) will rely on new starting point guard D.J. Augustin to run the offense. (AP)

ON THE BOBCATS: The Bobcats will have a huge hurdle to overcome this season, having lost their starting point guard and starting center (Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler).

Barring a trade, they’re looking to replace them with D.J. Augustin, a young player Larry Brown seems to despise, and Nazr Mohammed, a center whose sell-by date is long-since passed (last season’s career year notwithstanding).

Even if Gerald Wallace remains an All-Star, and Stephen Jackson and Tyrus Thomas continue playing as well as they did last season for the Cats, they’re going to struggle to get to 40 wins — and could easily finish with near 30 wins.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics’ window could be closed this season, given the likely continued decline of Pierce, Garnett and Allen.

There’s also no telling, really, how much Tom Thibodeau meant to the Celtics’ defensive excellence the past few years, and any kind of decline on that end of the floor might be the death knell for them as true title contenders, since no one on the team is a killer offensive threat.

So, give them 50 wins again.

Miami Heat
MIAMI HEAT
by Benny Vargas, All U Can Heat

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade, left, Chris Bosh, center, and LeBron James react on the bench during the second quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 in San Antonio.

The success of Miami's Big 3 may depend on what they get from their bench. (AP)

ON THE HEAT: After a much ballyhooed offseason, the Heat enter the 2010-11 season as legitimate title contenders.

The additions of Chris Bosh and LeBron James along with the re-signing of Dwyane Wade has caused a seismic wave throughout the league, which could signal the beginning of a new NBA dynasty on South Beach.

Miami will have to battle through glaring holes at the 1 and 5 spots, despite their newly assembled constellation of stars.

The Heat must find a way to become a cohesive unit, within an 82-game span, leading into the playoffs. Once the postseason gets underway, expect Miami to face difficult obstacles in Boston and Orlando. Both teams have been together longer and have big edges at the center and point guard positions.

Predicting Miami’s season is difficult, because so many factors come into play. Look for the Heat to make the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston and for the series to go seven games with the decisive contest being held in Miami.

The Heat will have a stellar regular season, earning the top seed in the East, but don’t expect them to match the record-setting 72 wins that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls managed to get.

ON THE CELTICS: While Vegas odds-makers have listed the flashy names on the Heat lineup as favorites to win the Eastern Conference, one has to love the Celtics’ chances.

Boston solidified their roster this offseason with several free-agent signings. The additions only help to strengthen a team that was a Kendrick Perkins injury or a few more key rebounds away from winning an NBA title.

Boston has All-Stars at every position on the floor. While Allen declined a bit last year, Rondo’s emergence as an elite NBA player compensated for the slip in Allen’s game. KG and Shaq must be held back a bit during the regular season, so they can be healthy and rested for the playoffs.

Expect to see Boston easily win the Atlantic Division but to finish with the third seed for the playoffs. The Celtics showed last year that they don’t need to overexert themselves for 82 games in order to have postseason success.

No matter their seeding, the Celtics should be considered the Eastern Conference favorites once the playoffs begin. In the end, it will be Boston and Miami squaring off for a chance to dethrone the Lakers.

Orlando Magic
ORLANDO MAGIC
by Evan Dunlap, Orlando Pinstriped Post

Orlando Magic guards Vince Carter, left, and Jameer Nelson celebrate from the bench during the second half of Game 1 in the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks in Orlando, Fla. , Tuesday, May 4, 2010. The Magic won 114-71.

Vince Carter (left) and Jameer Nelson are happy to be part of Superman's supporting cast. (AP)

ON THE MAGIC: I’m expecting bounce-back seasons from Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson, as well as another year of improvement for Dwight Howard.

I’ve pegged them for 62 wins, because although the East got stronger this offseason, the Magic certainly didn’t decline in talent level from the last two seasons, when they won 59 games apiece.

Carter worked hard on his body this offseason and appears to be much more comfortable on the floor. His jumper has rarely even caught the rim in preseason, as he’s getting his body square and legs into the shot before firing away.

Orlando brought Quentin Richardson aboard, largely due to his 3-point shooting, which will force the Celtics to think twice about leaving him open. The Celtics exposed Orlando in the conference finals last season by utterly ignoring Matt Barnes on the perimeter, due to his unreliable outside shot, which freed them to pack the paint, stymieing Howard inside and shutting down driving lanes for Carter and Nelson. Clearly, Richardson will be one key against Boston.

Orlando will likely win far more games than the Celtics do this season, but don’t let that disparity fool you: If these teams meet for the third consecutive postseason, it’ll be anyone’s series.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics proved last season that they’re a tough team to peg, at least until the playoffs roll around.

Given the continuity in Boston’s locker room, at least as far as leadership is concerned, I expect another season of Doc Rivers managing his players’ minutes closely, and the players conserving their energy.

This approach worked to great effect last year, as they took the defending champion Lakers to the brink in the Finals after most basketball observers counted them out, first against the Cavaliers and then against the Magic.

Overall, I’ve pegged the Celtics for a win total in the mid-40s, likely 46-36. If that seems low, or insulting, to the Boston faithful, I think it’s instructive to point out the regular season doesn’t mean a whole lot to this team.

While I’m dubious that the Celtics can flip the switch again, so to speak, Rivers will keep that possibility open so long as he’s able to keep the veteran core fresh. And regardless of their health or engagement level, they’ll always be a tough matchup for the Magic.

The cost-effective additions of Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal — along with Perkins — give Boston three of the top five Dwight Howard defenders in the league.

Washington Wizards
WASHINGTON WIZARDS
by Beckley Mason, Truth About It

Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (2) reacts after making a dunk against the Atlanta Hawks during the fourth quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game in Washington, on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010. Wall scored 19 points in the Wizards 107-92 win over the Hawks.

Just how far can uber-athletic rookie John Wall lead his veteran Wizards team? (AP)

ON THE WIZARDS: The Wizards enter the 2010-11 season with positive energy flowing out their ears.

John Wall has already proven to be a man-child not only as an ankle-breaking wunderkind, but as a steady-handed floor marshal — unafraid to put veterans in their place, literally, on the basketball court.

But however solid Wall may be this year, the squad as a whole is perforated with imperfections. Gilbert Arenas can’t guard anyone, only a couple players can hit 3s and the Wizards’ young posts have a history of weak rebounding and late help defense.

See, this is a team full of “you know, if…”s. Because, you know, if Gilbert stays healthy and embraces the off-ball responsibilities like he did in the preseason, if 30-year-old Josh Howard returns to his near All-Star levels of play, if JaVale McGee builds on his breakout summer, if Andray Blatche plays like he did down the stretch last year (21 points a game from January to March), and if Al Thornton eschews the mid-range game and focuses on becoming Count Dunkula, this could be a pretty good team.

That’s far too many ifs for the irresponsible optimism that pervades D.C. hoops fans — but an appropriate amount for a team heading into a 35-47 season.

ON THE CELTICS: Was the Celtics’ run to last year’s Finals the last violent spasm of a dying monster, or simply proof that the beast was slumbering throughout the regular season?

Rondo is superb (Hubie Brown voice) and the East’s best point guard, but the rest of the Celtics’ starting five is declining — that is, unless The Big Ticket really is bouncing back on that right knee.

Boston’s pride won 50 games last year and is replacing Perkins with the chalk outlines of the O’Neals, a significant downgrade defensively and offensively (KP is the best screener in the league). The frontcourt is deeper, but also less effective until Perk returns, and then at what level will he play?

The Celtics should also be concerned after losing Tony Allen, the East’s best perimeter defender and resident LeBron/Wade specialist. Who fills that void? Ray, Pierce, Nate Robinson, Delonte West all fall well short defensively.

On any other team, these concerns would lead one to declare, “They will be worse than last year.” But this is the Celtics, who, like the Spurs in the West, must be taken seriously until emphatically proven otherwise. Most of the East sucks yet again, so 50-plus should be in the cards once more — 55-plus if Garnett is truly “back.”

Stay tuned for Part 6 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, blogs, Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (4 of 7) 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
CHICAGO BULLS
by Doug Thonus, Chicago Bulls Confidential

Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, from left, pose for a photograph during the NBA basketball team's media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, in Deerfield, Ill.

Carlos Boozer's injury has disrupted the Bulls' ability to jell before the season begins. (AP)

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
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
by Andrew Schnitkey, Waiting for Next Year

Cleveland cavaliers coach Byron Scott yells from courtside during the first half of the NBA preseason basketball game on the University of Pittsburgh campus, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, in Pittsburgh. The Cavaliers won 106-80.

Byron Scott leads the Cavaliers in the wake of LeBron James' departure. (AP)

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
DETROIT PISTONS
by Brian Packey, Detroit Bad Boys

Detroit Pistons' Jonas Jerebko, right, of Sweden, drives past Atlanta Hawks' Jamal Crawford, left, in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 7, 2010, in Auburn Hills, Mich. The Pistons defeated the Hawks 90-88.

Pistons fans can only hope the injury to Jonas Jerebko doesn't signal deja vu. (AP)

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
INDIANA PACERS
by Jared Wade, Eight Points, Nine Seconds

Indiana Pacers' Danny Granger, left, Darren Collison, middle, and Roy Hibbert pose for a photo during the basketball team's media day in Indianapolis, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010.

The addition of Darren Collison (center) gives the Pacers a Not-So-Big 3. (AP)

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
MILWAUKEE BUCKS
by Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball

Milwaukee Bucks power forward Drew Gooden drives past Charlotte Bobcats DeSagana Diop during the first quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, in Green Bay, Wis.

The addition of Drew Gooden gives the Bucks some much-needed depth up front. (AP)

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.

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