Well, we're just under an hour away from the pregame ceremonies at TD Banknorth. The raising of the banner is going to be special and I'm sure the Celtics head brass have put together a great show for us. Seeing Paul Pierce finally get his ring will mean even more to me than anyone else because he was here for the hard times as well.
However, what I'm looking forward to is the game. The team the Celts barely beat in the second round last year is coming in with a man in Lebron James who might be heading into one of those Jordan-esque seasons. He finally has some help in Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson is healthy. These are things that worry me as a Celtics fan. While the East has improved through the additions of Elton Brand to the Sixers and Jermaine O'Neal to the Raptors, Boston will receive its greatest challenge from Lebron and the Cavs. On paper, there might be better teams than the Cavs. But I also saw Lebron almost single-handedly bring his team to an Eastern Conference finals against the third-best, repeat, THIRD-BEST defense in the history of the game.
On that note, let's get to my picks and thoughts on each division.
Atlantic- The Celtics are clearly still the class of this division and it's going to take more than a few middle-aged power forwards to knock the C's off their perch. Based on preseason action, I think Tony Allen will fill James Posey's shoes as a defensive stopper. He will never be the outside shooter Posey is but I think the Celts knew what they were doing here. Allen was waiting in the wings and Posey wanted too many years.
Central- The Pistons have become the Atlanta Braves of the NBA, which isn't a bad thing at all. They are built for the regular season but lack that scorer who can create his own shot and get to the line at will (this role formerly belonged to Chauncey Billups in a sense). This is the year the Cavs win 60 games, easily. Detroit aside, the rest of the division wreaks of mediocrity. I really am scared of this team, especially if you consider the prospect of them picking up a hired gun such as Michael Redd. Ugh...I don't want to think about it.
Southeast- If the Hawks had fired Mike Woodson and brought in someone the players actually enjoy playing for, I would take them far more seriously. If I were an Atlanta fan, I would have no clue how my team will come out of the gates after bowing out in an emotional seven-game first round series against the C's. You never know how young teams will react the following year after reaching the cusp of one of the biggest upsets in recent years. That being said, Dwight Howard and the Magic can cruise to the division title. I know my man-crush, D-Wade, looked damn good in the Olympics and is finally healthy but it's not enough to offset not having a point guard, a mature Michael Beasley or an interested Shawn Marion.
Pacific- The Suns' sudden change in philosophy has to be one of the biggest stories in the NBA. How does a team with the "Seven Seconds Or Less" mantra miraculously turn into a half-court, defensively sound unit? I'm not sure there's an answer to that question. Steve Kerr is putting everything on the line here and I suppose I see some rationale here. He knows the Suns were a 58-60 win team with major defensive flaws and could get no further than the Conference Finals. I get that. But to blow up the whole thing entirely? There was mixed results at the end of the '07-08 season and the team eventually burned out in the playoffs against the Spurs. It will be an interesting winter in the desert, especially if Shaq decides that being a deputy sheriff is more important than staying away from the dinner table.
I'll go into more depth about the Lakers later but they're a lock to win 60 and the division. It's the playoffs that should prove to be interesting.
Southwest- O.J. Mayo will lead the Grizz to the division....Ahh I'm kidding! This is easily the most competitive division in the NBA. There are three teams (Spurs, Hornets and Rockets) that are legitimate title contenders and a fourth in the Mavs that will still be a dangerous team. Because of Manu Ginobli will be out until December at earliest with that ankle injury, the Spurs will be too far behind to have a shot at the regular season (post season could prove different with a healthy Ginobli). So it comes down to the Hornets and Rockets. Let's play the "if" game. If I knew the Rockets were going to be injury-free all year, I'd make them a shoe-in to lock the division up. Since this isn't NBA Live and you can expect Yao Ming to miss at least 20 games with various injuries from the knees and below (I'm not even taking into account T-Mac's arthritic shoulder), I'm going with the Hornets. They have the best point guard in the NBA and the always-improving David West and Tyson Chandler. Posey will make his greatest impact in May and June.
Northwest- This is Utah's last shot to win this division because it will become property of Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and Co. by next season. Deron Williams' ankle injury and Carlos Boozer's impending free angency won't help the team but they have the most experienced roster and this is Williams' official breakout season. Look for 20 ppg, 10 assists and 2 steals. After a year under his belt though, Oden will take his crown as King of the Northwest. Side Note: The Nuggets will be a funny team to watch, not fun, funny. Is it possible to give up 120+ ppg during an 82 game season?